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TMCNet:  Bringing the Amazon "health and happiness" an arduous mission

[December 01, 2009]

Bringing the Amazon "health and happiness" an arduous mission

Santarem, Brazil, Dec 1, 2009 (EFE via COMTEX) -- By Eduardo de Diego Vazquez.

).- Bringing "health and happiness" to the Amazon's most isolated communities is the mission of a Brazilian NGO that has established a complex communications network in remote villages and plies the region with a hospital ship.


The project began in 1984 when Dr. Eugenio Scannavino, at the time a young, newly graduated doctor, decided to trade the hubbub of Rio de Janeiro for sounds of the jungle and now there is nothing that could get him away from there.

Three years after arriving in the region, Scannavino founded the Projeto Saude e Alegria (Project Health and Happiness), which began working with 16 communities and today cares for close to 30,000 people along the banks of the Amazon, Arapiuns and Tapajos rivers in an area the size of Germany.

Saude e Alegria does not focus solely on one aspect of development but takes on community deficiencies from different angles through an integrated project centered on health.

"It doesn't help to solve one problem while others exist at the same time," Caetano Scannavino, who decided to follow in the footsteps of his brother Eugenio and apply his knowledge of communications in the organization, told Efe.

From the efforts of both arose the so-called Mocoronga Popular Communications Network, an excellent example of breaking through and getting people heard who have always been excluded from the usual circuits.

In its more than 20 years the Mocoronga (a word denoting natives of the region) Network has managed to organize small newspapers and local radio stations in most communities, which has brought about an unprecedented feeling of cohesion and a circuit of information among these villages that previously had been completely isolated.

But the communications network also plays a much more important role, that of preserving Amazon culture through the recordings and testimonials of the oldest people in each community, which are then filed in the NGO library.

"Losing all this heritage would mean losing part of our country's culture," Caetano Scannavino said, though at the moment no government agency has contacted them to systematize and preserve the recordings.

Nonetheless, the work of these two brothers has not stopped in all these years, and in 2006 they took another step forward with the launching of the Abare, a hospital ship that all year sails up and down the Tapajos River offering medical attention to communities along the shore.

Returning to each community every 30 to 40 days, the Abare represents a true oasis of help for these people as it brings them some 25 volunteer doctors from different parts of Brazil specializing in a great variety of medical fields.

"Who in the world has seen a dentist 12 times a year? They can,"said a proud Scannavino, adding that the visits calendar is agreed upon with the communities themselves and is decided up to a year ahead.

But the hospital ship is not just a reason for satisfaction among patients but also among doctors who decide to spend some time aboard the Abare.

"This is the chance of a lifetime," Dr. Marcia Yanagi said, adding that she had sent her daughters on vacation and left her private clinic in Sao Paulo to spend 10 days working on this floating hospital.

"With the ship, the communities' dream has come true," Scannavino said. A dream shared by two brothers who one day left everything behind to bring health and happiness to the most remote parts of Brazil and offer a little visibility to one of the most enigmatic regions on the planet. EFE edv/cd

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