After two quarters of planning, a week of last minute preparations, and a very long day of travel, the trip has officially begun! I’ve been in Guatemala for three days now, and it is so wonderful to be back in the country that I fell in love with last summer.
My flight arrived in Guatemala City around noon on Tuesday, and I spent the rest of the day finding my way to Tecpán, a small pueblo off of the Inter-America Highway that runs through the country. Tecpán’s population is almost entirely indigenous, and the majority of the people are Kaqchikel Maya.
It’s been fascinating to be here in Tecpán, as it is completely off of the tourist path in Guatemala. The town is tiny; just a twenty square grid of houses and shops. The communities surrounding Tecpán are extremely remote, with most families living as subsistence farmers.
A little background on the nutrition situation in Guatemala. The country has the highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in the entire Western Hemisphere at 45-50 %. This means that almost half of Guatemala’s children are too short for their age. The malnutrition rates are also extremely disparate, with rates of over 80% in rural, indigenous areas. This is a major problem as chronic childhood malnutrition has detrimental consequences, such as impaired mental and physical development.
The first case study organization that I am working with in Tecpán is called Wuqu Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance. It is a non-profit that began its programs in 2002, and it has since been scaled to reach a much broader catchment area. Fun fact: Wuqu Kawoq was named using a Mayan custom of naming organizations by the day on which they were founded in the 260 day Mayan sacred calendar, the Cholq’ij.
Wuqu’ Kawoq believes that the first step toward excellent low resource health care delivery is first language services. In Guatemala, there are many pueblos with populations who only speak an indigenous language, such as K’iche, Kaqchikel, and Mam, just to name a few. Wuqu Kawoq employs a local staff of educators and healthcare providers that are bilingual in Spanish and one of these indigenous languages in order to ensure that indigenous medical needs are being met.
They work throughout the K’iche and Kaqchikel regions of Guatemala’s highlands, an area that is often overlooked by the government and remains with little access to primary healthcare. Their many free of charge programs throughout central Guatemala address a diversity of issues, ranging from nutrition to maternal health to diabetes.
I’m excited to continue learning about Wuqu Kawoq’s nutrition program that addresses this important problem in the country. So far, I have been extremely impressed with the great work that this organization is doing in Guatemala. I will write a post with more details about the program once I finish my case study with them!
In the mean time, I have been exploring Tecpán and enjoying the beautiful vistas of the area. I can’t believe that I’m already three days into the trip; time is already passing too quickly, but I’m incredibly excited to continue my journey through Guatemala! ¡Hasta lugeo!