Benno George Àlvaro DE KEIJZER FOKKER
Fellow Since 1991
Promoción de Servicios de Salud y Educación Popular, A.C. PR
This profile was prepared when Benno De Keijzer was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Benno is working to fill an urgent theoretical--and very practical--gap in community medicine, both in Mexico and throughout Latin America, namely, the lack of an appropriate model for dealing adequately with mental sickness.While communities and their neighborhood health para-professionals have learned that medical knowledge is not the exclusive domain of university trained doctors, and have started to deal with a great number of health problems themselves, the same situation has not developed in the field of mental illness.Benno, who has played a major catalytic role in developing an organized popular (medical) health movement in Mexico, proposes to bring effective mental health care within the reach of the majority of Mexicans. While recognizing that many specifics are different, he believes that many of the basic principles at work in the popular health movement will apply to the mental health field. For example, he believes that it is essential that local communities themselves learn how to deal with mental illness. Benno's beginning point, therefore, is training local general health promoters how to recognize and deal with mental disorders. For Benno, this is a process of listening at least as much as training. Probably in the long-term, the most innovative aspect of his work resides in his openness to incorporating traditional language, categories, and curing techniques for mental illness into a wider theoretical framework. Too often "modern" medicine dismisses as illogic or witchcraft approaches that have been effective but that come from non-Aristotelian ways of thinking. Especially in the area of psychology, the healers must connect with the minds of their patients on the patient's terms in order to succeed.