Christmas tamales, games, and prizes brought smiles to every face at our annual Maternal Child Health (MCH) program party. The fiesta features awards for the best attendance through the year, trivia quizzes on health and parenting topics, and games like sack races, balloon pops, and zany fun like kids wrapping each other into toilet-paper mummies!
The annual fiesta encourages mothers to stay active in the MCH program, but it also serves another important purpose. Program volunteer Sara Yablon-Smith explains, “These women work incredibly hard taking care of their families. From the time they wake up each morning, they are taking care of children, building and cooking over a wood fire, cleaning, washing clothes by hand, and so much more. And in their ‘free time’ they are weaving or doing beadwork to try to earn additional income. This annual holiday party is a moment when they can relax and enjoy time with their friends and their children.”
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The mothers of the Maternal Child Health Program were all very excited when we announced that another generous donor had raised money to install more ONIL stoves. After Chonita, our outreach worker, selected four women with the greatest need, we met with Cameron and his team from Cojolya so that he could chat with the moms about the stoves, how they work, why they are beneficial and how to properly maintain them. Using pictures, but more importantly firsthand knowledge (he and his wife have used the same ONIL stove for the past 10 years), Cameron and his wife Isabel were able to answer the mothers’ questions and dispel misinformation about the stoves. By the end of the meeting, the moms were so excited that they asked Cameron to install them right away.
Having never seen an installation, I was intrigued to see how it would all work. What stood out to me was the ease of installing the stoves. Cameron has been installing them for over 5 years, but even still, they are relatively straight forward as long as you ensure the first step-making the ground level-is done correctly. After that come the 11 cinder blocks, provided by the mothers, the individual pieces that make up the stove, the firebox being lined with sand and ash, and finally the stove top and the chimney. The mothers are walked through each step, in particular key parts of the stoves that need maintenance, and then they watch as Isabel lights a fire and the stove heats up quickly.
I asked the women what they thought about the stoves and they all beamed and told me how happy it makes them to have a stove that will cut down on their exposure to smoke while also burning much less firewood. When I followed up to ask what the first thing they would cook would be, two answered right off “Tortillas!” while the others answered rice and coffee. One of them started before we had even left their house! Thanks again to all our supporters for allowing us to ensure the mothers and children of our programs can have a healthier future!
The June Maternal and Child Health educational session consisted of teaching the women about two natural methods of birth control: lactational amenorrhea method and Cycle Beads Lactational amenorrhea, otherwise referred to as MELA in Spanish, focuses on the importance of exclusively breastfeeding and provides the women with an easy and free method of birth control for 6 months after a birth. Cycle Beads encourage women to bring their spouse or partner into the discussion of family planning, focusing on using the woman's own cycle to calculate fertile and non-fertile days.
Women listened intently while Chonita, our health educator, spoke in T’zutujil about the importance of family planning and brought the women into the conversation, allowing them to ask questions and participate. The women then completed an exercise where they got to practice using Cycle Beads to ensure they understood the proper way to use this method. The women were eager to learn and participate, having chosen family planning methods as a topic of specific interest to them. They left well informed and happy.
Two weeks ago, we also welcomed a group of undergraduate students from Ohio State University who were connected with Pueblo a Pueblo through Peacework, another NGO that leads trips with groups of volunteers. The students spent the school year in the United States raising enough money to provide ten ONIL stoves to our mothers. Once they arrived in Santiago they were excited to meet the families and help install the stoves in each household.
Through this relationship we are able to provide stoves to more families at a lower cost. This project also provided an opportunity to teach the families about how smoke inhalation affects their health, as well as how saving trees can help the environment around the lake where deforestation is widespread.
A big thanks to all the students from OSU’s Global Health Initiative for their support of our programs. We look forward to partnering with more groups in the future in order to continue providing these valuable stoves to more women in our program.
The Maternal Child Health Program celebrated Mother´s Day this month along with some exciting activities. We had a high turn-out at our educational seminars this month with a few of the fathers in attendance as well, one of them for the first time. The topic we presented at the May seminar included family planning methods: Depo-Provera, Cyclofem, and contraceptive pills. The women asked questions and participated in active discussions throughout the class.
After the meeting, we had packages of baby clothes and shoes to give out to the mothers, who were all very thankful to receive them. Additionally, a local dental intern provided complimentary fluoride treatments for each woman, a first time for many of them.
In the coming month, Pueblo a Pueblo will be welcoming a volunteer group of undergraduate students to Santiago, Atitlan. This group has raised enough money to purchase and install 10 Onil stoves for the mothers of our Maternal Child Health Program. In rural Guatemala, many women cook food for their families using fire pits that are placed on top of a dirt floor in their one-room house. The frequent exposure to open fire stoves in poorly ventilated areas leads to acute and chronic respiratory disease, lung malignancies, eye diseases, burns, low birth weight, and infant mortality. According to the World Health Organization, excessive smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death for children under five in Guatemala. The steel chimney that comes with each stove will be channel pollutants away from the house. Furthermore, the insulated cement stoves burn significantly less wood, which will help ease deforestation, while also saving money for each household.
In preparation for this project, one of the Pueblo a Pueblo volunteers, Abby Levin, has been going on home visits with our local health educator, Chonita Ramirez, to select the women to receive an Onil stove. Since we cannot provide stoves for everyone this time around, the criteria for receiving a stove is based on home ownership, level of participation in the program, and need (variables for this factor include: the lack of a current stove with chimney, proximity of open-fire stove to the bedroom of the family, number of people who use stove to gauge amount of smoke produced.) We look forward to partnering with more groups in the future to continue providing these valuable resources as they are much needed, and extremely appreciated.
This month the Maternal Child Health Program monthly educational seminar focused on reproductive anatomy and birth spacing and introduced family planning methods. Interestingly enough, the local language does not have words for many of the reproductive organs, so our health educator used a mixture of Spanish and Tz’utujil. The members of the group labeled the female and male reproductive parts before and after the lesson and we saw a huge improvement in what they know about their bodies. Discussion related to the importance of birth spacing gave participants the opportunity to reflect on the benefits of having fewer children. Not only was the health of the mother and existing children discussed, but also economic stability of the entire family.
Family planning continues to be a very important topic here in Guatemala. The average number of births per woman in this country is 4.4, however, in areas such as Santiago Atitlan, it is still common for women to have eight or more children. Part of the reason the birth rate is higher in rural areas of Guatemala is the lack of education and availability of family planning methods. Luckily, in Santiago our partnering medical clinic provides nearly every form of birth control. However, education about the benefits of family planning and how to use these methods is still lacking among the people in the community. For this reason, Pueblo a Pueblo is focusing the next 4 sessions of our educational seminar on how a woman can space or limit births using natural, hormonal, barrier or permanent methods.
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