Health & Wellbeing

These posts discuss topics relating to physical, mental, and emotional health of individuals and communities.

New and Noteworthy: Awesome blogs from my friends & Defensora debut

The Blogs

1. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) visits a Qanjobal community in Omaha, NE: http://ghrcusa.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/ghrc-visits-qanjobal-community-in-omaha-ne/

2. The Health Equity and Policy Blog: http://healthequityandpolicy.blogspot.com/

3. Feminist Collective Blog: http://disruptingdinnerparties.com/

4. Two Disability Rights Blogs: Claiming Crip: http://claimingcrip.blogspot.com/ and Dealing with Dyautonomia: http://dealingwithdys.blogspot.com.au/  are written by my two talented friends who interned with AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities) this summer, and share their thoughts on disability theory, rights, and policies as well as their personal experiences.

Defensora Debuts in the US

The Documentary Defensora, about the Mayan Q’eqchi’ community El Estor’s resistance against mining in Guatemala, debuts in the United States. The link to the Defensora website is here: http://www.defensorathefilm.com/ and my pots tagged German Chub Choc detail the awe-inspiring courage of the El Estor Community with a focus on German Chub Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi man who sustained a spinal cord injury after he was shot in an unprovoked attack by a security guard from HudBay Minerals.

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Introducing New and Noteworthy

A recent conversation with friends inspired me to begin mixing up my longer blog posts with these short updates of new and interesting things I wish to highlight. These “New and Noteworthy” posts will include links to articles, events, podcasts etc. on topics relating to the issues discussed here on Edgy Amelia.

1. Interesting Study of Immigrant Children’s Health with specific focus on Asthma and Obesity in Latino immigrant children. Van Hook, Jennifer, Nancy S. Landale, and Marianne M. Hillemeier. “Is the United States Bad for Children’s Health? Risk and Resilience Among Young Children of Immigrants.” Migration Policy Institute. July 2013.  http://www.migrationpolicy.org/pubs/COI-ChildHealth.pdf

2.  Map illustrating how the Affordable Care Act affects State Community Benefit Laws. “Community Benefit State Law Profiles: A 50-State Survey of State Community Benefit Laws through the Lens of the ACA.” http://www.hilltopinstitute.org/hcbp_cbl.cfm

3. Domestic Violence Screening and Counseling Toolkit. The National Health Resource Center on Domestic Violence. 2013. http://www.healthcaresaboutipv.org/ This toolkit offers health care providers and advocates for victims the tools to prepare a clinical practice to address domestic and sexual violence, including screening instruments, sample scripts for providers, patient and provider education resources. It also offers strategies for forging partnerships between health care and domestic and sexual violence programs.

Project Intersect: Health Disparities Research at the Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Disability

On April 25 and 26th, I attended the Project Intersect Conference, which convened advocates, researchers, practitioners, and policy makers nationwide to discuss health disparities experienced by people with disabilities from underserved racial and ethnic backgrounds. The Conference Summary defines “underserved” as “racial and ethnic groups who have not received the same opportunities, resources, and services as White people. These underserved groups include African-Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos.”

The opening panel was an opportunity to learn first hand from people who have experienced barriers to accessing quality health care services based on their racial and ethnic backgrounds. The first speakers, the Lee family, were a Chinese American family whose adult daughter has Downs Syndrome. Her parents described the difficulties they experienced in getting their state’s health care system to approve the cost of treatment for secondary conditions from physicians who understand Chinese culture and language, important components to empower their daughter in her health care.

The next speaker, Wardell Kyles, was an African-American male with a spinal cord injury (SCI) resulting from an accident. He was quick to point out that in the greater Chicago area where he lives, the leading demographics of people with SCI are young African-American males who have been paralyzed as a result of gun violence. Walter described learning to navigate the health care system and advocate for himself, and how he draws on these experiences to mentor young men with SCI.

