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Oct 12, 2018

On the Road with the Maternal Child Health Team

Vilma leads a workshop in San Juan La Laguna
Vilma leads a workshop in San Juan La Laguna

Our Maternal Child Health team works with 22 mothers in and around Santiago Atitlán, but Vilma and Rebeca are invested in the health of women all across the Lake Atitlán region. Cultural norms here in rural Guatemala tend to discourage open, honest conversation about women’s bodies, health, and sexuality, so education on these topics is as rare as it is vital. Our team believes that whether or not a woman is a mother, or ever plans to be, she deserves access to knowledge that helps her care for her whole body and her whole self.

While Vilma and Rebeca coordinate the logistics of our Maternal Child Health project, they are health educators first, passionate about empowering women to care for their own bodies. They regularly lead educational sessions for project participants, but during the month of September, Vilma and Rebeca traveled out into communities all around Lake Atitlán to lead workshops on sexual and reproductive health with women of all ages.

First, Vilma set off across the lake to an area she rarely visits in the course of her work. Recognized for her experience as a family planning educator with our Maternal Child Health project, she was invited to bring a workshop on that topic to women in six different communities along the lake’s northeast edge. Throughout September, she crossed the lake to meet women in their own communities.

Taboos around women’s bodies often produce misconceptions about family planning methods and their relationship to reproductive health. Vilma notes that her work often consists of challenging these misconceptions. “Many times women will say to other women, ‘That kind of family planning didn’t work for me, so it won’t work for you—or it made me sick, so it will hurt you too,” she says. “So maybe the most important thing I explain during the sessions is that every woman’s body is different, and not all methods will work for all bodies.”

During the last week of September, Vilma and Rebeca attended an activity right here in Santiago Atitlán. They were invited to participate in a health fair hosted by our partner health clinic Rxiin Tnamet in honor of World Contraception Day and asked to present on the topic of sexual and reproductive anatomy to the high school students in attendance. So Vilma and Rebeca brought their diagrams and their plastic models and spent the day teaching teens about their own bodies.

“We participated in this activity because I believe that if we promote the prevention of unplanned pregnancies, then we will see fewer single mothers in our community,” Vilma reflected. “Young people have to learn to respect women and women’s bodies.” She also noted the importance of a deep understanding of reproductive health topics. “Many people know their own anatomy in an intellectual sense, but they don’t understand it on a personal level, as it relates to their own emotions and desires. We want our community to be made up of people who are capable of making empowered decisions about their own health and their own futures. That is why it is important to educate young people.”

Vilma and Rebeca’s regular duties have brought them back to the Pueblo a Pueblo office, but they remain as invested as ever in empowering women through health education–both here at home and on the road!

*Photos by Alexandra Harrison-Cripps and Livvy Runyon 

Vilma presents a variety of contraceptive methods
Vilma presents a variety of contraceptive methods
Rebeca gives an anatomy presentation to students
Rebeca gives an anatomy presentation to students
Students visit the Pueblo a Pueblo booth
Students visit the Pueblo a Pueblo booth

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Oct 12, 2018

Encouraging Hygienic Habits in the Kitchen

Sandy leads a training at Tzanchaj Primary School
Sandy leads a training at Tzanchaj Primary School

“No matter how well we eat, no matter how much healthy food we cook, if we don’t practice good hygiene in the kitchen we can still get sick from what we eat.” Sandy Mendoza is Pueblo a Pueblo’s nutrition educator, and she recently wrapped up this year’s grand tour: fifteen trainings in five schools over the course of three months. She led trainings for 161 mothers and children, who cooked eight different recipes over the course of the summer. The theme of the last set of trainings was kitchen hygiene, a topic Sandy finds both vitally important and also overlooked within nutrition education.

One of those trainings took place at Tzanchaj Primary School, which sits a short distance from the center of Santiago Atitlán, with a group of mothers whose children attend the school. After unloading bags bursting with fresh produce and other ingredients, Sandy began the training with a short presentation about kitchen hygiene. She showed them images representing what not to do while preparing food and suggested what they should do instead. Rather than sneezing into your hands, she explained, it’s better to sneeze into your elbow so that you don’t spread germs when you use your hands to cook. She recommended that the women tie back their hair well so that it cannot fall into the food, and that they remove jewelry from their hands and wrists before cooking. She also pointed out that tasting spoons should not be placed back into the pot to stir food; rather, it is safer to place a bit of food into one’s hand in order to taste it, or wash the spoon first.

