Pueblo a Pueblo, Inc.

Our mission is to improving the health, education and food security of families in Indigenous and rural communities in Latin America. We seek to strengthen vulnerable families by serving women and children, with an emphasis on Indigenous peoples in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala and other rural, coffee-growing communities in Latin America through integrated, school-based health & education programs. Pueblo a Pueblo was founded on the belief that meaningful and sustainable change requires the commitment and active involvement of the individual, community or organization that will benefit from that change. Pueblo a Pueblo strives to deepen values such as personal responsibility, se...
Nov 21, 2013

Beyond Statistics: A Story of One

From the outside, Juana’s home is almost identical to the other white cement houses topped with red tin roofs and evenly arranged in ChukMuk - a nascent town built for survivors of the 2005 mudslides that devastated communities living in Panabaj. As you enter, it’s easy to spot newspaper clippings of cartoon characters and purposefully arranged stuffed animals that adorn two bright, clean rooms. On the left hand side of one room three drawings hang, one made by each of Juana’s daughters. Each is entitled “Things we are thankful for on earth.” Underneath, carefully constructed figures appear- a big orange sun, a grouping of blue stars, a purple house, water droplets, a pink doll, and a mother.

                        

These concepts of gratitude seem simple and even similar to things most five-year-olds might envision. But these drawings are, in fact, incredible testaments to the work being done here in Guatemala to combat maternal and infant mortality. In 2011, nearly 7 million children died before reaching their fifth birthday, two-thirds of which occurred from preventable infectious diseases. Guatemala is a country struggling with one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the region. According to UNICEF’s 2011 State of the World’s Children, Guatemala ranks 65th in the world for highest under-five mortality rate- one of the highest in Latin America; it also has the highest total fertility rate and one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the Western Hemisphere. 24 out of 1,000 babies will die during their first year of life and for every 100,000 live births 120 mothers will die from pregnancy related causes - many of which are easy to prevent or treat.

As we consider these harrowing statistics, Juana and her three daughters embody the ideal, and how it could be for many more families living Guatemala and worldwide.

Juana first sought help from Pueblo a Pueblo’s Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program when her daughter became ill. High medical care costs often prohibit families like Juana’s from bringing their children to the doctor; a doctor’s visit and medicine to treat a simple ear infection may cost one week’s income. The MCH program combats maternal and infant mortality by employing doctors, nurses, peer educators, and midwives to deliver modern medical care that respects the Tz’utujil culture. Mothers and children who participate in the MCH program receive access to reproductive health educational services, prenatal and postnatal care, medical checkups and sick visits for their children through age five - seeing them through their most vulnerable period.

Through the MCH program, Juana’s daughter received medical care and is now an active and well-integrated member of our program.  Although Juana only sought medical care, she soon discovered and took full advantage of other critical aspects of the program. She participates in monthly classes and learns about family planning methods, health and hygiene, nutrition, preventive medical care and First Aid. Juana is also a Family Planning Champion (FPC), which is a project that falls under the MCH program and seeks to promote culturally appropriate, accessible and sustainable reproductive health services by engaging communities, local leadership and peer-based educators.

In Juana’s case, the results are as astounding as they are encouraging.

Soon after entering the program, Juana recognized “the care needed for [her] children, body, and home hygiene, which [she] did not understand before this program. . .” Her children are healthy and growing; she began using a birth control method; and she is a mentor who teaches other women about reproductive health and contraceptive methods. Juana takes pride in her work with MCH’s sewing program where women learn embroidery techniques as part of an economic sustainability goal. These products may then be sold in local markets to supplement the family’s income.

Looming economic and cultural obstacles often confront reproductive healthcare and access to contraception. In Santiago Atitlán, most women and men of reproductive age are unaware of family planning methods and dialogue about these topics among couples and families is rare.  If reproductive health education and resources become available, these methods are seldom used.  When these social barriers are coupled with a weak local health care infrastructure, combating infant and maternal mortality remains complex. Government clinics are distant, poorly equipped, and understaffed. Furthermore, most health providers lack culturally appropriate outreach to provide quality reproductive health and family planning services to rural indigenous women or couples in their native languages.

Recently, Juana met with a young woman as part of her mentor role with FPC. Juana shared her story and explained how birth control works. This seems simple. But, open and fact-based conversations about reproductive health are often considered taboo in rural Guatemala - even among sisters and close friends. This brave step taken by Juana and the other Family Planning Champions underscores Pueblo a Pueblo’s community work in action.

Juana recognizes people will “refuse to take this advice, but, [she] feel[s] good knowing [she] is transmitting the information [so] that they have the knowledge to make a decision.” With Juana’s recent mentee, the young woman happily received Juana’s story - and she even invited her own mother to listen. The young woman’s mother appreciated Juana’s help, acknowledging “the difference [Juana] made by providing her very young daughter with the knowledge” to plan her pregnancies.

This is why Juana’s story is especially hopeful - it illustrates the slow but definite progress achieved by Pueblo a Pueblo’s community-based approach to addressing the social stigmas as well as economic and political barriers surrounding reproductive health.  Combating infant and maternal mortality and increasing knowledge about sexual and reproductive health is not insurmountable if we employ the help of many - those both far and close to the communities themselves. Thank you for supporting us. It makes stories like Juana's possible.  