The third speaker, a Mexican man named Horacio Esparza, is host and producer of Radio Vida Independiente, a Spanish language radio show by and for people with disabilities; Executive Director of Progress Center for Independent Living that serves the entire suburban Cook County area; and author of a collection of poetry titled “Un Sueno y un Despertar” (“A Dream and an Awakening”). He became blind as a child, and believing his blindness to be a result of an accident, he was shocked when his two children’s retinas detached while the family was living in Mexico. It had never occurred to him that his blindness could be hereditary.  The family moved to the United States, where they believed they would receive better quality health care, but instead encountered racist and xenophobic doctors who accused the family of being undocumented immigrants “taking advantage of America’s health care system.” After a long ordeal, the family found a compassionate Cuban doctor to treat their children, who are now adults with successful careers. Horacio stated that has a result of his family’s experiences, he believed that health practitioners not only should have “knowledge of a person’s health care need, but should be sensitive in responding to that need.”

The fourth and final speaker, Angel Love Miles is a young African-American woman with Spinal Bifida, earning a PhD in Women’s Studies from the University of Maryland. She described interactions with the academic and medical communities where her disability has been treated with disregard and disrespect. The academic community does not allocate funding based on the consideration that students with disabilities may take longer to graduate from a PhD program. Her doctor’s office is unable to accommodate her electric wheelchair, so every time she visits, she must leave her wheelchair outside before transferring to crutches and taking the elevator. She described recent incident when she was in the hospital, and in pain, requested a bedpan from a nurse, who responded condescendingly that she wanted to “motivate” Angel to use the toilet.  Angel’s response to this insensitive and prejudiced remark–“I’m in a PhD program, I don’t need you to motivate me.”

The next panel discussion featured professionals whose work addressed the intersections of race, ethnicity, and disability through social science research as well as legal and political advocacy. The speakers were tremendously informative, and I was very interested to learn that the Article 25 of Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), an international treaty guaranteeing the human rights of people with disabilities, specifically declares that people with disabilities have the right to health care services of the highest quality.

The afternoon’s sessions provided an opportunity for all attendees to develop and vote on a research proposal to further document the “axis of inequality” experienced by people with disabilities from underserved racial and ethnic backgrounds. The  day concluded with a poster session, where I enjoyed having the opportunity to chat with attendees and panelists, and learn about recent projects that spanned an array of issues in the fields of health, race, ethnicity, and disability.

The second day began with Keynote speaker Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones, MD, MPH, PhD, who gave a stirring speech, which she opened by explaining: “in America, I am seen as black, but in parts of Brazil I would just as surely be seen as white, and in South Africa, I would be colored….And if I were to live in each of these places long enough, I would take on health outcomes based on the race I was perceived to be.” She expanded upon this idea by using a metaphor of a cliff to represent a health emergency, and described how certain groups, such as people with disabilities and underserved racial and ethnic communities are closer to the cliff than other groups. She defined the goal of a successful health intervention “to move people away from the cliff.”

Dr. Jones shared musings about key differences she had observed in how society perceives people from underserved racial and ethnic groups who have “fallen off the cliff” as compared to people with disabilities. She stated that for people from underserved racial and ethnic groups, “barriers [to accessing quality health care services] are unseen and ignored.” For people with disabilities, “barriers [to accessing quality health care] are often seen, but ignored.”She added that a person’s race is perceived to be unchanging, while anyone could develop a disability at any time that may or may not be visible.

To illuminate how people from underserved racial and ethnic groups and people with disabilities receive differential access to goods, services, and opportunities in society, she used an allegorical story based on her own experiences called “the Gardener’s Tale.” I found this story to be very moving and effective for understanding institutional racism and ablism, and rather than summarizing it here, I have linked to it at the post’s conclusion to give readers an opportunity to read Dr. Jones’s eloquent words first hand.

Dr. Jones concluded her speech by describing methods to reverse institutional racism and ablism that would result in achieving improved health outcomes for people with disabilities from underserved racial and ethnic groups, thereby “moving them away from the cliff.” She referred to the United Nations’s Convention for Rights of Person’s with Disabilities (CRPD) mentioned above, and also asked if the audience knew that the United States had signed and ratified an international anti-racism treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination on all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) in 1994.

