Life between water and sand: Promoting mental well-being in communities affected by El Niño, Peru”

Elaine Flores, PhD student at LSHTM won a small grant for a public engagement activity entitled: “Life between water and sand: Promoting resilience and mental well-being among communities affected by El Niño-related floods and landslides in Peru”

The machines cleaning the river bed. Insufficient number. We need more. Participant age 37.

I have been interested in the impact that natural or man-made disasters pose on mental health since 2007, when, as a primary care provider, volunteered in a post-earthquake area, one day after the disaster took place in a southern province of Peru, my home country.

Now, I have begun my 3rd year of PhD studies at LSHTM and I continue my research in the same topic, having witnessed the lack of preparation against these events and the extremely long processes of rebuilding and recovery the affected people endure, especially the most vulnerable groups.

I obtained funds to conduct a PhotoVoice and Art therapy project from the School´s Public Engagement small grant scheme on 2017. This project took place on December 2017 and January 2018 in Carapongo’s local health center, with adult residents of the shantytowns of Carapongo, a poor district heavily affected by the “huaycos” or landslides and floods related to a “Coastal El Niño” phenomenon nine months before.

The workshops sought to promote mental health and encourage participants to identify and portray their resilience motifs through photography and art techniques, express emotions and personal experiences. All of the participants had very little previous experience using cameras or creating art and were enthusiastic to learn and share their voices through images and drawings and engage in open group discussions.

The results caused a huge impression on me, my collaborators and the participants. Instead of portraying individual resilience motifs, as was anticipated, the pictures and drawings depicted similar images by almost all of the participants.

“All of us who live in the strip (near the river) have lived very similar experiences…we have lived through the desperation…trying to get out, how to escape, what to grab…it has been like that… Participant, age 27.

Despite having lost everything, I expect to see Carapongo like this: with solid houses, paved roads and crops. Participant age 77.

The majority of pictures depicted the Rimac river, which flooded Carapongo on March 2017. Others, showed the extremely harsh living conditions that the participants and their families continue to endure, lacking basic services. In the art therapy final activity they all expressed their hopes to see the much required urban changes for them and their community.

 We came to Carapongo intending to learn what has helped the affected people to reach resilience. Instead, we provided them with tools that allowed them to clearly express their voices, who said: our situation is far from having reach the resilience stage, we are still struggling, and we need support.


I want to thank our project collaborators: Dr. Elba Ramos & Annie Flores (Co-organizers, presenters), Oliver Elorreaga, Percy Soto & Ricardo Galvez (EMERGE-UPCH), Dr. Patricia Bueno & Julia Huachua (Carapongo health center), Kurt Van Aert & Joaquin Rubio (Presenters), Manuel Flores and Jean Paul Vaudenay (logistic support), Veronica Atala (Volunteer photographer) and the team of volunteers (recruitment and facilitating). Finally, our donors: Universidad de San Martin de Porres and AELUCOOP, Cooperativa de ahorro y crédito.

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