The Nuestra Casa Project, A Brief History
“Nuestra Casa” is a fullsize three-dimensional house that makes real the life and stories of people affected by tuberculosis (TB), their surroundings and their messages of reality and hope. It was created as a tool for advocacy, communication, and social mobilization promoting awareness among decision makers, health care providers, and the public in general to get involved in concrete action to prevent the spread of TB, reducing the number of cases and deaths caused by it.
TB Activist and Photovoice participant Rachel being interviewed at the UNION World TB and Lung Disease Conference, Cancun, Mexico, December 2009.
The genesis of the project stems from the need to reinforce advocacy, communication, and social mobilization efforts for the prevention and control of TB in Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. Because communities and the persons affected by TB must be involved and their real-life situation addressed if efforts to combat the disease are to be effective, the project’s developers pushed themselves to adopt a novel approach: “The Shack” installation.
Damien Schumann, a talented photojournalist and committed social activist, first constructed “The TB/HIV Shack,” in the style of a typical South African, low-income dwelling, to raise awareness about one of the settings where TB and HIV/AIDS coexist. The Shack was presented with great success at various events including the 38th Union Conference on TB and Lung Health in South Africa in 2007 and the AIDS Conference in Mexico City, August of 2008.
People lining up to get into the original Nuestra Casa Exhibit in El Paso, TX, November 2009.
Dr. Eva Moya, Assistant Professor of Social Work at the University of Texas at El Paso and Advocacy, Communication and Social Mobilization Coordinator of Project Concern International (PIC) met Schumann at the Mexico City conference in 2008. In partnership with PCI they developed the idea of a traveling exhibit focusing on the problem of TB that they called “Nuestra Casa” (Our House). PCI and the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Association (USMBHA), with collaboration from the Mexico National Tuberculosis Program and financing from USAID-Mexico, supported transformation of Schumann’s “Shack” concept into “Nuestra Casa.”
During several months of planning and field work, Schumann with help from persons affected by TB and TB Photovoice participants (a photo documentation methodology), health providers from health authorities, and community based organizations, visited first one US, and then four Mexican border cities: El Paso, Ciudad Juárez,Tijuana, Reynosa, and Matamoros. The purpose was for Schumann to live at these sites and experience the TB situation, its psychosocial context, and be able to capture and bring this reality to life.
The grand opening of the original Nuestra Casa Exhibit at the Cultural Center in Tijuana, MexicO, May 2010.
The results of these visits, interviews, testimonies, photographs, and even personal items from individuals affected by TB, were incorporated into Nuestra Casa and became part of a mobile exhibit that was launched from the University of Texas at El Paso campus in 2009. The tour continued through Mexico in partnership with the National TB Program in Mexico and the support of the State TB Programs in Quintana Roo, Oaxaca, Tamaulipas, and Tijuana, ending at the Global Odyssey Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia in 2010. Visitors to the exhibitions were invited to compose inspirational messages and reflections on the exhibition on “trapitos” (small pieces of fabric) as a record of the impact of the exhibition. Approximately 1,500 trapitos were created and have become one of the focal points of the most recent phase of the project: The Nuestra Casa Initiative.
The Nuestra Casa Initiative began as a conversation between UTEP Centennial Museum Director Dr. Bill Wood and Dr. Moya about how to reengage the community of El Paso in the public health issues of TB and HIV/AIDS using Nuestra Casa as a catalyst. Moya brought several faculty members and students from departments and programs across campus to the initiative and together they worked to analyze the “trapitos” as a window into how people think and feel about TB and how their perceptions were impacted by the exhibit. The work of these students has become an integral component of Nuestra Casa, The Exhibition on display at the UTEP Centennial Museum from January 17th to December 5th, 2012.