Daniel Oerther visits a water-filter construction site in rural Guatemala

Lessons from another culture

Four lessons about working in a culture that’s very different to your own.
16 May 2019 , EHN magazine

Image: Daniel Oerther (second from right) visits a water-filter construction site in rural Guatemala

Daniel Oerther, a professor of environmental health engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, has spent much of the past 10 years in northern Guatemala, where sanitary surveys show that only 75% of the local population has access to improved drinking water against a national average of 93%.

What’s more, the population is among the most stunted on the planet and diarrhoea morbidity and mortality are far higher in the Ixcan region – where Oerther has mainly worked – compared with the rest of the country.

You can read more about Dan’s experiences in the May issue of EHN (login required). And here are four lessons he’s learnt about working in a culture that’s very different to his own:

• Understand the audience you’re dealing with and modulate your approach accordingly.

• You need to have humility with the population you’re working alongside, so be ravenous to learn information from any source you can get your hands on.

• Understand community-based participatory research. This is a style of research that puts
the people who are being served and the people who are serving as equal owners of the research.

• Make a commitment to do this for the long haul. Poverty tourism is a very real phenomenon and people need to be taught to avoid it – at its worst it creates horrible dependency.

Daniel Oerther was a winner of the 2018 CIEH Excellence Awards. The 2019 awards are now open for entry.

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