Improving Maternal-Infant Health for Mayan Women

 
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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.   

Students attend one of the sessions at Chukmuk
Students attend one of the sessions at Chukmuk

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.

Champions relaxing after a training
Champions relaxing after a training
Vilma, our social worker, starts the discussion
Vilma, our social worker, starts the discussion

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. 

One of our Champions presents to the group
One of our Champions presents to the group
Champions with their materials
Champions with their materials
Attendees at the first dicussion
Attendees at the first dicussion

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!

Vilma (far left) at a training with champions
Vilma (far left) at a training with champions

Pueblo a Pueblo’s Family Planning Champions (FPC) project, which is beginning its second year of implementation –  builds on our Maternal Child Health project by including local women in the dissemination of best practices in family planning and reproductive health.  We anticipate another exciting year of progress as we add 10 beneficiaries to our existing group in 2014. Also, now that staff is able to draw from lessons learned over the pilot year, we expect record growth in both community outreach and project efficacy.

Behind the scenes few people have put as much effort into the project as Wilma Mendoza Sosof, Pueblo a Pueblo’s standout social worker. Starting with a series of home interviews with potential participants, she recruits the most willing and able women around Santiago to be the project’s new champions for family planning. Her leadership in a four-day intensive course on the benefits of family planning and female reproductive health – provide knowledge that these women will later transmit to their peers by way of informal monthly meetings in their communities.

These monthly meetings serve to open dialogue on issues like spousal communication, reproductive health, family planning, sexually transmitted diseases and strategies on how to avoid them. In addition, each champion is tasked with identifying five new women for the FPC project each year; in this way, the scope of the project grows organically.

According to Wilma, “although we have faced some challenges, for example initial lack of female participation, machismo culture, and a widespread belief that bigger families are better, we are now seeing real success. Both women and men are participating, and through their engagement they are building a strong understanding of these issues.”

“And in 2014,” she finishes, “it doesn’t seem to be slowing down.  When we started last year nobody wanted to participate, and now our levels of interest and participation are increasing rapidly. It’s exciting to think where we might be at this point next year.” 

One of our champions
One of our champions
Vilma leads a session
Vilma leads a session

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Organization

Project Leader

Rosemary Trent

Executive Director
Santiato Atitlan, Solola Guatemala

Where is this project located?

Map of Improving Maternal-Infant Health for Mayan Women