| Mar 9, 2022
Expanding Impact & Ending Hunger in Guatemala
Lily Aju on a family visit.
Lily Ajú grew up in Patzún, a Kaqchikel Maya town, in a modest cluster of homes surrounded by family, including two brothers and two sisters. As a young girl, she dreamed of making a difference in her community. She didn’t know exactly what that would look like; she just knew she wanted to work with people and contribute.
For indigenous girls in Guatemala, following your passion, pushing through the cultural and societal barriers to access the necessary education and opportunities, can be a long, rugged road. But Lily realized her dream at Wuqu’ Kawoq. She began in 2015 as an interpreter for Kaqchikel-speaking patients. Two years later, she became a research assistant. She continued to grow, training in nutrition, and becoming the coordinator and now manager of the thriving Family-Centered Nutrition program.
At first, Lily was daunted by the prospect of guiding mothers in the care of their children and leading a team. Her drive to learn, along with regular training opportunities, helped build her skills and confidence. “I’ve learned how to take hemoglobin samples," she says, "and how to advise a mother to improve her child's malnutrition, and even very practical things like how to prepare healthy recipes.” She calls on her knowledge at home as well, helping her mother, who has diabetes, pick healthy foods and offering ideas to help keep the young children in her extended family well-nourished. She takes joy in earning the trust of Maya patients who have lost confidence in the public health system, and in seeing their children grow strong. She says the hardest thing about her job, which typically starts at 7 am and finishes at 7 pm, is that there’s never enough time in the day.
Remarkable women like Lily have helped inspire the vision for the Institute for Health Leadership, Education, and Equity, a center of excellence to train the next generation of community health providers and build health equity.
As we enter our 15th year, we are launching the Institute to leverage what we’ve learned to make an even bigger impact. Health workers from across Guatemala will learn how to use innovative, high-impact, culturally appropriate, patient-centered care to improve health in their communities. They also will explore ways to change systems and attack the root causes of health inequities and malnutrition.
We are so grateful for partners like you who have helped to build the foundation for this groundbreaking effort!