ICERD, which was written into force in 1969, is designed to protect individuals and groups from discrimination based on race, whether the discrimination is intentional, or is the result of seemingly neutral policies such as police profiling. According to Dr. Jones, the United States Government must submit regular reports to an independent committee of experts on how the treaty is being implemented. the US is due to release its third report to the Committee in  spring 2013. Dr. Jones wrapped up her speech with the message that disability rights and racial justice advocates “need to keep building with each other.”

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Image from Project Intersect’s promotional materials

Learn more about the Project Intersect Conference

1. “Project Intersect: Health Disparities Research at the Intersection of Race, Ethnicity, and Disability: A National Conference.”  Oregon Health & Sciences University. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/institute-on-development-and-disability/public-health-programs/project-intersect/upload/Conference_Program-FINAL.pdf and http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/institute-on-development-and-disability/public-health-programs/upload/Project-Intersect-Summary.pdf These are links to the official conference program and summary.

2. Jones, Camara Phyllis. “Levels of racism: A theoretic framework and a gardener’s tale.” American Journal of Public Health. August 2000.http://www.cahealthadvocates.org/_pdf/news/2007/Levels-Of-Racism.pdf  Keynote speaker Dr. Camara Phyllis Jones explains her theories regarding institutional racism, a framework could be applied to ablism, classism, heterosexism, and other “isms” and illustrates the framework using a story about a gardener.

3. NARIC. “Health Disparities Research Meets Race, Ethnicity, and Disability at a National Conference.” Collection Spotlight from the National Rehabilitation Information Center (NARIC). May 1, 2013. http://naricspotlight.wordpress.com/2013/05/01/health-disparities-research-meets-race-ethnicity-and-disability-at-a-national-conference/ These blog posts provide detailed information regarding the speakers and organizations who led the Conference’s presentations and breakout sessions.

A new journey for EdgyAmelia

Over time the focus of my blog EdgyAmelia has expanded outward from its initial vision. I started my blog as a forum to share information regarding disability rights connected to the story of German Chub Choc. This blog began as a counterpoint to my Etsy Store EdgyAmelia, where I sold crafts to raise funds that would enable German Chub Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi human rights defender with a disability, to live more independently.

As my posts on EdgyAmelia increased, so did my interest in learning more about the forces that shaped German’s life. Now, I have the opportunity to put this interest into action. For the month of November, I will study Spanish at an Immersion School called La Esceula de la Montaña/the Mountain School, located in the mountainous coffee growing region Colomba. I will also contribute my expertise in library services as a volunteer at the Mountain School’s Community Library. I am excited to report that donations from the Racine Public Library and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC) will add 39 books to the Community Library.

Following my month at the Mountain School, I will test out my newfound abilities in Spanish in a professional environment at Transitions Foundation, an organization that provides comprehensive rehabilitative, educational and vocational services to Guatemalans with disabilities. My interest in Transitions Foundation was sparked when I learned that German Chub Choc underwent rehab there, and grew when I met Co-Director John Bell during my delegation with GHRC.

To explain how my time in Guatemala will affect EdgyAmelia:

  • I have put my Etsy Store  on hiatus until my return to the United States
  • I will continue to use my blog to share my experiences in Guatemala, with an emphasis on Guatemalans with disabilities framed against broader issues in the disability rights movement

Although I have paused my blog posts from my most recent trip to Guatemala on the Guatemala Human Rights Commission’s Women in Resistance Delegation due to planning for my upcoming trip, my remaining delegation posts are outlined and forthcoming. I look forward to sharing my remaining stories from the memorable week.

