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Curamericas Global expanding reach

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Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — An estimated 26,000 children throughout the world die every day from illnesses that could be prevented, such as upper-respiratory infections or dehydration from diarrhea, often by addressing malnutrition.

Reducing preventable deaths of children under age five, and of women of reproductive age, is the mission of a Raleigh-based nonprofit that has served roughly 300,000 families and young women in Bolivia, Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico since it was formed in 1983.

Now, Curamericas Global is set to launch a new project in Liberia that will be its first in Africa, and is awaiting word from the U.S. Agency for International Development on funding for a new project in Haiti that will focus on AIDS prevention.

The nonprofit, which formerly was known as Andean Rural Health Care and in 2001 moved to Raleigh from Lake Junaluska west of Asheville, also hopes to launch it first projects in India and the United States.

And it is considering celebrating its 25th anniversary with an event to raise awareness about child mortality.

Formed by Henry Baker Perry III, a physician, and his former wife, Alice Weldon, Curamericas works in remote regions, teaming with local agencies, providing them with funds to hire local staff, and training that staff to serve as health educators.

Nearly 5,000 volunteers from groups such as First United Methodist Church in Cary, have served Curamericas, mainly building local clinics and other facilities, and also providing medical care.

The group operates with an annual budget of $1.2 million, with half of it from individuals, 40 percent from federal grants, and 5 percent each from churches and from foundations.

Using a methodology developed for it by a professor at Harvard Medical School, Curamericas initially conducts a census in the communities in which it works.

“Everybody counts, and everybody is counted,” says Teresa Wolf, executive director.

The census identifies every resident and the health status of every child, and includes “verbal autopsies,” based on interviews, that provide after-the-fact diagnoses on the deaths of women and children.

That information serves as the basis for the health education that Curameras and its local partners provide.

“At that point, you know what you have to teach to,” Wolf says.

Working mainly in remote regions, like a mountainous area of Guatemala known as the “Triangle of death” because its roads are not paved and its rate of child mortality is high, Curamericas typically identifies local residents’ best health or nutrition practices.

If 90 percent of the children in a region are malnourished, for example, Curamericas studies what the other 10 percent are doing and teaches “that it can be done with what’s available.”

The group, for example, might offer cooking classes using foods that are available locally, showing residents “this is what you can do,” Wolf says.

Communication can be tough, she says, because 85 percent of the women in the areas it serves often have no education and are illiterate.

“They’re intelligent, hard-working people,” she says. “They just don’t have the education or the tools.”

A key strategy of Curamericas is building the capacity of local groups to sustain themselves for the long term.

In addition to designing the projects and training local groups to deliver the message of healthy living, Curamericas teaches the groups how to apply for grants, manage their organizations and handle their finances.

“We’re like a parent,” Wolf says. “We grow these projects in-country and we step away. We teach them to live on their own, and we continue to support them in smaller ways with volunteer teams, and small pieces of funding, but not sustaining funding. They’re able to do it themselves.”

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