Above all, Sandy says, she wants to encourage training participants to be more organized in the kitchen—to wash dishes right away rather than letting them pile up, to keep surfaces clean, and to avoid putting dirty utensils into the food they prepare. “Most of us do some of these things at home,” she says, referring to the bad habits she tries to correct among participants. “But then we say, ‘That food made me sick.’ We have to think of why that might be, and choose to practice good hygiene instead!”

On the menu during the August trainings was pasta with chicken, broccoli, and garlic and a lentil salad with chopped spinach. “Kids will say they don’t like garlic, they might say it makes them sick,” Sandy told the women, “but once they taste it and get used to it, they’ll love it.” The women chatted as they cleaned and chopped vegetables and mixed the dishes together. Once the food was done, they each filled up containers of pasta and salad to take home to their families for dinner.

Sandy’s grand 2018 tour may have come to a close, but she’ll be back—she will soon begin planning for next year’s trainings, including designing brand new menus which will introduce participants to brand new ingredients. In the meantime, chicken-broccoli pasta may very well be on the menu in the homes of Tzanchaj Primary School's students...

Mothers look on during Sandy's introduction
Mothers look on during Sandy's introduction
Participants chat as they prepare vegetables
Participants chat as they prepare vegetables

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Oct 10, 2018

A New Group of Beekeepers Looks Toward the Future

Genaro leads the hands-on portion of the training
Genaro leads the hands-on portion of the training

It was hard to say goodbye to Las Diez Rosas, the all-female beekeeping collective that wrapped up their partnership with Pueblo a Pueblo in July. However, we are thrilled to announce that a new group of beekeepers has already gotten started with the support of our team! The Apicultores Ecológicos (the "Ecological Beekeepers") are a brand-new collective based in San Pablo La Laguna, one of the many small towns situated at the edge of Lake Atitlán.

The ten beekeepers have a lot in common—many of them are parents or grandparents, and all grew up right in San Pablo—but most of all, they are all members of coffee-growing families. This means that they have all experienced the instability and hardship that comes with coffee farming—the long hours of physical labor with little reward, the constant worry that drought or disease will wipe out their hard work, and the “thin months” that come when the income they make during the once-yearly coffee harvest runs out.

The Apicultores Ecológicos fight for the economic security of their families every day, and they have come to see beekeeping as a way to improve their situation. Beekeeping requires far less time and energy than coffee farming, especially when tasks and responsibilities are divided up among members of a team, so it is a good way for families to supplement the unreliable income they make from coffee.

This past month, the group came together for their first training as Pueblo a Pueblo partners. Genaro Simalaj, Pueblo a Pueblo's Beekeeping Senior Project Technician, began the session by asking the group to share their goals for the day’s training and their expectations for the project. He then invited each group member to reflect on why they had decided to participate. The new beekeepers shared their dreams for the future: they spoke about building a more stable, more secure life for their families and providing their children with an education. Many expressed hope that working together through beekeeping will help them achieve those dreams together.

Ana Maribel Quiacain Ujpan is the group’s president and the mother of a young son. She is interested in both the practical and theoretical knowledge necessary to a successful beekeeping enterprise—the physical work she will do with her hands as well as the organizational work she will do as the group’s leader. Maribel sees beekeeping as a valuable form of embodied knowledge that she will one day be able to pass down to her son. Beekeeping will become a valuable kind of inheritance for generations of Maribel’s family still to come.

Each member of the San Pablo collective is part of a family. Their families will benefit from the income they make through beekeeping both in the short term and into the future—both now, when Maribel is leading the group and checking on hives, and later, when her son may very well do the same.

Group members discuss their goals and expectations
Group members discuss their goals and expectations
Genaro leads a beekeeping lesson
Genaro leads a beekeeping lesson
Group members participate in the training
Group members participate in the training
Maribel speaks with project staff
Maribel speaks with project staff

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