Improving Maternal-Infant Health for Mayan Women

 
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Rebeka visiting mothers in the Chacaya community
Rebeka visiting mothers in the Chacaya community

For the past year, Rebeka, a young resident of Santiago Atitlan, has been volunteering for Pueblo a Pueblo. This past March she became a full-time employee with our Maternal Child Health program and in her new position as program assistant, she has been very busy. Each month, Rebeka prepares and leads eight different educational sessions for the women in our Family Planning Champions and Maternal Child Health projects.

She also conducts home visits in three rural communities to meet one-on-one with the women in our program. Through these home visits, which are done to gain information on the health of a mother or her child or to help a Champion feel prepared for her charla, Rebeka has gotten to know the women personally and over time has gained their trust. Now, many of the home visits function as “safe spaces,” where women feel they can ask and talk about other taboo topics, like alcoholism and domestic violence.

Although her work in community outreach can be controversial at times, Rebeka feels that it is important to educate women on the topics of reproductive health, responsibilities of child-raising, and the women’s sexual rights. In her view, Rebeka feels like she is educating women when she gives a charla, but more importantly the women become empowered when they begin discussing these topics with their friends or spouses, or when they decide to use a family planning method.

“I’m considered very educated for my community,” she told me, “I went to primary school, high school, and university and I never learned about these topics. So imagine what it’s like for someone without an education hearing these topics for the first time.” For this reason, Rebeka is moved to work on women’s health issues and we’re happy to have her as an employee at Pueblo a Pueblo. 

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.   

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

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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