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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)


Summer 2015 Service Trip to Guatemala

2015 TRIP SUMMARY: June 20-27,2015

In June 2015, the VCU Institute for Women’s Health hosted our Guatemalan Midwifery service-exchange program for the sixth 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 6 students and one staff member from Virginia Commonwealth University, and a nurse from Maryland. Our team included students studying pre-medicine, international studies, and education. Many of our team-members aspire to become Obstetricians, midwives, and doulas. For 7 days, we worked in the Western Highlands in the villages of Chuicutama, Pacutama and Chiquisis, outside Quetzaltenango, 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 village of Chuicutama, at 10,000+ feet elevation, to stay in the local community center. Staying in this remote community allowed the team time to truly experience village life and share in the daily routines of the women, including making corn tortillas, using a Pila to wash clothes, visiting the local school, and hiking amongst some truly beautiful vistas and mountains.

During time in the village the team participated in a traditional Maya ceremony and attended a presentation on cosmovision 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 the director of AMA, Guadalupe Ramirez-Blevins. They had an afternoon presentation from a Maya bonesetter, which included discussions with midwives on herbs and traditional medicines used during pregnancy and childbirth.

During the week, the team engaged in several sessions to exchange knowledge with, and learn from local K’iche Maya midwives. The team utilized the diverse skills and talents of the VCU team members to present on a variety of topics during this exchange. The team conducted short sharing sessions on stress-relief, the importance of prenatal nutrition and exercise, family planning, and birthing positions and techniques popular in the midwifery community in the U.S. The team also helped educated approximately 30 young women from the Chuicutama community on the menstrual cycle and natural family planning over two days of presentations. Local women had the opportunity to create cycle-bead necklaces to assist in tracking their menstrual cycles. In exchange, the team learned about holistic Maya remedies for pain and prenatal ailments, birthing positions, prenatal check-ups and diagnoses, and even had the opportunity to participate in traditional one-on-one post-partum Maya massages in a tamascal (traditional stone sauna) with an experienced Maya midwife.

In the city of Quetzaltenango, the team received a weaving and dying demonstration from AMA’s project, Pixan. 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 female craftswomen are paid a fair wage for their talent and you receive a design constructed with a technique that has been passed on from generation to generation of Maya women.

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 students were 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 team members will never forget.


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:


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last updated: August 5, 2015