As I draw this post to a close, I would like to circle back to the individual who set my journey into motion. In the past two months, exciting updates to German’s story have occurred. One such development is the arrest of Mynor Padilla, the private security guard hired by the nickel mining company HudBay Minerals, who shot German in an unprovoked attack in 2009. A second update is the upcoming release of the documentary film, Defensora, which chronicles German and his community’s pursuit of justice for the harms HudBay Minerals inflicted upon them. The trailer and more information regarding Defensora are available at this link: http://www.indiegogo.com/defensora

Learn more about The Mountain School

http://www.escuelamontana.org/

Learn more about The Otto René Castillo Community Library

http://www.escuelamontana.org/our-projects/communitylibrary.html

Learn more about Transitions Foundation

http://transitionsfoundation.org/

GHRC Delegation–Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty

On Friday morning, our delegation traveled to the American Embassy in Guatemala City to relay our concerns regarding women’s and land rights at the American Embassy. We met with: Political Sector and attaché for Labor and Human Rights; representatives of USAID; the Deputy Director of Narcotics Law Enforcement; and staff from the Department of Immigration, Customs, and Trafficking. 

It was very meaningful to listen to my fellow delegates share how they were affected by the individuals and organizations we had met. Our delegation co-leader, GHRC Director Kelsey Alford-Jones spoke eloquently, imploring the representatives to seek out ways to “advance sustainable and culturally appropriate development that allows for local efforts to flourish.”

After our meeting and lunch at Casa Cervantes, we had a discussion with the Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty (ISMU), a community group made of residents who live in Zones 5 and 6, which are shantytowns situated on ravines. The residents of Zones 5 and 6 formed ISMU to advocate for improved living conditions in their neighborhoods.

Throughout our week, we had often seen these shantytowns from our van window as we drove through Guatemala City. One delegate had asked our driver Carlos if the shantytowns had a name, because in Brazil, such shantytowns were called “favelas.” Carlos told us that Guatemalans call the neighborhoods “limonada” (translated as lemonade) “because lemonade is strong.”

On Friday afternoon, we arrived at ISMU feeling drained from our conversation at the Embassy, but we were soon revived by the warm welcome we received from families of ISMU, many of whose children were present as well. We sat in a circle with the families, and as we ate the generous snack they served us–coffee and tamales made with cheese and a vegetable called lorocco, which had a similar flavor to rhubarb–we learned about the living situation in Zones 5 and 6 that motivated the residents to organize and form ISMU.

ISMU reported that many neighborhoods lacked vital services such as sewage systems and potable water, and as a result children in the community commonly suffer from diarrhea and respitory illnesses. Another member explained that the neighborhoods also lack access to public services. For example, firefighters refuse to come to Zones 5 and 6, if a home caught on fire, residents “would have to use public transit.” Police only come to the neighborhoods “when there is a death,” pharmacies and food delivery services will not come either.

The culmination of these factors prompted the families to come together “in pursuit of dignity and solidarity.” ISMU has a presence in 22 communities, and members focus on helping residents negotiate and mobilize as a collective to ensure their rights are recognized and respected. In the past, ISMU has led a protest in front of the National Palace. Members also had to overcome internal barriers to persist in their community organizing efforts.  Most women in the neighborhoods work from 6:00 am until 7:00 pm, which makes scheduling meetings difficult.  Another barrier is childcare because as mixed gender community group, neither the husband or wife from a family is available to stay with the children during meetings.

The families’ support for one another from within their community is especially valuable, because as one father, who worked as a volunteer fireman, explained, a strong residential prejudice against the people who live in Zones 5 or 6 exists. If residents put their addresses in Zones 5 or 6 on job applications, they are sure to be rejected.  Another ISMU member shared a popular joke that characterized the residents of Zones 5 and 6 as the people who “make stiff tortillas.”

ISMU perseveres, and continues advocating for the passage of a law that would recognize that residents of Zones 5 and 6 possess rights to fair and dignified housing.  Additionally, ISMU provides leadership and training on income-generating skills for women. One such effort is selling handcrafts made from recyclables. Displayed on a nearby table were colorful baskets made from plastic trash bags, funky jewelry made from soda tabs, and many other items that bespoke to ISMU’s capacity for transforming what many see as waste into unique sources of beauty and strength.

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Handcrafts made by ISMU from recyclables

After our conversation, our delegation delighted in having “down time” to chat with ISMU and play with the children, and also peruse and purchase handcrafts.

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Our delegation and members of ISMU

Learn more about ISMU

1. Institute for Overcoming Urban Poverty. International Development Exchange: IDEX Partners. http://www.idex.org/what-we-do/partners-ismu.php The International Development Exchange, which forms partnerships with community leaders and organizations in developing countries to alleviate poverty, has written a profile for ISMU.

2.  Notes From the Field: IDEX Partner ISMU in Guatemala City. IDEX Blog. 2012. http://www.idex.org/blog/tag/ismu This link is to the IDEX Blog post about ISMU.

Women in Resistance–Meeting the Alianza de Mujeres Rurales por la Vida, Tierra, y Dignidad

Thursday afternoon following our tour of The Survivors’ Foundation, we traveled to another part of Guatemala City to meet with members from the Alliance of Rural Women for Life, Earth, and Dignity (La Alianza de Mujeres Rurales por la Vida, Tierra, y Dignidad). The Alliance is a coalition of three organizations formed by women forced to flee to Mexico as refugees during Guatemala’s Internal Armed Conflict.

These three organizations–Mama Maquin, Madre Tierra, and Ixmucané–formed a coalition in 2000, under the common goal of defending their rights to land as rural and indigenous people. As we had learned earlier in the week from our talk with land rights activist Lolita Chavez, the Guatemalan government’s promotion of transnational development projects (such as hydroelectric dams, gold and nickel mines, and mono-crop agriculture) are undertaken without the consent of the indigenous communities who live in the rural localities primed for development. These communities do not merely live on their land, they depend on its natural resources for their livelihoods, and feel a strong ancestral tie to the earth and all aspects of the natural world in accordance with their Cosmo-vision.

These development projects use processes forbidden in many countries because they introduce harmful effects to the environment and people’s health. For example, the Marlin mine in San Miguel Ixtahuacán uses cyanide to extract gold from the rocks. Members of the Alliance educate their respective communities about these issues through trainings that teach political awareness and people’s rights to land and health.

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The banner for the Alliance of Rural Women

On Thursday, the Alliance divided the members of our delegation into two groups so that we could talk more intimately. Afterward, our delegation leaders commented that our conversation was a “window” for us to meet rural Maya Mam women in Guatemala’s capital. The women in my discussion group came from many areas, including Alta Verapaz, Santa Cruz Barillas, and Huehuetenango.

I and my fellow delegates observed how the women listened attentively to one another and shared turns speaking during our conversation. Their genuine ability to honor the voices of all members truly showed their intention to cultivate female leadership. In our conversation, the women elaborated on the reason the coalition came together to address development from a rural and indigenous perspective.

They emphasized the spiritual connection they feel to “Mother Earth,” whom they believe lives in the land. The women explained, “the government’s vision of development is not the vision of our communities. Our development comes from us and from a vision from our ancestors.” Aware that the chemical fertilizers used in mono-crop agricultural projects are “killing the land,” the Alliance works with health promoters to educate communities about the environmental dangers of chemical fertilizers, and encourages them to use natural fertilizers instead.

The women also spoke about how their experiences as landless refugees in Mexico made them feel weak and humiliated, and that they returned to Guatemala to pursue “dignified land and life.” The Alliance has presented 58 community referendums to the government to try to recuperate their land, which was damaged from the Armed Conflict. Although the Alliance has a strong goal of promoting female empowerment, and members are training young women “to speak without fear,” the increased militarization of President Molina’s administration has rekindled fears and traumas experienced in the Internal Armed Conflict.

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Our delegation listens to members of the Alliance for Rural Women explain their vision for development

Learn more about La Alianza de Mujeres Rurales por la Vida, Tierra, y Dignidad and the beliefs informing their activism

1. “Alianza de mujeres rurales de Guatemala.” YouTube. June 8, 2012. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UwVVav7a9pc This interview in Spanish without subtitles on Cubainformación TV features two members of the Alliance–Dalila Vásquez and María Mateo speaking about the environmental and social factors in Guatemala surrounding development that led to the Alliance’s formation.

2. Alianza de Mujeres Rurales. http://alianzamujeresrurales.un-mundo.net/ This official website has not been updated since 2010.

3. Black,  Eric and Frauke Sandig. Heart of Sky, Heart of Earthhttp://www.heart-of-sky.com/ This visually stunning documentary, in Spanish and Mam with English subtitles, addresses the impacts of transnational development projects on indigenous Guatemalan communities. The film also weaves together historical information regarding the Armed Conflict with discussion of the Mayan Cosmo-vision and the deep connection indigenous communities feel to their land and one another.

In March 2013, I had the honor of seeing this film, which made me deeply nostalgic for Guatemala. I was also tremendously moved by the courage demonstrated in the film of many indigenous Guatemalan communities. After the film, I listened to indigenous environmental rights activist Juanita Cabrera Lopez give a talk filled with the potent collective wisdom that I heard from the members of the Alliance of Rural Women back in August. Juanita described how she and her fellow activists, who are speaking out to defend their land and human rights in an environment that seeks to silence them, draw strength from the ongoing Rios Montt trial; she added that the recent increased militarization, threats and acts of violence against human rights defenders “gives us fire to keep fighting.”

Women in Resistance–Meeting with the ACAM Midwifery Project

After chatting with DESGUA in the hotel lobby, our delegation along with Jenny and Jhonathan from DESGUA, met with The Association of midwives in the Maya Mam Region (ACAM).

The midwives welcomed us with hot punch and sweet rolls, and as we sat in a circle, they explained the formation of their Association. In 2002, a group of Mayan midwives formed an association to preserve the traditional practices of Maya midwifery, and promote traditional healing practices that advance maternal, infant, and community health.  They did not have any financial resources when they formed the Association, so they traveled from door-to-door in the nine municipalities where they worked to raise funds. Eventually, they were able to find a space for their Association, and attain support from the Global Fund, two International Organizations, and midwives in the United States.

A significant barrier to the formation of the Association was discrimination from Guatemalan men. Some of the midwives’ husbands opposed the decision to form the Association, and the indigenous K’iche Mayor was unable to provide financial support.  Although the Mayor did sign an agreement that would allow the midwives to build the Association in 2005, the Minister of Finance disapproved of the project, and reduced the allocated funding for building the Association.

One of the midwives commented on how the Minister of Finance’s decision revealed his opinion that midwifery “lacks value.” Members of the Association met with Directors from Guatemala’s Civil Society to learn why the funding for construction was reduced. At the meeting, one of the directors told the midwives, “you should get it through your stupid heads that the project is not yours.” This nasty comment stood in contrast to a $30,000 study the midwives had conducted to demonstrate the benefits of building the Association. Furthermore, even women representatives on the local Development Council voted against funding the Association’s construction.  The Association reached out to Human Rights Ombudsman Office, who told the midwives to put in complaint that state funds were misused.

Eventually, the case was resolved, and the physical space for the Association was constructed. Since 2007, the midwives have provided: pre-and-post birthing services and massage therapy to women as well as post-natal health services to infants. The Association has also been training new midwives since 2007, and explained that midwifery is a vocation, and to become a midwife a woman must be the daughter or niece of a midwife and have a Nahwal (Mayan horoscope) that is designated for the midwife in Mam culture.

The Association blends traditional practices with modern medical care, and teaches midwives how to work with pregnant women to identify potential complications and risks during pregnancy and birth. The Association encourages midwives to take their patients to hospital if necessary. Although the Association has  coordinated with hospitals since 2007, and has recently set up a program where women training to be midwives can undergo a “practicum” to learn from medical practices in hospitals, tensions between the Association and hospitals exist.

Indigenous women often experience discrimination in hospitals–midwives are forbidden to accompany their patients and provide traditional foods and ceremonial baths. In addition to prohibiting familiar food and rituals, the hospital is made further inhospitable to indigenous women because they must give birth in a “Western position” with their feet in stirrups. Often midwives must act as the patients’ advocate and work to overcome the “cultural collision” that occurs between the hospital’s method of care and traditional midwifery.

The midwives wrapped up their talk with a description of their plans to bring in a new generation of midwives who bridge traditional and modern theories and practices of health and healing. Their next steps include educating local health centers about midwifery, and continuing to address the pervasive discrimination against midwives. Recently, the hospitals established a new rule that if a midwife brings a woman to the hospital who then dies during labor, the midwife is deemed to be a fault if the death occurs within the first 24 hours.

Our meeting with ACAM concluded with a tour of the grounds, which include a birth center and Temescal, a traditional Mayan sweat lodge, which eases the birthing process. The midwives define their vision of health as “holistic”–their services encompass caring for a woman’s psyche and working in alignment with the Mayan Cosmo-vision.

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A midwife explains how the Temascal (Maya sweat lodge) is used to facilitate the birthing process

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This photograph shows the interior view of the Temascal. Delegates Laura and Agnes (from left to right) listen to a midwife explain how the Temascal aids the labor process.

Learn more about ACAM Midwifery Project

1. Maya Midwifery A.C.A.M. February 18, 2013. http://www.mayamidwifery-acam-imlusa.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=81 This is the official website written in English for ACAM.

Women in Resistance–Nuevos Horizontes

After our delegation met with Tabita Levantate, we drove to the town of Quetzaltenango, which is also known by the name Xela, shortened from the indigenous name Xelaju. Xela has large populations of the two indigenous groups K’iche and Mam. We met with Nuevos Horizontes (New Horizons), a nonprofit organization that provides a housing shelter, legal and counseling services to support women and children suffering from domestic violence. Nuevos Horizontes is a state sponsored shelter by CAIMU (Center for Integrated Support for Women, Victims of Domestic Violence).

Staff from the legal and social services team met with us and explained the organization’s history.  Nuevos Horizontes founded in 19989 to support women and single mothers who were survivors from violence during the Armed Conflict. In 1993, Nuevos Horizontes changed its internal legal structure to focus on cases involving gender. Soon thereafter, the organization began providing integrated legal, psycho-social, shelter, and education programs. Nuevos Horizontes staff also work with their clients to challenge stereotypes about women popularized on radio and TV.

In November 2007, Nuevos Horizontes reached out to the police force about investigating violence against women, and divided its services into five areas, including programs that focus on teaching women self-advocacy skills. These five programmatic areas are: (1) Integrated health services focused on reproductive and sexual health (2) services focused on violence against women (3) strengthening institutions (4) sustainability (5) political advocacy.

Staff addressed how many of Nuevos Horizontes programs promote citizen participation. Currently, staff are working with public ministries on recognizing that violence is public health issue, affecting the sanitation and water supply in public areas where violence occurs.

Most of Nuevos Horizontes clients come from the indigenous K’iche and Mam cultures, and language and cultural barriers sometimes occur, such as when indigenous women residing in the shelter do not have access to their traditional clothing. The organization is also working to establish a protocol to help young girls who are victims of sexual violence. The majority of those residing in Nuevos Horizontes are between the ages of 10-14, and staff commented on a growing pattern of increased awareness and denouncements of violence against girls in this age range.

At the time our delegation met with Nuevos Horizontes, funding to the organization had been frozen and staff had not been paid for three months. When I returned to Xela in December 2012, Nuevos Horizontes was still operating, and is a popular organization for students at my language school, Proyeto Linguistico Quetzalteco to volunteer, but I do not have any information regarding their funding.

Learn More about Nuevos Horizontes

1. Asociación Nuevos Horizontes. October 15, 2012. http://www.ahnh.org/ This is the link to the official website for Nuevos Horizontes.