Oct 30, 2013

A Journey into Santiago's Past

Two students after the activity
Two students after the activity

Our school library in Chukmuk has been bursting at the seams for end of year activities, but we’d like to take this opportunity to highlight one special moment.

In light of Guatemala’s independence day in mid-September, our library staff organized an activity for students to reflect on Santiago’s cultural heritage.

(Spoiler alert: if you read through the end of this report, you’ll find a video these very students put together to thank you for your support!)

The activity started with Lidia, our project librarian, telling students a legend passed down through generations in Tz’utujil – the Mayan dialect in Santiago.

Sometime in the long distant past, there was a family in Santiago with two pairs of twin brothers. The older twins, Jun Batz and Jun Chowen, were easily angry and jealous of the younger twins, Junajpu and Ixbalamke, who were kind, smart, and loved throughout the community. Time and time again, the older twins would pick up their younger siblings and throw them into the anthills and thorn bushes that formed outside the family’s adobe hut. 

One day, the younger siblings decided to get revenge. Together they wandered into the forest and found a magical tree that, early in the morning, would sprout enormous branches, widen its trunk, and rise hundreds of feet into the sky.

That night, they found their older brothers outside the house and challenged them to a competition: both pairs of twins would leave the next morning to go bird hunting, and the ones that caught more birds by sundown would get to live in the house, while the other twins would have to move into the forest. The older brothers accepted. As the younger twins walked away, they whispered a plan just loudly enough for their older brothers to hear: “we’ll meet early at the base of the tree we found,” they said, “because the biggest and most beautiful birds in the forest live there.”

The next morning, the older brothers woke up before their siblings, crept out of the house, and ran to the tree, where they climbed into the branches and waited for the birds to appear. They snickered about their brothers’ misfortune and argued over how to divide the new space they were sure to have in the house.

But just as the sun tiptoed onto the horizon, the tree sprouted new branches, widened its trunk, and began to rise into the sky.

When the younger brothers arrived to the tree later that morning, their older brothers were already too high to climb down. They cowered against the tree’s trunk and tried to call down to the younger twins for help, but instead of words all they were able utter were grunts and yelps. They began to grow long tails and hair all over their faces and arms. By the time the sun sank behind the mountains, the older brothers had transformed completely into monkeys. Unable to go home to their house and community, they lived the rest of their days in the upper branches of the forest, a testament to the moral that one should never envy or mistreat a brother.

Oral history has it that much of Santiago’s population descended from the younger brothers, and as a result community members today ought to treat each other with the same respect that the older brothers ought to have afforded their siblings.

As the students thought about the story, Lidia divided them into groups and gave each group an old photo from Atitlán’s Digital Archive Project, most of which had been taken as many as fifty years ago. There were photos of the market, the central church, and the beach, as well as the paths and houses nearby.

Each group was asked to describe what they saw, focusing on the differences and similarities between the two eras. The students were fascinated. The traditional clothing had changed entirely, as had the layout of village landmarks. It took most of them a few minutes to equate what they saw in the photos with the buildings and landscapes that they walk by every morning!

Even more striking for the students, however, were the similarities. While the market had changed, the fruits and vegetables being sold were the same, as were the baskets and hollowed out wooden canoes that farmers use to catch 'mojarra,' the local fish. Pathways between houses looked the same and the lake rested a few feet below where just a few years ago the community constructed a new playground for children (since the rainy season the lake has grown to flood the playground, but the curve of the shore is still there).

“It encouraged students to think about kinship, the direct connection they still have to their ancestors, and a different way of life in Santiago,” said Lidia.

The students’ journey into Santiago’s past would not have been possible without your support. In fact, they’ve compiled a video to thank you directly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8cZuTNdnCk&feature=plcp

From all of us here at the lake, we appreciate your generosity, and be sure to check back soon for more updates!

Students crowd around Lidia, our librarian
Students crowd around Lidia, our librarian
One of the photos used in the activity
One of the photos used in the activity
Oct 1, 2013

Training Teachers, Breaking Ground

This past week we completed our third and final round of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) teacher trainings! Sandy and Misa, two of our local education coordinators, designed the trainings to help instill healthy WASH practices in student’s daily lives.

Over the past year, with your support, they have traveled regularly to five participating schools to present teachers with strategies to create healthy classroom environments. Topics have included water contamination, bolstering student self-esteem, and preventing disease transmission.

Our WASH program doesn’t stop there, though. As part of our monitoring and evaluation program, we are now reviewing teacher evaluations of our trainings to guarantee that next year’s curriculum is even stronger. One of our focus areas for the upcoming year will be to train teachers on how to garner parental support for and involvement in WASH activities – an evolution that will lead to healthier behaviors at home as well as at school.

Beyond teacher trainings, we are currently working with a new partner school, Nueva Providencia Primary School, to develop sustainable, child-friendly sanitation and hygiene facilities for students. The construction project will break ground in November 2013, while the children are on school break. Be sure to check back for pictures of the new facilities!

Finally, please join us on October 15th in celebrating Global Hand Washing Day! As always, your contributions will directly improve student’s exposure to and awareness of proper hygiene and sanitation practices.

It’s a long process, but together we have begun to change fundamentally the way our partner schools approach WASH-related health topics. Thanks for all you do, and we look forward to working together to extend our impact to new schools and children. 

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