Our 2012 scholarship group
It's been a busy month at Primeros Pasos! We've had a few changes in staff and are making good changes to have a great year!
GENERAL UPDATE ON STAFF CHANGES
We've got some brand new faces this year. First and foremost, our new full time clinic director, María Elena Xuruc. María Elena is from Totonicapán and has her Business Administration degree from the University Mariano Gálvez of Quetzaltenango, as well as a technical degree from Broome Community College in New York. María Elena is currently attending University to obtain her Masters in Administration during the weekends in Sololá. She has worked for international and local organizations including SESAN/UNICEF, ASOSAM/ChildFund, Samaritan's Purse, and Save the Children, and has extensive knowledge in management and coordination of projects, human resource management, technical and administrative support, program development, strategic planning, and monitoring and evaluation. She's doing a great job and is a real pleasure to work with!
At the beginning of January, our dentist, Dr. Cintia Velasquéz, took another position with an organization working in San Marcos, her home department. We were sad to see her go, but our new dentist is actually a familiar face. Dr. Byron Quixtan served at the clinic for nine months last year as part of his final practicum study through the University of San Carlos. Our staff enjoyed Dr. Byron's time with Primeros Pasos so much that it was easy to ask him to join our staff. Dr. Byron has a dental practice with his father in Xela and is now working at the clinic in the mornings Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In February we will also have a new dental student working alongside Dr. Byron to serve as many patients from the Valley as possible this year.
Our new volunteer coordinator, Eline Boonstra, took over in January after Rachel Kitch took a great opportunity in Antigua Guatemala. Eline is from The Netherlands and holds a degree in social work. She has traveled around Central and South America over the last few years, and has lived in Xela for the last year working as the volunteer coordinator at El Nahual Community Center. We're glad to have her with us!
We also have some changes in positions at the clinic. Lucy Alvarado, our former Women's Health Education Program Assistant, is now leading our Children's Health Program as well as our Scholarship Program. Magui Pérez, our former Administrative Assistant, has now moved to assist Lucy with the Children's Health Program. Staff and the Guatemalan board decided that it was best to put an assistant in the Children's Health Program to help reach our goal of treating and educating over 3,000 children in all 10 schools, both in the clinic and in the classrooms. We've also hired a long term volunteer from the community, Adolfo Mendez, to work three days a week as our Reception and Pharmacy Coordinator, helping to keep track of our patients files and medication inventory.
We currently have two medical volunteers with us working on a research project looking at the levels of parasites in school children. Along with many suggestions to better track statistics, our volunteers have recommended going forward with a universal treatment system for students, meaning that we would give all children albendazole once a year and only evaluate stool samples from students with symptoms and a control group for data purposes. First we'll have to look into ways to get albendazole at a discounted price, and redesign our paperwork for Valley student patients. We'd like to assign each student a unique ID number so that patient history can also be kept and tracked.
Right now staff is doing research into lowering the costs of the medical program and looking for more partnerships to reach this goal. Right now we're working to find a cheaper source of medication for our pharmacy, as well as working with the dentist on the Guatemalan board to help get us some new equipment for the dental lab.
This year we have eight scholars in our program. During January our team completed home visits to all of the scholars' homes to assess their socioeconomic situation. We then had a meeting with all of the students and their parents to introduce staff, talk about commitments, and review the year's schedule, as well as have the parents sign the program contract and receive the first scholarship payment. We currently have two donors this year covering the girls from Chichicastenango as well as two students in the Valley, and have submitted funding for a small grant through EntreMundos for two children. This means we are looking for a scholarship sponsor for two students in the Valley this year. Total annual cost for one student in the program is $415.
CHILDREN'S HEALTH EDUCATION PROGRAM
Our staff is excited to start the new year and make some great strides in improving the health of students in the Valley. Our staff began in January by talking with all Valley teachers during a district wide meeting about our programs and services, plans for the year and how they can work with Primeros Pasos to improve the health of their students. We began seeing students from Llanos del Pinal at the clinic last week and will be treating these students class by class until mid-March. We are looking to improve our system for tracking data from the Healthy Schools Program, as well as partnering with the district superintendent and the Ministerio de Salud to create partnerships to expand on the work that we are doing in this program.
