In Guatemala, there is much pushback toward family planning. Many people believe it is a sin to use contraceptive methods, and it is commonly believed that a woman’s role in life is solely to have children. Sadly, given that Guatemala is a very patriarchal country, many men support and encourage these ideals. In fact, many women in this country cannot use a contraceptive method without asking for her partner’s permission.
At WINGS, we believe that family planning is also men’s responsibility. We are certain that including and educating them about why family planning is beneficial. We have many adolescent men in our Youth Program, many of which have become Youth Leaders, and are making change in their communities. Another program we have at WINGS is our permanent procedure program; we offer vasectomies and charge roughly $6 for this surgery. We are excited to see more and more men welcoming this decision into their lives.
Lucas, 30 years old, came to our Antigua clinic in July. We held a Vasectomy Clinic, where 15 men showed up. When men arrive at our clinic during a Vasectomy Clinic day, they first get signed up, and then our Medical Director Michelle Dubón gives a talk to explain how the procedure works, along with the risks and benefits it has. After each man gets a vasectomy, they go to a room where we provide them food and a place to recover.
Lucas has two children. He had his first child when he was only 20 years old. Lucas shares his experience; “I had my first child at 20 and he was unplanned. I knew that condoms existed, but I was too afraid to buy them or ask for them. Because of how taboo this topic is in Guatemala, I felt judged. Now, I’m not embarrassed to ask for a condom but I know young people definitely feel bad when they have to do that. “
When he was young, family planning and contraceptive use were not to be spoken of in his community and in the country in general. Lucas never got information from his parents or other family members, and when he tried to ask his teacher in school, the teacher would change the subject. Lucas explained to us: “I acquired information about sexual and reproductive health from other types of people who were probably not the best role models. I think it is very necessary to get this type of advice from someone who is trained to do so and who is knowledgeable”. Lucas mentioned that despite technology being so advanced these days, and even though more people have phones and internet now than ever before, nobody seeks reproductive health information. When asked why he thought people didn’t take the initiative to learn about their own bodies; he said that from a very young age, boys and girls are taught to feel guilty if they ask any questions related to sex. Lucas thinks the consequences of this can be seen in the high rates of teen pregnancies. He mentioned that nobody takes the time to talk to teenagers and explain what the changes in their bodies mean. Lucas has already started to talk with his little boy and with his nephews about reproductive health, so that they will never feel embarrassed to ask him anything.
When asked why he decided to get a vasectomy, Lucas shared that he made this decision because not only women should do it; “Getting a vasectomy will make it easier for me and my wife. Even though there are contraceptive methods for my wife, I am happy she doesn’t have to use them anymore. We don’t want any more children, so this is the soundest decision.”
His wife already had two C-sections and he thinks it’s unfair for her to undergo another surgery, even if it’s a simple procedure. Lucas’s family is very supportive of him, and many of his family members have gotten a vasectomy. However, his friends have given him a hard time about his decision. They think that after getting a vasectomy, a man won’t ejaculate, hence making him less manly. “There are so many myths! My friends have the idea that a vasectomy makes you less of a man, and their attitude is very disturbing. I do what I can to reduce their misunderstandings so that they will one day make the same decision I did.”
Lucas is grateful to WINGS because in Guatemala City, this procedure can be very expensive, and he is not financially stable enough to pay a huge amount of money. He tells us that even though he had to come from the city, WINGS made everything so easy; from the low price that he preferred without hesitation, to signing up in the clinic that morning, to hearing the doctor’s explanation, to the brief procedure, to the care he was provided afterward. Lucas shared his thoughts about WINGS’ work and he mentioned that WINGS is doing a huge service for communities in Guatemala, and that he wishes we could reach the entire country. Lucas voiced his faith in the organization; “I encourage you to keep on doing what you do. Go to as many communities as you can, reach out to all the teenagers and families who are lacking information. I know that you are going to change this country.” At WINGS, we are pleased to see that more and more men are becoming involved and supporting their families by taking control of their reproductive health. We are also pleased to know that we can count on your support to make these programs possible. Thank you so much for investing in family planning services in Guatemala.
Despite it being treatable if caught on time, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in Guatemala. This tells us that the majority of women in Guatemala do not get screened in time to save them from an early death. WINGS works daily to change this reality. In both our stationary and mobile clinics, our nurses provide cervical cancer screenings for women throughout rural Guatemala. If we detect cancerous cells during the screening, we provide immediate cryotherapy treatment. If the cancer is more developed, we follow up with the patient and provide resources so she can go to the hospital and get further treatment. We also have volunteer family planning promoters in communities, and they are crucial in saving women from cervical cancer.
