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Bringing Health to Rural Communities
When asked how many hours she works in a day, Ana Cleotilde Gallardo Rodríguez—or Cleo—tilts her head back and laughs.
“I have no schedule,” said Cleo. “I attend to people at midnight, at dawn… when people need me, when they can come.” Once, Cleo helped a woman safely deliver a baby in the middle of the road, wrapping the newborn in a blanket she found at a nearby market stall.
Cleo, who lives in a central community in Central El Salvador, has volunteered as a community health promoter with our local partner ADS for forty-one years. For Cleo, that means her door is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for women, men, and young people who would otherwise go without health information and services.
ADS/El Salvador has been offering sexual and reproductive health services to underserved and rural communities through its community-based program for more than fifty years. Through ongoing trainings and support from ADS, volunteers like Cleo distribute low-cost contraception and provide their communities with counseling and education services on a range of issues, including gender-based violence and HIV. Their work is complemented by regular visits from doctors who provide medical services like cervical cancer screenings. These are often provided in make-shift exam rooms set up in the home of the community health promoter.
Cleo says that her community faces many barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare. Public health facilities are often of poor quality, unaffordable, and far away from where people live. Sometimes, women’s in-laws or husbands do not want them to be seen by a male doctor or stop having children. Sometimes, the barriers are religious beliefs.
“I want the best for my community, to give them what they need,” said Cleo, who will turn seventy next year. “I ask God to give me more time on Earth so I can keep helping people.”