An Engineers Without Borders Chapter is interested in partnering with Primeros Pasos to help build water and sanitation infrastructure in the Valley schools. This relationship will mean a five year partnership with EWB who will provide all the expertise and funding for appropriate infrastructure projects in the schools.
The Valley may also be receiving another Healthy Schools volunteer from Peace Corps in April. Last year in May a PC volunteer left Llanos del Pinal for personal reasons, and not until just recently were we visited by the Peace Corps project director to scope out the site for potential placement in April. The new volunteer would work with the district superintendent as well as other local government entities such as the Puesto de Salud and COCODES (local government representatives) to improve school health. Their main objectives would be to facilitate with school infrastructure projects, teacher training on health topics, and implement new student action groups with parents and sixth graders. This would really help our efforts, so we are crossing our fingers that there will be a great volunteer in the Valley soon!
WOMEN'S HEALTH EDUCATION PROGRAM
We ended 2012 with a great celebration of 20 graduates! In December all participating women gathered together for a Stairway to Health Fair and graduation ceremony. Women were mixed up into different teams for a morning of health games, an opportunity for the women to teach each other and reiterate topics from the workshops. There were prizes and snacks for the women, along with a chance to celebrate the end of the year and the graduation of the participants in their last module.
We currently have three groups in Xepache, Candelaria and Tierra Colorada Baja with a total of 55 participants all in their first year of the program. Our team currently has the help of a Women's Health Education intern who is organizing and improving the program curriculum, making an inventory of our materials, and redesigning the "carnet" to better track participation and use of benefits. We are trying to carefully restructure benefits for all programs, especially for the Women's Health participants. As it stands now, all women in the program will continue to receive free consults, medication and lab tests. Related beneficiaries will only consist of husbands and children, and they will receive a 50% discount for all services.
NUTRITIONAL RECUPERATION PROGRAM
Our nutrition team is finishing up the first year of the program strong. Last month families were given their last nutrition packets and participated in their last workshop and medical check-up. On February 2nd, we'll have our graduation party which will include games, music, snacks and a presentation on the program results from the 25 children and 23 mothers graduating from the program. We have invited members of the community, employees from Habitat para la Humanidad, and SOSEP to this celebration.
We are still waiting to get final approval from USAID for our proposed grant, but should hear back from them in the next few weeks. In the mean time we have decided to move forward with the goals of the proposed project, which is a big change for the program demographics. We will now only recruit children under two years (last year we had children under five) and also recruit pregnant women to participate in our program. Without USAID funding we will be able to have 20 children and 10 pregnant women in the program. If USAID money comes through, we will raise those numbers to 30 children and 20 pregnant women. Unfortunately, we will carry out 2013's program without the help of our current nutrition team. Our nutritionist will take a job with Hambre Zero, the government's initiative to combat malnutrition, and our health educator will take a fundraising position with Habitát para la Humanidad Guatemala. Thankfully, they staying on with us until the end of February and will be helping us complete an extensive end of program report, create a program manual and improve our "plans of action" with more structured monitoring and evaluation systems for next year. We have placed ads for a new nutrition team and expect these staff members to start on February 25.
On behalf of Primeros Pasos, I'd like to send a big THANK YOU! With the help of our supporters, we raised a grand total of $15,753 during our Health for the Holidays campaign. Offline donations are still trickling in, but we wanted to share our appreciation of your help in reaching our goal! This campaign surpassed unprecedented goals. In just one month, 13 people started their own fundraising page and 199 people donated online! We know there are many organization to support, especially during the holiday season, and we appreciate those that chose to invest in Primeros Pasos.
What do we plan on doing this year with the money we raised? We plan to accept a new group of malnourished children in our Nutritional Recuperation Program starting in February. We plan to expand our Women's Health Education Program to new communities within the Valley. We plan to see more women in the clinic for comprehensive care and family planning. We plan to attend more patients and give more fluoride treatments in our Dental Clinic. We plan to attend to all primary students in the Valley and give more health lessons in the schools than last year. And we plan to have more volunteers helping us accomplish our goals. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get weekly updates about our work so that you'll know what this campaign has helped fund, our accomplishments achieved and current needs. And please share your feedback with us! We'd love to hear your thoughts!
Women's Health Education Participant