Improving Maternal-Infant Health for Mayan Women

 
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$3,261
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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

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.  

Your donations over the past few months have facilitated two new projects in our Maternal Health Program here in Santiago Atitlán, Guatemala.

The first is an embroidery workshop with some of the women in our Family Planning Champions program. Each Saturday morning they receive embroidery instruction from a professional who is assisted by several individuals currently working in our MCH program. Upon entering the workshop most of the women did not know how to embroider, but they have made impressive strides in a few short weeks and are looking forward to displaying and selling their first embroidered patches.  Learning embroidery in Santiago Atitlan is a very important skill for Tz’utujil women because nearly every woman and girl wears the traditional Huipil (a colorful, hand-woven and hand-embroidered shirt with birds and flowers).  It is the pride of the Tz’utujil community and many women spend long hours weaving and adorning their huipiles.  It is also one of the few activities that women they can do while they are at home taking care of their children.  Huipiles and textile cloth can be very costly, so if a woman can embroider her own huipil, she won't have to pay anyone else to do it for her. This skill can help women save a huge amount of money, and can also provide entrepreneurial opportunities for her and her family if they sell the embroidered products in the market.  Santiago Atitlán is famous for its beautiful and complex textiles, and there is a demand for them throughout the rest of Guatemala and internationally. Teaching women how to embroider is one of the best ways to encourage social entrepreneurship and empower women within the Tz’utujil community.

The second project is an HIV awareness and testing campaign. In fact, it’s first year that Pueblo a Pueblo and the Municipal government of Santiago have worked together to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.  For the National Week Against HIV (August 19th-23rd) the Municipality provided rapid HIV tests that were administered free-of-charge, with the goal of testing at least 500 people during the week.  Pueblo a Pueblo helped plan the week’s events with local government officials and financed the ‘Get Tested’ campaign to promote HIV awareness, detection, and prevention. Correspondingly, the MCH program oriented the trainings for its beneficiary women around HIV transmission and prevention and encouraged them to get tested for HIV.  

We deeply appreciate all you have done to make these projects possible. Your generosity has provided women in Santiago both with the ability to generate income independently and with basic knowledge about the transmission and prevention of HIV. 

Recently, Pueblo a Pueblo launched our new “Family Planning Champions” program, or Campeones de Planificacion Familiar, in which twenty women from our Maternal and Child Health program signed up to be trained as family planning mentors to other women in the community. This past week, our Campeones successfully completed their final training session and are now looking forward to their new roles as peer mentors, spreading the word about effective methods of family planning.

In preparation for their work with the program, the women were trained in numerous topics related to family planning and maternal health. These trainings included topics such as human reproductive anatomy, cervical cancer, methods of effective communication, and family planning strategies and religion.

Pueblo a Pueblo Program Assistant Vilma Mendoza, who trained the women for their roles as Campeones, is optimistic about the new program. She says that many of the women have expressed enthusiasm for their new roles and have attended trainings ready to learn about what they can do to positively impact their community.

“It is important to teach the entire municipality about the diversity of methods they can use if they want to plan their births,” she says. “So it is good that these women are really participating, and now they are going out into the community to transmit this information.”

In the weeks ahead, we hope to bring you more news about Campeones de Planificacion Familiar and what they are doing to impact the health of the women of Santiago.

The Maternal Child Health Program is starting  2013 by reaching more women in the communities in and around Santiago Atitlan than ever before! This year, we are adding a new component to our education outreach strategy.  In order to spread the importance of maternal and child health on a larger scale, we are selecting twenty mothers, dubbed our Family Planning Champions, within our sponsor program to become maternal & child health educators within the community. By appointing these women as community mentors, we can guarantee that the knowledge they continue to gain during Pueblo a Pueblo trainings can flourish and benefit other families beyond our doors.

 

The mothers we have selected to be our newest team of educators, our Family Planning Champions, have participated in our maternal health programs and trainings for at least three years, and have individually distinguished themselves for their strong participation in our trainings and their desire to be well educated on health related issues for themselves and their families. To prepare these women to become beneficial mentors in their communities, the Maternal Child Health program is preparing Family Planning Champion trainings based on effective peer to peer communication techniques, along with reviewing the importance of family planning and reproductive health issues.

 

Ultimately, our goal is to educate as many women and families as we can about the importance of maternal and child health. Knowledge is power, and thanks to the educational trainings our sponsored mothers have received, we can continue to spread women empowerment throughout Santiago Atitlan and beyond.

We are so excited to have our Maternal Child Health program progress and evolve, and we couldn’t be more thankful for our generous sponsors through GlobalGiving!

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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