WINGS

WINGS creates opportunities for Guatemalan families to improve their lives through family planning education and access to reproductive health services.
Sep 12, 2016

Saving Ines from Cervical Cancer

Ladies waiting for a cervical cancer screening
Ladies waiting for a cervical cancer screening

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. 

Family planning promoter Etelvina
Family planning promoter Etelvina
Etelvina babysitting while a patient gets screened
Etelvina babysitting while a patient gets screened
Jun 13, 2016

Saving Guatemalan Women From Cervical Cancer

Nurse Rosy during a talk about contraceptives
Nurse Rosy during a talk about contraceptives

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!

Rosy giving a talk about cervical cancer
Rosy giving a talk about cervical cancer
Rosy explaining cervical cancer at a mobile clinic
Rosy explaining cervical cancer at a mobile clinic
Jun 13, 2016

Life for Teenage Mothers in Guatemala

Young mothers at WINGS
Young mothers at WINGS' mobile clinic

Life for Teenage Mothers in Guatemala

Adolescence should be a period of discovery and change, of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. In Guatemala the reality is unfortunately a different one, where young girls have to learn to be adults too early. Guatemala has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America, and is the only country in Central America where teenage pregnancy is on the rise. A shocking 58.1% of young women become pregnant for the first time before age 18. This can often be attributed to sociocultural norms, lack of sexual education, and little access to reproductive health services. Unmet need for family planning is the highest among this age group, with 25.6% of young women between 15 and 24 expressing an unmet need.

In a recent mobile clinic in San Francisco Zapotitlán, on the country’s Pacific coast, we met 21-year-old Fabiola. Born in San Francisco Zapotitlán, Fabiola is one of seven siblings. Her mother sold vegetables and fruit in the local market to provide for her children. While her mother was working, Fabiola was in charge of the house, taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, despite being a child herself. As in many Guatemalan families, nobody ever told Fabiola about birth control. When she was 18, Fabiola had her first child. She struggled because on top of looking out for her younger siblings, she now had her own baby to take care of. At 19, Fabiola had her second child. Today, Fabiola is 21 years old and has three children. Raising her three children has not been easy: “Being a mother is a beautiful thing, but sometimes I feel like I can barely manage. I can’t afford to provide my children with everything I’d like to give them, and when they get sick, I can’t sleep because I’m worried about their well-being”.  

Days before the mobile clinic, our Field Supervisor Mylin visited women in San Francisco Zapotitlán to talk about their family planning options and encourage them to attend our mobile clinic. Although Fabiola showed up, she was very scared about using birth control. In San Francisco as in many Guatemalan communities, birth control is highly stigmatized. While she was afraid that her community would judge her, Fabiola knew that she could not afford to have more children. After discussing which contraceptive options we could offer her, Fabiola chose the subdermal hormonal implant, which provides up to 5 years of protection. Fabiola said she is grateful to WINGS because now she does not have to worry about becoming pregnant again and she is ready to dedicate all her time to raising her three boys. “WINGS is one of the few organizations that has reached out to women in my community. Many of us do not have enough money to go to a big hospital and pay for expensive services. Once I told the nurses I did not have enough money for the implant, they gave it to me for free!”

Young mothers at WINGS’ clinic

It is not surprising that many teenagers end up being parents at a young age, just like Fabiola. There is little and often incorrect information available to them and very limited access to contraceptive methods or they cannot afford them. Young women face barriers many older women do not, such as biased health care providers who refuse to attend them, claiming adolescents are not old enough for this type of education or services. WINGS strives to be as youth-friendly as possible, training our staff and volunteer promoters on how to provide youth-friendly counseling and providing contraceptive methods free of charge to anyone age 15 to 19. Last year alone 3,429 young women and men came to WINGS for a short-acting or long-acting reversible contraceptive method.

During the same mobile clinic, we met Berta, a 19-year-old girl who carried her 10-month-old baby in her arms. Berta too had never learned about birth control – not even in school where teachers are legally required to provide sexual education.  When Berta was 5 years old, her mother passed away. She was raised by her aunts and her father. Her family is very religious, and she was not allowed to ask any questions related to sexuality. She was very surprised when she got pregnant, as was all her family. A friend of her late mother told Berta about the mobile clinic, so Berta came in to get a subdermal hormonal implant. Berta may want to have one other child in the future, but she is happy that she now gets to choose when she is ready for that.

It is through the support of our donors that we can provide reproductive health services to youth in Guatemala, free of cost, so that they can have a chance at a better future. Thank you so much for supporting WINGS in empowering young women in Guatemala to take control of their reproductive lives. 

21-year-old Fabiola and her youngest of 3 sons
21-year-old Fabiola and her youngest of 3 sons
Berta, 19, and her 10-month-old son
Berta, 19, and her 10-month-old son
Isabela, 18, breastfeeds at WINGS
Isabela, 18, breastfeeds at WINGS' mobile clinic
 
   

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