Etelvina has been a volunteer family planning promoter at WINGS for 8 years. She started working with WINGS because she is passionate about supporting her community, Santo Tomás Milpas Altas, especially women who need guidance. When women have reproductive health concerns, Etelvina encourages them to take action and seek help, and counsels them so they feel less nervous about this very taboo topic.
Etelvina told us that the public health center in her community is in very poor condition; it lacks resources and trained staff to provide accurate counseling. When women seek reproductive health services, the staff at the health center does not provide accurate or sufficient information. That is why Etelvina takes matters into her own hands and helps her community as much as she can.
As a volunteer promoter, Etelvina focuses on family planning services, specifically preventing unintended pregnancies and helping women space their pregnancies. As part of her role with WINGS, Etelvina also coordinates several mobile clinics for her community each month. She encourages women to undergo cervical cancer screenings. Many women have shown positive results in their screenings. Fortunately, these pre-cancerous cells have been detected in time and are treated on the spot with cryotherapy.
Etelvina shared with us the story of Ines, a 26-year-old woman who came for a screening and needed treatment beyond cryotherapy. Thanks to Etelvina’s follow up with this woman, we were able to coordinate chemotherapy sessions and cervix removal through another institution. To this day, Etelvina visits Ines to make sure she has fully recovered and is in good health. When asked why she thinks cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related death in Guatemala, Etelvina knew the answer immediately; “Women in Guatemala are scared of going to the doctor for a check-up. These are conservative women, and they feel that the procedure is very invasive. They are also afraid that the result of a cervical cancer screening will be positive, so they would rather not know. I always tell them that if they get tested on time, there’s a solution and treatment for them.”
Etelvina is one of sixty volunteer family planning promoters that support WINGS in providing reproductive health services to those who could otherwise not access them. It is thanks to these great women that people in the most rural, remote areas get access to reproductive health services. Furthermore, it is thanks to you that our family planning promoters get a chance to make such a huge impact in their communities. Thank you for helping us save lives in Guatemala.
In Guatemala, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths among Guatemalan women. While the disease is preventable and highly treatable if detected early, in countries like Guatemala where healthcare is largely inaccessible, it’s a grim story. Inadequate health centers, lack of knowledge, and geographic barriers make it difficult for women to get screened for cervical cancer in Guatemala.
Ten years ago, WINGS developed its Cervical Cancer Prevention Program to overcome these challenges by providing visual inspection with acetic acid and immediate cryotherapy treatment for pre-cancerous cells. We continue to offer these life-saving services in stationary clinics in Sololá, Cobán and Antigua, and through our mobile clinics, which travel to the most remote areas of the country to reach underserved women. We have provided lifesaving services to improve the lives of thousands of women in Guatemala, even within our own team!
41 year old WINGS’ Nurse Rosy was born in a rural community in San Cristobal, located in northern Guatemala. Rosy travels every month with our mobile team to provide family planning information and contraceptives to the most remote areas of the country. Like many of the girls and women we serve, Rosy has faced many challenges in her life. When she was only 15 years old, her family forced her to marry a man who turned out to be abusive. Sadly, in Guatemala it is very common for young girls to be married off without their consent. Rosy suffered through her marriage because, similar to many women in her situation, she didn’t have a say in any decisions. Although Rosy was finally able to separate from her husband, the difficulties persisted. As a single mother, Rosy had to figure out how to make ends meet so she could feed her four children and send them to school. Luckily, her former father-in-law was very supportive and encouraged her to go back to school.
Rosy and her family had never received any information about reproductive health and prior to resuming her studies, she knew very little about her own health in general. As a child, she lost her mom and aunt to cervical cancer. Neither had ever been screened and Rosy was terrified that the she would face the same health burden. However, as an assistant nurse providing these important services throughout Northern Guatemala, Rosy decided to undergo a screening with our team. Unfortunately, our staff discovered abnormal cell growth which could lead to cancer, but our team treated Rosy immediately.
As Rosy shared with our team that day, “I am truly grateful to WINGS for supporting me and allowing me to keep being a mother to my children. I now have my nursing diploma and I am so proud to be able to help people who need it. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with WINGS; I love every part of my job. I give educational talks to different communities in my native Mayan language; I provide different birth control methods; and I screen women to help prevent cervical cancer. This work is so important and I hope that I can keep doing it forever.”
Like Rosy’s aunt and mother, there are thousands of women in Guatemala who do not know about the causes of cervical cancer and how to prevent it. WINGS has worked endlessly to change this and provide information and reproductive health services to Guatemalan women in need. In 2015, we surpassed our cervical cancer screening projection by 141%, ensuring that 3,062 women were able to undergo preventive screenings. And in the first three months of 2016 alone, we have already provided 496 cervical cancer screenings.
It is because of supporters like yourself that we are able to provide these imperative services, saving thousands of women from cervical cancer in Guatemala. Thank you for believing in the work WINGS does!