AMA and Women’s Circles

All Highland Support Project Guatemalan initiatives work in conjunction with its sister organization, Asociación de Mujeres del Altiplano (AMA), located in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.

AMA works in our partner Highland communities to establish local Women’s Circles, which provide participants with a network of mutual support and a forum for sharing dreams, fears and collaborating on solutions. AMA facilitates technical and educational training on topics that range from civic participation, entrepreneurship, self-esteem, nutrition, Maya cultural identity and community resilience.

Put most simply, our goal for each circle is resilience and self/determination. The majority of authority is transferred directly into the hands of circle members so that they choose projects specifically for their community’s needs, driving their development. Depending on the needs and wants of their community, projects may include building classrooms, greenhouses, school kitchens, community centers, and constructing drainage and sanitation systems.

AMA also utilizes the circle infrastructure to foster local leadership and entrepreneurs. As Circle members identify potential local leaders, AMA provides them with specific training to develop into this role. Additionally, AMA has various skill building projects—such as Pixan and Q’anil—which help develop and find markets for local artisans. These projects help women access and build formal and niche markets.

Following active women’s circle engagement for three months, a woman becomes eligible to receive a Clean-Air Stove. These stoves are built by HSP service-learning partners and channel thick smoke out of homes and decrease the respiratory issues that are prevalent among families that cook with open pit fires. Because these stoves are more fuel-efficient, women spend less time collecting firewood and cooking and therefore have more time for active participation within their communities. Through increased participation, women experience an elevated self-worth and can see themselves as leaders.

The Mayan Arts Program (MAP) is a collaboration between the Highland Support Project (HSP), The Association of Highland Women (AMA), and the International Maya League. MAP connects rural indigenous communities of Guatemala with resources to promote creative and critical thinking skills through a curriculum that respects local culture and history.

Epidemiological research demonstrates that the two leading causes of mortality in our partner communities in Guatemala are upper respiratory infections and waterborne contaminants. For children under five, respiratory illness is the leading cause of death (WHO). These are both linked to the practice of cooking on open pit fires in tiny, unventilated homes.

House of Design Pixan is a fair trade textile workshop in the western Highlands of Guatemala. Pixan, meaning “spirit” in the Maya language of K’iche, is an association of indigenous artisan weavers, expert in the ancient techniques of back-strap and pedal loom weaving and embroidery, and an initiative of AMA (Highland Support Project’s organizational partner).

As rural providers, midwives can fill a large gap in the medical system, but the majority of midwives in the region are over 53 years old and nearing retirement. There is great need for healthcare providers in rural areas. There is a stark difference in access to health care between rural communities and urban centers in Guatemala. Although maternal and infant mortality statistics have improved dramatically in the last decade in large part to government investment in nutrition and maternal health services, maternal health is still a situation of national urgency due to difficulties providing services and care in rural communities.