VCU Institute for Women's Health
 About Us  |  Clinical Services  |  Research  |  Education  | OUTREACH |  Contact Us 



Marrying Mayan & Western Medicine
Summer 2015 Service Learning Trip to Guatemala
June 20-27-2015

With the VCU Institute for Women’s Health & Highland Support Project

Spend a week in partnership with indigenous midwives & community leaders, learning about traditional Maya medicine and exploring the history of healthcare and healing in Guatemala.
The itinerary includes cultural, educational, service and exchange aspects. Learn about traditional midwifery practices, medicinal herbs, bone setters, and spirit guides. Visit breathtaking Lake Atitlan in Panajachel, the Highlands where we will work with the women’s cooperative (AMA) Asociacion de Mujeres del Altiplano in Quetzaltenango and spend time 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 round trip)

For information contact Mary Beth Bird at

 Application deadline is April 29, 2015

For trip flyer Click Here

For information sheet Click Here

For application Click Here


Summer 2014 Service Trip to Guatemala

2014 TRIP SUMMARY: August 2- August 9, 2014

The Institute for Women’s Health hosted the service-exchange program for the fifth 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 9 students from Virginia Commonwealth University and a nurse from JMU. We had students from the VCU School of Social Work, psychology/pre-medicine, veterinary medicine, and students interested in maternal and child health, occupational therapy along with students aspiring to become a Doctor of Osteopathic medicine and midwives. We again worked together in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in the villages of Chuicutama, Pacutama and Chiquisis outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

The weeklong exchange included time with community leaders and village women and Mayan midwives. 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. We traveled to the Highlands and to the village of Chuicutama and this year stayed in the newly build community center, allowing us time to truly experience village life and share in the daily routines including making corn tortillas, using a Pila to wash clothes, a visit to the local school and a hike to see some of the extraordinary area scenery
Time in the village included participation in a traditional Maya ceremony, a presentation on cosmovision and health from Audelino Sac, a K'iche Maya priest, and university professor. We also learned about the history and early organizing that  launched the creation of AMA by the director Guadalupe Ramirez-Blevins. We had an afternoon presentation by Maya bonesetter on herbs and traditional medicine.  We had a meeting with an area social worker and midwife from the  group Coordinadora Departamental de Comadronas Tradicionales de Quetzaltenango (CODECOT) which is an association of traditional midwives in the Quetzaltenango department of Guatemala.  The organization provides its members with opportunities to receive training and to participate in community and municipal decisions regarding maternal and child health. We later had a chance to visit their offices, clinic and expanding birth center in town and ask lots of questions about the work, practices  and philosophy of midwives in Guatemala.

The team had an opportunity over several days to present to local women demonstrations on positions to relieve pain during labor and signs of postpartum depression and a well-received educational session on menstrual cycles and the calendar method or the calendar rhythm method, as a form of natural family planning.  Area midwives and community women joined us and together we shared  information, experiences and meals. We also learned how women in Guatemala wrap and carry their babies on their backs.

We had a weaving and dying demonstration from AMA’s project 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 5 years, the team’s experience was transformative. Students find the experience positively impacts their thinking and planning around service, engagement and life and career goals. 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 memories 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:

To learn more about the socio-political context of violence against women in Guatemala visit, Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) website at:


View photos

Virginia Commonwealth University | Institute for Women's Health
Sanger Hall, 1st Floor
1101 E. Marshall St.
PO Box 980319
Richmond, VA 23298-0319
Phone: 804.827.1200
last updated: March 30, 2015