VCU Institute for Women's Health




Weaving Mayan & Western Medicine

Summer 2017 Service Trip to Guatemala: July 22–29, 2017

VCU Team in Guatemala

Sponsored by the VCU Institute for Women's Health & Highland Support Project

Spend a week in partnership with indigenous midwives and health promoters, learning about traditional Maya medicine and exploring the history of healthcare and healing in Guatemala

For More Information | Application

The itinerary includes cultural, educational, service and exchange aspects. Learn about traditional Maya midwifery practices, medicinal herbs, bone setters, and spirit guides. We will stay in the Highlands where we will work with a women’s cooperative (AMA) Asociacion de Mujeres del Altiplano in Quetzaltenango. We will immerse ourselves in our host’s lives by living and working with community leaders in a rural village outside of town. There will be a visit to breathtaking Lake Atitlan in Panajachel and time for shopping in Artisan Markets in Antigua. The 8 day trip, with all expenses paid, includes all in country transportation, food, lodging and translators.

The cost is $985.00 plus airfare (around $600-$700 round trip)

For more information contact:

Janett Forte at

Karen Mayorga at

Application deadline is May 20, 2017

Midwifery & Women's Health in Guatemala 2017
Information Sheet
Application (Word document)



Marrying Mayan & Western Medicine
— Summer 2016 Service Trip to Guatemala

June 4-11, 2016
 by Janett Forte

In June 2016, the VCU Institute for Women’s Health hosted our annual Guatemalan Midwifery service-exchange program for the seventh year, in partnership with the Highland Support Project in Richmond and the Association of Highland Women (AMA) in Guatemala. This year’s group included a multi-disciplinary team including biomedical engineering, nursing, social work, international social justice and occupational therapy students and one staff member from Virginia Commonwealth University. Team members expressed a keen interest in women's health and several aspire to become doctors, midwives and doulas. We spent time in Panajachel near Lake Atitlan, in the Western Highlands in rural villages outside Quetzaltenango, and in Antigua, Guatemala.

VCU Team in Guatemala

The weeklong exchange included time with community leaders, village women, and Mayan midwives. Together the team worked with the local Guatemalan group Association of Highland Women (AMA) in support of their holistic health programming. AMA works to empower and support traditional midwives and community members by providing comprehensive and culturally appropriate training, essential equipment, and practical support. 

The trip itinerary had a wonderful balance of cultural, community, and service related activities. We traveled to the communities of Espumpuja and Chuicutama, at 10,000+ feet elevation, to spend time with local women studying to be midwives. Visits to these remote communities allowed the team time to truly experience village life amongst some truly beautiful vistas and mountains.

Learning together

During time in Quetzaltenango, the team participated in a traditional Maya ceremony focused on Cosmo vision and health from Audelino Sac, a K'iche Maya priest and university professor: They observed AMA programming in the community and learned about the history of the organization from an AMA staff member, Claudia Ramírez. The group had an afternoon presentation from a Mayan bonesetter, which included discussions on herbs and traditional medicines; and a chance to experience a massage in a tamascal (traditional stone sauna) with two local midwives.

We had a meeting with staff from CARE, the international humanitarian organization and learned about their work with young women in Guatemala and their promotion of girl’s education and empowerment. Together we explored opportunities for networking across CARE and AMA programming.

Highland Support Project is newly partnering with an established local midwifery training organization CODECOT to connect women from rural Highland communities to a two year midwifery training program in the city of Quetzaltenango. The group had an opportunity to learn about this program and spent a day with the midwifery students as they shared what they are learning about caring for pregnant women. VCU students shared an activity to demonstrate the benefits of the ‘golden hour’ after birth, keeping the baby close skin to skin which supports bonding along with long term physical and psychological advantages for mothers and babies.  A lively exchanged ensued with one of the women sharing how during this time after her baby was born she held her close and “she could feel her spirit”.  A sharing on breastfeeding was also offered and all of us learned about the sacred bond and universal connection mothers have for their children.

In the city of Quetzaltenango, the team received a weaving demonstration from AMA’s project, Pixan. This House of Design is a fair trade textile workshop and is staffed by an association of indigenous artisan weavers, expert in the ancient techniques of back-strap and pedal loom weaving and embroidery. We learned how Pixan operates according to fair trade principles in the most authentic and traditional senses of the term: It enables professional direct trade relationships to flourish between talented highland artisans and individuals and businesses around the world.

The team also had a chance to experience some of Guatemala’s many cultural sites, including shopping markets in Panajachel, a boat ride across Lake Atitian to the village of San Juan La Laguna, a visit to, ‘Cooperativa de Café,’ a coffee cooperative, a trip to thermal hot springs from the Zunil volcano, and a day of artesian markets, Spanish Baroque churches, and salsa dancing in Antigua.

As in previous years, the team’s experience was transformative. Students find the experience positively impacts their thinking and planning around service, desire to engage with international travel and work abroad, and solidifies their personal and career goals in maternal healthcare. Witnessing the work of AMA was, yet again, a testament that sustainable development must be community led and culturally appropriate. This is a powerful lesson for all of our team members to learn first-hand.

The Team

The team as always was thankful for the opportunity to share and commune with such inspiring and talented indigenous women. It was an experience certain to create bonds and lifelong memories that the students will never forget. 

For more information visit:

Or view a new video about the midwifery training program

Participants’ comments in response to the question:

How would you explain your overall experience to a friend in a few words?

“Truly transformative. I am truly grateful for life’s little luxuries after seeing how hard people work to survive. Everyone should have an experience like this. ”

“Glad I came it was life changing”

“A great way to learn about a community’s approach to healthcare”

“My trip was incredibly eye opening. We had a unique experience to interact and learn from midwives. The cultural exchange, with a focus on equal sharing and learning made a big impact on me.”



VCU — Haiti Maternal Health Partnership

Dates: March, 2016

The project builds on a study abroad partnership between VCU and a non-profit based in Richmond, VA, Midwives for Haiti (MFH), which works in Haiti to reduce maternal and infant mortality by training Haitian women to deliver pre-natal care and life-saving skills during childbirth. In 2014-15 the project received GEO funding to support ten students to study abroad in Haiti. This second phase builds on the work related to MFH’s Mobile Clinic Project which serves women in remote villages.

Phase 2 focused on utilizing students to study abroad and conduct a more comprehensive evaluation of the group care model with the development of a research design and plan for seeking funding for a full scale research project examining the efficacy of group prenatal care in Haiti. Offering MFH the expertise of VCU faculty and student researchers to develop this study of their mobile clinic impact and effectiveness, sought to incorporate a well-designed monitoring and evaluation plan aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the mobile clinic prenatal group care services contributing to efforts to advance maternal and child health outcomes. 

VCU NEWS March 2016: IWH partnership supports education and health care services for expectant Haitian women

The photos below are from the March 5-12, 2016 trip, which included Institute for Women’s Health project P.I. Janett Forte and a VCU School of Nursing student, Hannah Samuels and VCU Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Psychology, Jasmine Abrams who is now faculty at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Haiti 2016 | P.I. Janett Forte, MSW and VCU Nursing Student Hannah Samuels and VCU Ph.D. graduate in Psychology Jasmine Abrams
(l to r) VCU School of Nursing student Hannah Samuels, Institute for Women’s Health project P.I. Janett Forte and VCU Ph.D. graduate in Psychology Jasmine Abrams

VCU & Haiti 2016 | Hannah and mobile clinic midwives
VCU School of Nursing student Hannah Samuels & mobile clinic midwives

Haitian Advisory Board
Haitian Advisory Board

Haiti & VCU 2016 | Community Education
Community Education in Haiti 2016




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