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The After-Graduation Series: Helping Indigenous Mayan women to run their own health clinic in the highlands of Guatemala

The team (besides me): Juan (director of the school), Hannah Freiwald (director of Manos Abiertas), Emily-Kate, Olga, and Patricia

It took about four hours to go the 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) to reach  Momostenango in the highlands of Guatemala. Mind you, a German-Guatemalan was driving (imagine speed + not looking around a blind curve to pass). Along with the director of Manos Abiertas, Emily-Kate and I were on a mission to meet the two young indigenous Mayan women who are coming to learn and work at Manos Abiertas .

When we arrived in Chocruz, a small town outside the larger city of Momostenango, I was the most car sick that I have ever been in my life. With the help of the clean, crisp air of 2200 meters (about 7200 feet), I soon recovered and was excited to meet Patricia and Olga–the first participants in a program that will hopefully one day become a midwifery school for Guatemalan women. This pilot program of sorts is the result of a partnership between three NGOs.  Aldea Laura, a small German NGO which has run a school in Chocruz since 1998, connected another German-based NGO called Mirador to the community. When Mirador arrived in Guatemala, they soon heard about the work and mission of Manos Abiertas, and they decided to work together. Mirador’s responsibility is to finance room and board at Manos Abiertas, and Manos Abiertas is in turn responsible for teaching Patricia and Olga as much as possible in ten months. In addition to creating this partnership of NGOs, Aldea Laura will be financing personal expenses for the girls. Our basic goal is to teach indigenous Mayan women the skills they need to run their own health post in Chocruz. We’ll start off with two women from the community, Patricia and Olga, who have recently graduated from the local school as teachers,  and who have always been interested in providing health services to their community.

The local school, funded by Aldea Laura, has around 10 classrooms, a computer room, the nicest tennis court that I’ve seen yet in Guatemala, a well-stocked construction workshop, and a director that comes from the community. These are all signals to me that this is a sustainable program. Since the director comes from within the community, he knows of all the cultural workings of the community, as well as the families and their children. I was also impressed to witness that the Germans who started this project don’t need to be physically present in the community for the school to function.

Currently, there are no readily accessible health services in their community of 4,000 people. According to Aldea Laura’s website, they have been paying for a pediatrician to come every six weeks to the school from Antigua for a weekend. Aldea Laura also provides students with regular meals, and although these meals contain large  portions of sodium-saturated foods like Ramen Noodles, they’re also supplemented with vegetables and fruits that are generally more difficult to find at home.

Patricia has dreamed of being a nurse or a doctor since she was a very small child. This partnership between Manos Abiertas, Aldea Laura, and Mirador is creating a new reality for young indigenous, and low-income women like Patricia and Olga. To me, this is about as resourceful, grassroots, and sustainable as it gets. Patricia and Olga should be here within the next week, and I’ll be sure to update you on how they’re doing and what they’re learning at Manos Abiertas.

 

The entrance to the school that both Patricia and Olga attended

A general landscape view from Chocruz, Momostenango

A "pozo," or well in English--These are where most families in Chocruz get water

Laura Stephenson is a recent environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, focusing in environmental and community health. She is currently studying Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. Laura writes the “After” Life of an Environmental Studies Student series, telling stories of the activities and endeavors of environmental science and studies students after graduation.

Posted on: May 12, 2011, 9:00 am Category: Sustainability and Education, The "After" Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , , ,

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