Daiane a trainee social worker remains close by my side for the rest of the day – or I remain close to hers. She has risen to the challenge of helping translate for me – all her colleagues are surprised by her sudden talent and says she speaks better English than Portuguese. They are so informal and laid back – it must be the something to do with the heat.
The Unit is based in Canoas in the city of Mathias Velhor. The population Equip 26- RIS ULBRA serves is approximately 4900 people. The area is mapped out as a grid system. The bungalows stretch out across the flat urban outskirts alongside dusty roads. The main roads have more well tended houses, shops, and bars, however, closer in it breaks down into shack like houses and alley ways.
The ‘talking map’ is on the wall which illustrates the plan and highlights each block which signifies who lives there and what disease members of the family have. Then theres small tabs with a key to show who works on that patch and when the last visit was.
This is a ‘bottom up’ approach to family support. Everything is covered and there are three different charities that work on the frontline. This is shared and overlapped with health services making the engagement with families watertight. However, the main need in the area is health. This becomes apparent when I observe on the visits. As many babies are born and rocked in hammocks 10 ft away from the stagnant river beds and rubbish tips burning waste in the hot day.
The Unit is situated in the centre of this neighbourhood serving as a lifeline in the way of medical advice and vaccinations.
Agente Comunitarie de Saude The Health Agents are just a few of these support workers. They’re like a cross between health visitors and outreach workers. They have to pass a basic skills test, then observe the practice whilst continuing in medical training over a period of 4 months.
Most importantly, they have to live in the area.
We spent an hour chatting. They were very interested in the education system in England, criminal age of responsibility. I learn that they have between 110 – 240 families they serve and visit on average 10-12 families a day. They carry record sheets and update family files on the go. Their priority is to work with the most vulnerable cases first. They often work alone or if the medical students need to visit a family they go with them.
They wear yellow bibs, although one workers says they attract the dogs because it’s what the postman wears so she wears green. It’s common to see the workers kiss and hug the children goodbye.