Like many of the women WINGS serves, Elena, 20, made a long journey to reach us. Guatemalan communities, especially in the isolated rural areas targeted by WINGS, are often very small and scattered throughout the countryside, making it logistically impracticable for WINGS’ mobile unit to reach them. While field educators do conduct educational outreach in these difficult to access areas, WINGS schedules mobile unit visits in slightly larger communities that both have necessary facilities for a temporary clinic and are accessible to those living in the outlying villages. Elena walked two-and-a-half hours with her son to reach her village’s nearest health center, where WINGS held a mobile medical clinic.
When she heard a radio announcement about WINGS nearby clinic, Elena decided to see what she could learn. She proudly reported that she now knew that “all women need to do this [cervical] exam to avoid getting cancer,” but was nervous because she did not have any money to pay for the service. WINGS charges women Q10, or about $1.25, for a cervical cancer prevention screening, but will not turn away a patient, like Elena, who is unable to pay. WINGS screened Elena and her results were negative for pre-cancerous cervical cell abnormalities.
“I am so happy and grateful that WINGS helped me get tested even though I do not have money. If I didn’t come to this mobile clinic, I would not have gotten screened at all. It is too difficult to go to San Cristobal [the nearest bigger town where they offer exams].”
The Tall Pines League is a group made up of the leaders in 12 communities formed a year ago to promote camaraderie between their villages and improve intrafamilial relationships.
Gavino, one of the leaders, explains, “We saw a lot of violence in the community, including domestic violence, and young people without recreational opportunities. We wanted to create opportunities to bring families together.”
The group decided that a soccer tournament would be a good start. The men, women, and children of the community enjoyed the experience playing and watching the matches, but when rainy season came along, the group looked for another activity to engage their communities and try to decrease the level of violence.
Although the majority of their group is made up by men, their conversations revealed that women’s health was an area that was being overlooked. By dedicating an activity specifically for women, the leaders hoped to emphasize a women’s worth in her family and her rights as a citizen. As a result, the leaders contacted WINGS and the organization came to give a talk about cervical cancer prevention.
At first, only the wives of the men in the League came to the talk to learn more about cervical cancer and to get tested for cervical abnormalities. To confront the taboo in the community that has prevented open discussion about sexual and reproductive health, the League had to intensify their actions to recruit women participants for the activity. Each League member committed to talking to at least five women before the next WINGS talk.
WINGS supported the group with information and materials and the League met with groups of women to explain a bit about cervical cancer. They purposefully used their native language, Kakchiquel, in their outreach to ensure that the women received the information in the language with which they are most comfortable.After vigorous recruiting work by the community leaders, the house was packed with women wanting cervical cancer screenings.As a result of their efforts, the WINGS’ team held an additional four cervical cancer prevention talks. At each talk, there were more than 50 women in attendance.
Roberto, another representative of the League, expressed his appreciation: “We feel very satisfied. We didn´t think that it would be like this because convincing people in this region can be difficult. We believe what we are doing is a service to the community because it has shown that the women deserve to be included and respected. We dared to worry about women’s health because no one else does, not even the government.”
We at WINGS are inspired by the Tall Pines League. The leaders of the League challenged taboos and traditional gender roles in their communities, all for the good of women’s health and cervical cancer prevention.Gavino, of the League, says, “I could say a thousand words to thank WINGS, but really I only need four: Thank you very much!”
In mid-October, WINGS’ cervical cancer screening mobile unit ventured to the small village of Cuncún. Nestled among seemingly endless fields of sugar cane, the village’s residents make their livings by planting and harvesting on the plantation.
Rosa, a 34-year-old mother of four, was one of the approximately 20 women who attended the clinic to get a cervical cancer screening. She shared her reflections on why WINGS’ arrival to her community was so important to her.
“Here, it is difficult to go get to the health center. There are no buses that pass through our village, and if you aren’t lucky enough to hitchhike a ride on a truck leaving town, there is about an hour long walk to get to the bus stop,” explained Rosa.
“Besides the clinic coming right to our community, it was great that the screenings were done by two female nurses. In the health center, it is always a male doctor who does the test.” Rosa said that having a male perform the exam has delayed her from getting screened in the past, and she believes that is also the case among some of her friends and family members.
Rosa went on to explain that she is most excited about WINGS coming to her community because it is an important step in educating people about cervical cancer. “On my way here, I asked some of my neighbors if they were going to come to get screened. They asked me why I was going since they said only women who aren’t faithful to their husbands need to take these sorts of tests. It was very embarrassing, but I tried to explain that it wasn’t true. With the information that WINGS gave us today about the risk factors and causes of cervical cancer, I think the word will spread, and the next time WINGS comes to Cuncún, more women will be lined up here like I was.”
Teresa, 27, is from the small town of San Pedro Las Huertas. Recently, WINGS held a cervical cancer detection and prevention session in the community´s health center. This includes a talk about the causes, risks and methods of prevention of cervical cancer, as well as detection at a subsidized price using the VIA/Cryo method which provides in the moment results.
For Teresa, WINGS’ educational talk was “eye opening.” Before, she says that she had not heard exactly cervical cancer was caused. She now understands the relationship between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and the disease. She also learned that one of the risk factors is heredity, which really caught her attention.
Teresa´s sister María, 33, was diagnosed with cervical cancer two years ago. Teresa saw how she suffered, and not only from physical pain. María also faced the difficulty of consulting doctors who were not familiar with the disease. She visited various doctors who continued to tell her that she had a vaginal infection and only prescribed her antibiotic pills and creams. Finally, she found a doctor who realized the true cause of her problem and got the appropriate medical treatment. Her sister is now healthy, but her family is struggling with the debt brought on by paying for the operation, which cost around US$1300.
Because of how her sister suffered, Teresa has been scared to get tested. Her mother has been encouraging her to take this step for her own well being, but Teresa admits, if WINGS had not come to her community the day of the clinic, she probably would have continued to agonize over whether or not to get tested. Luckily, she was tested the day of the WINGS clinic and had no abnormalities.
Teresa had a message for the donors who make WINGS’ work possible. She says, “May God bless them and their families for the contributions they make. In my community, we are experiencing economic problems which would make these services too expensive without their help
Antonia received an unpleasant surprise when she attended one of WINGS’ cervical cancer screenings in her home town of Ciudad Quetzal in May. She had an abnormal growth on her cervix. At the clinic, WINGS subsidized her same day cryotherapy treatment, which destroys abnormal cellular growth that can lead to cancer . After further tests, however, the diagnosis was bleak. Antonia’s cancer had progressed too far for simple sameday clinical treatments to have an effect, and she would have to begin chemotherapy.
At only 23 years old and with one child, Antonia could not fathom how she had developed her cancer at such a young age, but she is determined to continue fighting it. Thanks to the early detection from the WINGS screening, and continued support through referrals and subsidized care, Antonia is confident that she will be able to beat her cancer.
For more information about WINGS' Cervical Cancer Prevention program, visit http://wingsguate.org/en/whatwedo/cervicalcancer
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