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The heart of community health in Guatemala
January 10, 2013
In Guatemala, community health is at a critical juncture. An estimated 58 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development; a majority of those impoverished are the indigenous people of Mayan decent living in rural areas. Children under five are plagued by malnutrition at a rate that is the highest of any nation in the Western Hemisphere; the effects of these levels of malnutrition are long-reaching, with consequences for education, health and economy. Guatemala’s narrative has reached a climax–less than half of the nation’s rural residents have access to running water, a quarter have electricity at home, and fewer than 10 percent of have modern sanitary facilities. Dental care is limited, or in rural areas, nonexistent.
Medical Teams International Enters Guatemala
Medical Teams International established a community health and nutrition project in the San Juan Chamelco municipality in July 2010. The women and children in this area are particularly susceptible to chronic illness; the three biggest killers of children in this area are preventable diseases: acute respiratory infection, malnutrition and diarrhea.
Medical Teams International is working to improve the health of San Juan Chamelco by focusing on prevention and community case management of malnutrition, acute respiratory infection and diarrhea, while simultaneously improving maternal health. In coordination with community, church and government health officials, MTI is implementing a comprehensive portfolio of results-oriented activities to address these preventable diseases. Medical Teams International is partnering with local nonprofits, such as Food for the Hungry and Argos International, as they strive to continually improve public health and provide tangible resources to those in need.
One Man’s Story of Need, Sacrifice, and Generosity in Guatemala
West Livaudais is the Latin America Team Coordinator in Guatemala. His experiences in the region reveal the hard work and self-sacrifice of people in poor, rural communities as they labor to help others lead healthier lives.
From West's blog
"Yesterday, I met two single mothers who are indigenous Mayan women who live miles up in the mountains. One has a 9 year old son. This single mother, Sofia, is a Madre Monitora for Medical Teams International, which means she volunteers her time to attend our training classes to learn about everything from nutrition to pregnancy danger signs. They walk to these classes in sandals and it takes all day–to go, attend, return home, and then to fix the fire/food/water. After these women have been trained they are responsible for visiting 10 mothers/families who have children under 5. Each Madre Monitora is assigned to and responsible for training 10 families.
"Sofia spends several days a month walking through the mountains on dirt trails that are often steep, muddy and wet to teach 10 mothers what she has been trained. She and the other Madre Monitoras are the heart of our maternal health program. They extend our reach, far beyond the communities we serve.
"So yesterday a few of us were sitting in her home, which was her parents who have now passed, and with a smile-a-mile-wide, she told us what she does to make money. She buys produce at the local market and then transports it, by herself, into Cobán on the roof of a mini-bus to re-sell in the market there. She leaves her home at 6am and returns by 6 or 7pm. She does this as often as she can. We then asked her how much she profits, because she has to pay for the produce and transport, and she told us she can profit Q5-10 a DAY! That's 50 cents to $1.50 a DAY between her and her son. A DAY! WOW. Crushing for me to think about. This woman is DOING this work voluntarily in order that her community is healthier, and everyday she volunteers with us is a day she isn't at the market trying to eek out a living. She is a single mother trying to raise her son and support her community.
"Before we left, she brought each of us a cup of hot atol, rice and oatmeal milk. I couldn't help but think I was robbing calories from her little son with this gift. And yet, there is something greater than calories at stake here...she is so proud to be a Madre Monitora, to be teaching and learning. She is an empowered, strong woman. And she honored us, and was honored herself, in giving us a gift of atol in her home. There is something so dignifying and uplifting in giving a gift. As I set my cup down before I left, I could not help myself, but to fold up Q10 tightly and hide it under the mug of atol. "As we were giving saludos on the way out the door, I saw out of the corner of my eye her little 9 year old son cleaning up...he had found the Q10. He saw me and I winked at him...and then, we left."
There are many more communities where we are planning to train more Madre Monitoras this month. The more training that we can provide, the healthier the communities of Guatemala will be. And the sooner they can become self-sustaining. See Child Wellness, Community Health and Healthy Women in our Gift Catalog for ways to support our work in Guatemala.
Join in Guatemala’s Story
West’s story is one of many stories – about transformed lives, sacrificial giving, and providing resources for those in need. The next story could be yours. As Medical Teams International strives to continue its aid to Guatemala and Latin America, you are invited to come alongside MTI and these needy communities by spreading the word, donating, and volunteering. Your contribution to MTI’s Child Wellness, Community Health, and Healthy Women initiatives through the gift catalog could mean lives saved.
West saw, first-hand, the meaning of generosity and sacrifice in one Madre Monitoras’ willingness to give selflessly to those around her.
What will you see?
Help support Medical Teams International’s work in Guatemala: donate through our gift catalog or learn about volunteering today to help save lives.