MIDWIFERY & HEALTH IN THE AMERICAS:
Marrying Mayan & Western Medicine
Summer 2013 Service Trip to Guatemala
August 2-9, 2013
2013 TRIP SUMMARY: August 2- August 9, 2013
The Institute for Women’s Health hosted the service-exchange program for the fourth 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 of 10 women from Virginia Commonwealth University and the surrounding community. We had two students from the VCU School of Social Work, along with a family nurse practitioner and a registered nurse/massage therapist, a doula, a clinical research associate with the VCU Massey Cancer Center, a student with a concentration in Health and Pre-Professional Science and two International Baccalaureate students from Henrico High School. An additional 5 students focused on Art & Anthropology joined our group for presentations and our visit to the villages. We worked together in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in the villages of Chuicutama and Pacutama outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
The weeklong exchange again included time with Maya midwives, health promoters and community leaders. Together we worked with the local Guatemalan group Association of Highland Women (AMA) in support of their holistic health programming. AMA has been working on projects 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. Time in the village included participation in a traditional Maya ceremony, a presentation on health, etiology of illness and culture, and demonstrations on natural dying. The group participated in the preparation of herbal salves with a Mayan bone-setter, and learning circles with midwives and health promoters all with emphasis on their sharing information on traditional Maya medicine and practices. We visited and had a presentation from a midwife Dona Christina’s at ‘Jardin Botanico’ a nearby cooperative herb garden aimed at educating and resurrecting cultural herbal knowledge. We attended a meeting at a local USAID office to learn about efforts to reduce malnutrition in the Highlands. Team members had the experience of a Maya Temascal a curative ceremony ‘bath’ thought to purify the body which is also used for healing the sick, improving health, and for women to give birth. We visited ACAM a maternity center in Concepcion, Chiquirichapa that works by: preserving Maya Midwifery: strengthening Maya midwifery as an institution and educating new midwives; Traditional Healing : Promotion of the physical, emotional, and spiritual health of the community; and Addressing the Roots of Disease, Pregnancy Loss, Maternal and Infant Mortality.
We also learned about a new project of AMA called Pixan which is a ‘Production house like no other. Finely crafted accessories, home decor and clothing designs are executed to your exact specifications to create original collections in the spirit of the rich Maya artisanal tradition. Designers and retailers receive a stunning final product that is affordable, ethically made and meaningfully crafted. This unique collaboration means our female craftswomen are paid a fair wage for their talent and you are delivered your own design constructed with a technique that has been passed on from generation to generation for most of history.’
We also had a chance to experience some of Guatemala’s many cultural sights and activities including shopping markets in Panajachel, a boat ride across Lake Atitian to a small village San Juan La Laguna to visit ‘Cooperativa de Cafe’ a coffee cooperative, we spent time at a local hot springs ‘ Fuentes Georginas’ thermal baths originating from the Zunil volcano, and had time to shop in local artesian markets in Antigua a city in the central highlands of Guatemala famous for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture as well as a number of spectacular ruins of colonial churches.
As has been the case over the last 4 years, the team’s experience was transformative. Having both the opportunity to spend considerable time sharing with such inspiring and talented indigenous women as part of AMA a group that works to ‘develop all women's potential to be strong, adaptable, creative, responsible and team-oriented” along with a chance to share and process our experience as a group of diverse women from the United States creates a bond and lifelong memory across cultures and boundaries.
Association of Highland Women (AMA) Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano
A.M.A. is a non-profit organization that works to strengthen the skills and abilities of Guatemalan women from the highlands of Quetzaltenango. They help them create opportunities that will transform their lives as they head down the road to independence. A.M.A supports Guatemalan women of limited resources, regardless of education level, income, language, ethnicity, religion and civil status. The mission is to empower women through cooperative action.
click here for website
Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC)
GHRC’s work and vision have been guided by a deep commitment to solidarity and a bold approach to advocacy, principles that placed GHRC at the forefront of the international struggle for human rights in Guatemala. For three decades, they have contributed to positive, systemic change: denouncing torture, forced disappearances, massacres, and US involvement in these atrocities; monitoring the implementation of the Peace Accords; and addressing patterns of abuses such as violence against women and attacks against human rights defenders.
For more information visit: www.ghrc-usa.org
To learn more about the socio-political context of violence against women in Guatemala visit, Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) website at: