CALLAHAN, Florida — Taller Salud is a nonprofit (NGO) feminist organization that works to provide health care to women, end community violence and improve the economy in Loíza, Puerto Rico. Founded in 1979, Taller Salud has been working for more than 43 years to face the struggles in the poorest city in Puerto Rico, focusing on women’s rights, health and education to battle the challenges women face in Loíza in addition to threats from poverty. U.N. Women, UNDP and the Pardee Center for International Futures estimate that in 2022, more than 388 million females will be experiencing extreme poverty, while 372 million males will be experiencing extreme poverty: millions more women undergoing extreme poverty than men.
In Loíza, 50.4% of the population is living in poverty and the highest demographic of people living in poverty there are females 25-34, followed by females 45-54 and then 55-64. Taller Salud’s overall goal is to build a brighter future for Loíza and make a more developed city full of equality, fundamental health care and opportunities for individual and joint growth as a city, rising out of its current state.
Taller Salud’s Story
Carmen Guzmán and Eugenia Acuña moved to the island of Loíza after working against Latin-American women facing extreme sterilization practices in New York City. These women wanted to get active in their community homeland in Puerto Rico and make real change: guaranteed access to various birth control methods and abortions to counteract the frequent sterilization women receive on the island due to lack of resources.
So, Guzmán and Acuña founded Taller Salud as a collective, which turned into a non-profit organization in 1979. This became the first-ever feminist organization focused on Puerto Rico women’s health to ever exist. “From the very beginning, we incorporated health as a feminist tool, from which we worked so that women could be considered as beings and not as objects of an insufficient health system,” said one of Taller Salud’s founding team members, Nirvana González Rosa, according to its website.
The values that drive Taller Salud and its work include feminism, health as a human right, comprehensive health, celebration of equity and diversity, culture of justice and peace, autonomy, participation and sustainability.
Initiatives and Projects
Women & Health initiative is based on the concept that when women are prospering, so are their communities. “It is majority Black and majority women, so the challenges in our community are especially worrisome, given the systemic abandonment that our women live in,” Taller Salud told The Borgen Project in an interview.
This initiative focuses on promoting women’s health and preventing gender-based violence. The organization promotes women’s health, peace and development through multiple programs. “Your Peace Matters,” a safe space for women experiencing any sort of violence or harassment, including support groups, psychological therapy and a 24/7 hotline. “Afrocaribeñas,” a program that focuses on the youth that aims to generate feminist leaders and that teaches about gender violence, health and race discrimination. “Promotoras (Community Health Workers),” women from Taller Salud are seeking social justice and training to react to the health needs of their communities and support people with diseases or barriers to accessing health services.
Community and Leadership is an initiative to further Taller Salud’s goal of cultivating an inclusive, violence-free society with communities that stand up for their fundamental rights and that promote mutual progress. This aims to strengthen harmonized responses within the community and the skills of community leaders to create solutions for families and residents of Loíza through activism, education and participatory processes.
To develop local leadership, prevent unwarranted displacement and ensure a distinguished life, Taller Salud uses multiple strategies, such as “Community Organizing,” organizing communities to address issues directly impacting them; “Dignified Housing,” housing that aids local economic development that has secure conditions that are free of violence with access to essential resources; “Just Recovery,” eliminating unjust displacements, eliminating involuntary evictions and guaranteeing democratic community participation; “AMANI Project,” teaching music education to children ages 10-13 to develop emotional intelligence and acknowledge gender discrimination; “Community Response Emergency Guide,” material to educate the community based on previous errors from the State in handling emergencies, it contains resources and guidance towards emergency plans.
Peace and Development is the initiative focused on mobilizing the community to abolish poverty, inequality and institutional racism. Taller Salud promotes an environment of peace, forgiveness and community restoration and mending that results in significant opportunities for the community to progress and transform. To implement this culture of peace that Taller Salud seeks for Loíza, it uses the “Peace Accord” model. This is an evidence-based project that aims to reduce violence as a result of women who lost their significant others, children and relatives.
The project has built more trust in the community and successfully addressed dire situations by keeping the promise of not involving the police. Peace Accord has reduced violent deaths in Loíza by 90%. “La Tibru” is the second program part of this initiative, and it is designed for the youth and involves embracing contemporary masculinities, ending racism and generating new spokespeople to speak on the current issues impacting their communities.
Success and Impact in the Community
Being one of Taller Salud’s most successful efforts in the organization’s history, it emerged from a community-based response to a rise in gun violence in 2009. “It’s Puerto Rico’s only community violence prevention program and a local adaptation of the University of Illinois’ CureViolence evidence-based public health model or as we called it systemic change,” Taller Salud explained.
The organization trains “violence interrupters” to identify immoral and illicit circumstances and prevent violent situations from transpiring. Violence interrupters serve as mentors for up to 15 people at a time that are at high risk of being recipients of a brutal attack. In its first year as an established project, Peace Accord ensued a 53% decrease in homicides, and since its inauguration in February 2012, there has been a 90% decrease.
On September 7, 2017, the worst hurricane in recent Puerto Rico history struck: Hurricane Irma. Two weeks later, the almighty powerful Hurricane Maria also struck. Taller Salud arrived with 200 volunteers five days after Irma swept through to evaluate damages, provide health care, food, water and hygiene products and provide housing with the Affordable Housing program established in 2018 to aid women in safe and stable homes.
More than 8,000 people had access to safe meals and the organization distributed more than 10,000 gallons of water and more than 6,000 lamps, flashlights and battery-powered fans. Psychological support was offered with the usage of 337 individuals, more than 2,800 medical items and medicine were distributed and more than 1,500 public health items like mosquito nets and fly traps were distributed, according to Taller Salud’s report.
Upwards of 20,000 Loíza residents received help in the immediate response to Hurricane Irma and Maria and Taller Salud assisted 14 other towns/cities. Not only is Taller Salud building a brighter future for Loíza, but it is also taking part in immediate emergency response work to help other Puerto Ricans in dire need of assistance.
A Brighter Future for Loíza
Taller Salud is an essential organization allowing growth in many areas to make Loíza a more progressed city no longer suffering from economic decline, violence and inequality. Despite being the poorest city in Puerto Rico, Taller Salud is working with current adults and the youth in leadership programs in hopes of producing a brighter future for Loíza, no longer experiencing the detrimental impact of poverty and societal issues.
– Dylan Olive
Photo: Courtesy of Taller Salud