Friday, August 27, 2010

Keeping Busy

There is certainly no lack of work in Uspantan. The staff at the hospital has been keeping me very busy which is so welcome and helps the time fly. It's strange to think I landed in Guatemala almost 4 months ago!

I realize I have neglected to share the actual content of my work (thanks for pointing that out, Mom). My Peace Corps program is called 'Healthy Homes' which was recently changed from the much longer but more descriptive title of 'Rural Home and Preventative Health'. I rather like the original name of our program though it is a bit long-winded and having to then translate it doesn't help. Basically I work along side Health Technicians and Educators in the hospital going out into the various communities of Uspantan to give preventative health capacitations. That is my primary objective.

The staff at the hospital and I have selected communities (there were 186 to choose from) that we feel will benefit the most from the capacitations and I have been going to each introducing myself and my program to community leaders and interested persons. The communities that I will be working in are very rural and mostly indigenous. It has been incredible for me to have the opportunity to work with these communities and learn, bit by bit, about the Mayan cultures however this comes with obstacles. Due to the political history of the Mayan people and the Guatemalan government, many people do not trust government institutions, including the health centers and hospitals, and thus there is a lot of resistance to visit health posts or allow government issued vaccinations and other medicines to be administered. Much work done by my counterparts has to do with education; educating about vaccines, the importance of visiting the health centers,importance of vitamins and nutritional and varied diets.

Guatemala has the 4th highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world ( GASP. To combat this, there is a national campaign to suppress this figure by weighing every child, identifying malnourishment and providing vitamins and, in some cases, food. Thus much of my time is spent out in the communities with the educators. As they weigh and vaccinate children I am able to talk to the families and give nutritional, hygiene and other preventative health talks to those in attendance. It is useful to go with the educators on these visits so that I am seen working in the community and so that I am able to get to know the families and see first-hand the needs of each community for future capacitation topics.

Right now my main objective is to become a familiar face in the communities in which I will be working. I am working to form Volunteer Health Promoter groups in these communities who I will give workshops and capacitations to once a month. I am very excited about this. The communities we have chosen do not, in general, have very immediate access to health posts, centers, or the hospital so preventative health and knowledge of common illnesses is pretty crucial. This, of course, means it can take some time to get out to these communities on my end. One of the communities in particular has no road. To get there involves a 5AM departure time which then gets us to the start of our hiking path at about 6AM and an arrival time of about 730AM for the 8AM workshop. It's kind of a pain in the ass but then I try to remember that the people who live in the community have to make this hike any time they need a medical consultation even for something as preventable or treatable as diarrhea or fever.

I will also be working out in the Zona Reina. The Zona Reina is an area in my municipality that was severly affected by the Guatemalan Civial War and cut off from the rest of the country for many years. A road was built going out there only 6 years ago so development in the region has been slow. The drive is about 5 hours on a dirt, nausea-inducing road. I have been once so far but am planning to get out there at least once a month to give capacitations and any other workshops I can. There is a rotation of Cuban doctors who work out there as well so hopefully I will make some friends (lift that travel ban, Obama!). The needs of the communities out there are great but the pristine, untouched landscape is amazing. It is straight-up, off the grid, jungle country.

So in sum, I'm bouncing around all over the place but extremely excited to get started with my health promoter groups and to get to know the communities. I have 2 years to do it but it already doesn't seem like enough time.


  1. that's way impressive. getting up at 5am? ewww

  2. Wow, Mary Frances, I am amazed at your stamina. I imagine you are in amazing physical shape, no?