For Pueblo a Pueblo, working in maternal and child health means indigenous women have access to safe and healthy pregnancies. They also receive the education and support they need to give their children a healthy start in life.
It gives us pleasure to see newborn babies grow into healthy, active children, and young women transform into educated, empowered mothers. However, there are many challenges in our work as a third of indigenous women in Guatemala give birth before turning eighteen years old.
Teenage pregnancies cause unique risks that threaten the health of a mother and her newborn child. Such risks include lack of prenatal care, susceptibility to high blood pressure and birthing complications, premature births and low birth weights, sexually transmitted diseases, post-partum depression, and feelings of isolation and lack of social support.
As such we know how important it is to support first-time mothers and pregnant young women. So in recent months we invited twenty pregnant adolescents to join our Maternal Child Health program and two of them gave birth in early April.
Dolores, one of the new mothers, found Pueblo a Pueblo in January. She was sixteen, single and pregnant, and came from a rural community that lacked medical services. Upon enrollment in our program, Dolores received prenatal care, including multivitamins and folic acid to support the development of her unborn child, and has been very active in our monthly educational sessions.
While her pregnancy was healthy, Dolores had a complicated delivery. She spent the day before her birth in pain and at 3 a.m. she had to call the local firemen to bring her to the nearest hospital. Upon arrival the attendees told Dolores that her pregnancy was too high risk and that she would have to travel to the region’s capital, more than an hour and a half away, to give birth. But Dolores could not make that journey.
Despite of the complications she had during her delivery, Dolores gave birth in the local hospital to a healthy baby boy, thanks in part to the prenatal care and medical services provided to her through our Maternal Child Health program. We know that healthy beginnings provide the needed foundation for a bright future, and are happy to help women and their families grow and thrive throughout rural Guatemala.
Every second Wednesday of the month, laughter spills out of the Pueblo a Pueblo courtyard and travels through the office displaying the excitement and energy of women as they meet to learn more about healthy pregnancies and child development. In October, Pueblo a Pueblo’s Maternal Child Health meetings became not only louder, but much livelier when seventeen new expectant mothers joined our existing group.
In order to reach those women who are most in need, new beneficiaries are selected from criteria that make them ideal candidates for our program. First, they all come from rural communities where health care services are rare and poverty rates are high. They’re also young, with an average age of 24. Most importantly, they are all pregnant when they join the program, many for the first time.
Thanks to your generous support, these women receive the life-saving education and medical attention they need to ensure a healthy delivery for their newborn babies.
One of the women we support is Antonia. Prior to joining the group in October, Antonia’s pregnancy was labeled as high risk. With a history of one miscarriage and a diagnosis of diabetes, she was in need of constant prenatal attention.
Right after joining Pueblo a Pueblo’s Maternal Child Health program, Antonia suffered from early hemorrhaging in her last trimester. Using what she learned in one of our monthly meetings, Antonia recognized that she was experiencing the warning signs associated with a possible miscarriage. Due to the access to medical care that our program provides, doctors were able to stop the bleeding and save her unborn child. Since then Antonia has been provided with prenatal vitamins and free medical appointments to ensure that the remainder of her pregnancy is a healthy one. She now feels better and looks forward to giving birth in April.
In the span of only three months, Antonia’s life has changed. Her unborn child was saved and her health improved. Being poor and from a rural area lacking in medical services, Antonia will now receive the education and care that was previously unavailable to her.
We are proud to be expanding our reach to provide the support that mothers like Antonia need and we look forward to increasing our impact in the coming year.
Pueblo a Pueblo’s Maternal Child Health program launched the Family Planning Champions project last year to help break the silence surrounding sexuality and reproductive health among rural women in Guatemala. But what began as informal one-on-one conversations between our trained community educators and their neighbors has now grown into widespread community discussions held in public and private institutions.
Over the past few months, our Champions have begun to collaborate with new partners to provide more local opportunities for women to learn about key topics in women’s health. Their first outreach events were held in collaboration with the coordinator of the Municipal Office for Women. Twenty-four women of all ages from Santiago Atitlan attended the trainings, which focused on reproductive health, family planning techniques and how to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy. Later in the month, Champions also led two workshops for the employees of the Rxiin Tnament health clinic on similar topics.
The most exciting opportunity for our Champions, however, was to provide sexual and reproductive health classes to adolescents in Chukmuk’s high school. In September three Champions led sessions for boys and girls across three grade levels, all aged 13 through 17 years old. They spoke about the physiology and anatomy of male and female reproductive systems, sexually transmitted diseases, and what steps to take to prevent health risks like cervical cancer.
Discussions like these are both unprecedented and of critical importance. In Guatemala, particularly in rural areas, topics related to sexual health are often avoided, and there is no nationwide curriculum to discuss health or sexual education within schools. As a result, the country has the one of the lowest rates of contraceptive usage and one of the highest fertility rates in Latin America.
Here at Pueblo a Pueblo, we are excited to expand our Family Planning Champions project and to use every outreach event as an opportunity to break the local silence on reproductive health issues.
In June and July our " Family Planning Champions" – 19 local women committed to providing women in their communities with information and access to services on family planning and sexual and reproductive health – held their first ever community discussions.
While typically Champions seek out at-risk women between the ages of 15 to 29 in their own neighborhoods, often holding small informational sessions in kitchens and backyards, this summer they were contacted by the government’s Municipal Office for Women (OMM) to engage larger groups of women at pre-scheduled trainings on job opportunities in the region.
The first two discussions – ‘charlas’ in Spanish – took place with separate groups of 12 women. At each discussion different Champions talked about natural and artificial family planning techniques, as well as general tips on how to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.
And right now, this work is more important than ever.
Over the next few months, as government institutions usually tasked with spreading information on women’s health near the end of their annual budgets, our Champions will become the only culturally-appropriate resource for women in these communities seeking advice and support.
It happens every year. Last October through November, the number of activities held and referrals made by Champions went up significantly, in large part because alternative sources of information had dried up and closed their doors.
We expect this year to be no different, and we’re incredibly proud of how our Champions are rising confidently to the task.
In just the past three months, our Maternal Child Health (MCH) Project has graduated 3 women; 35 women have received brand new sets of pots and pans; and one woman, Isabela, has decided, despite her pregnancy, to continue her education and commit to completing high-school!
Needless to say, it’s been an exciting month.
Those who recently graduated the MCH project meet the future with increased knowledge about information and reproductive services that are available to young women and mothers in their communities. Although we’re sad to see them go, we’re eager to see how they spread messages about family planning and reproductive health to their friends and family members.
We’d like to highlight our partnership with CEMACO, a large supermarket chain in Guatemala, which provided a generous donation of key supplies for our beneficiaries’ homes. It’s easy to take kitchen resources for granted, but many of these women cook every day for up to 10 family members with cracked pots and pans over broken stoves. Just this small contribution will make their lives much easier.
Finally, we’ve been inspired in particular by Isabela, the most recent addition to our Maternal Child Health Project. Despite her family’s traditional expectation that she would leave school when she became pregnant, she has made it clear that motherhood won’t supplant her education. Now she’s dually enrolled in our MCH and Education Scholarships Projects and looks forward to walking the stage for her high school diploma in November.
Work doesn’t stop here, though. Over the summer we’ll be enrolling three new mothers for the MCH Project as well as providing three trainings this month for our current group. As always, we’ll be sure to keep you updated!
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