By Jenny Eaton Dyer
This week, CARE is directing a congressional delegation to Guatemala including Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) and Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC), among other activists. The goal of our trip was to witness first-hand the lives of women and children across the nation in terms of health. Were they learning how to care for their newborns with proper nutrition? Who was delivering their babies if complications arose? Were they accessing education on family planning? What was being taught in terms of empowerment for education and finances? What are the key societal challenges that they faced? How were things improving? These were the questions we were asking USAID, CARE, and other NGO administrators as well as community health workers.
Guatemala has a complicated and diverse history, most recently with a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Though the Peace Accord has ended the structured violence, stark inequalities remain among the population. There continues to be an economic and cultural divide between the Ladinos and the Mayans.
Our delgation traveled to Quetzeltenango, or Xela, in the western highlands to visit with some women from the Mayan culture. Over 23 different languages are spoken across Guatemala among the Mayans, so the translation was often twice: from the Mayan to Spanish, and if needed, to English.
In Guatemala, a mother is five times more likely to die while giving birth than a mother in the United States. Around the world, 99 percent of these deaths from complications in pregnancy and childbirth occur in developing nations. And over 80 percent are preventable. In Xela, among the indigenous Mayan population nearly half of the children under 5 are chronically malnourished. Addressing the spectrum of care for maternal and child health, from prenatal to postnatal, or the first 1,000 days of the child’s life is absolutely critical for the health and wellbeing of both mom and baby.
In the morning, we were able to visit with a number of community health workers, including mid-wives, who were appointed as leaders in their communities to educate and care for young women in need of prenatal and postnatal care. We also had the opportunity to hear from some of the young women and see their precious children as well. These women were teenagers; young brides who were already starting their families, yet encouraged to think about how many children they truly wanted and how to space those children. We witnessed a sample teaching lesson, and we heard stories about how these lessons had saved lives.
That afternoon, we drove up into the hills of Tizate community to learn about the Nutri-Salud national program in Guatemala. We visited with Griselda Díaz and met her little three year old girl and newborn son. Griselda lives with her father-in-law who helps to takes care of the family while the father is away at work. The auxiliary nurse for the community who takes care of Griselda during her 1,000 days window—from conception to two years old—of prenatal and postnatal care is Yolanda Ortega. Yolanda demonstrated here in the Diaz home how she visits with Griselda and educates her on next steps for herself and the family in terms of safety and basic health. The Diaz hang the chart to remind themselves of their commitment during this 1,000 days program.
This 1,000 Days program is a wonderful example of the spectrum of health education and care that is offered via USAID funding, directly to the families, in their own home in the far reaches of the western highlands of Guatemala. The heroes who direct and implement these programs on the ground with our American tax dollars are nurturing a new generation of healthy children who will avoid the devastating effects of stunting, due to lack of nutrition, and are building a strong foundation for Guatemalan families in health and hope for the future.