Maria del Carmen Gangotena moved from a comfortable academic setting to work more on-the-ground and in the communities, in her native Ecuador.
A 2017 Coady International Institute diploma in development leadership participant, del Carmen Gangotena is the academic director/community nutrition expert for the Associated Research Consulting Company.
“My work consists of designing educational processes for adult community education in food and nutrition as well as to develop educational materials for diverse communities in Ecuador,” she said as part of a Coady website participant introduction page.
She talked about her transition from working in a university setting to her current role.
“My background is in education, I studied to obtain my bachelors in education,” she said. “After that, I had the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in nutrition and sciences and, because of my education background, I decided to be a community health educator.
“So I’ve been working around 22 years in that field. Mainly I worked at the university level; I was a professor and also a director of a school of nutrition in my country. But, after so many years, I decided that, community [work] – it was calling me.”
del Carmen Gangotena noted while the nutrition field stays the same for her, the different settings meant a whole new approach for her way of educating and designing programs.
“Work in a university is like work in a very prefect place, you can predict everything,” she said.
“But when you go into the communities, it’s very different. The livelihoods of people are very low; they have to struggle to eat, so you have to be very creative to help them towards food security and good health.”
She talked about some of the uncontrollable factors which present a challenge to her work.
“Promoting healthy behavior change is very difficult because it does not only depend on the methodology and use, it depends on the environment and health determinants that are in the community,” she said. “Also, in food security, sometimes it’s not even dependent on the people in the communities, because it can depend on the national level. And droughts, floods, you can’t control some things about nature.
“So the challenge is to be in contact with communities, to know about their needs and assets so we can help them have their education and processes,” she said.
She also talked about the education not being “static.”
“Health education is more dynamic then traditional education because it’s not just any education; it’s adult education which is more challenging sometimes,” she said.
“So that is the challenge; to be aware and see inside the communities so we can know how we can promote these improvements in health.”
del Carmen Gangotena noted she is looking to improve her leadership skills at the Coady.
“Even though I’m a leader, acting as a leader, I don’t have the tools to be the best leader I can be to, effectively, lead the people to the place they should be,” she said.
“The most important things we have gained during these months are that we now have tools, methodologies, and have determined which kind of leader we are now.”
She talked about the “unique” learning at the Coady where participants are encouraged to share their knowledge and insights with each other.
“All of the participants are leaders in their communities and you can learn from them,” she said.
“Most of the time we’re not learning from the facilitators, they only promote our reflections. Meanwhile, while we’re reflecting together, we learn from each other; from the challenges, the struggles. So that’s a very enriching environment … we can grow, and grow and grow and grow.”
del Carmen Gangotena said she is very much enjoying her time at the Coady and in Antigonish.
“I like to walk one hour everyday so I know the neighbourhood, and I love the neighbourhood,” she said.
“I love the downtown, the houses that you have, and all the people walking with the dogs, there are many dogs. Also, this place around the river, the views are incredible,” she said, referencing Antigonish Landing.
del Carmen Gangotena added she has made a point of getting photos which capture the changing seasons.
“I hope to do one in December before we’re leaving to see the differences; I enjoy that,” she said. “And people here are very gentle … so thank you very much.”