Health and Healing in Guatemala by Rachel Carr

On March in Guatemala, we had the visit of an AMAZING group.

Rutgers University 

They worked with our sister organization AMA and had a life changing experience by working on the Highlands of Guatemala, with midwives, kids, and families. Couple days ago, Rachel Carr (awesome Rachel!) shared with us her experience. 

You will find some snapshots in this blog and the full experience here.

Beautiful Lake Atitlan in the background. 

Beautiful Lake Atitlan in the background. 

Refreshing rest stop on our way from Guatemala City to Panajachel. -Rachel Carr

Refreshing rest stop on our way from Guatemala City to Panajachel. -Rachel Carr

Coffee beans for days. -Rachel Carr

Coffee beans for days. -Rachel Carr

It was surprising to me how much work goes into making the coffee, from coffee bean into the package. It was also amazing to see the pride the people have in the items they make, as they should because it takes many hours of hard work. As we hiked down from the cooperative, I stopped by a store and saw a small girl sitting down and sewing near the front of the shop. In this type of community, it's important that parents pass along skills to their children and they do so starting from young. There are no strict child labor laws in place and the people need the money to live. It is appropriate to societal standards and it keeps the family healthy and active in working together. However, I wonder how many children have to miss out on an education just to make money for their families?

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— Rachel Carr
The hike up to the zip line was hot and exhausting but well worth the expended energy! The zip lines were beyond thrilling. The zip line ended in a ropes obstacle course for those dared to try it. The men who ran the ropes course were very polite and welcoming to all of us. They were also patient in teaching us how to stop at the end of the line. Even with my broken Spanish, I was able to have some great conversations with them! Though we were not from the same country, that did not matter at all.
After lunch, we shopped in the buzzing marketplace for an hour before boarding the bus to next destination: Quetzaltenango, also known by its Maya name, Xela. We settled into our new hotel, Loma Real Inn, and headed to the AMA (Asociaciõn de Mujeres del Altiplano) House, which would be our new location for most meals and several events while in Quetzaltenango. Everyone at the AMA House was extremely welcoming and kind beyond belief. As I went to sleep that night, I was excited to see what the week would hold.
9132.11 feet. That’s exactly how high we were upon arrival in the Maya village Ostuncalco. Looking around at the livestock, humble houses and filthy feet, I couldn’t help but feel slightly ashamed that I ever complained about anything in life. Here, the people didn’t have much, yet, I didn’t have to look far to see a face smiling back at me. The Maya people are full of joy and contentment. Something to truly admire. The day started out with unexpected kindness, where we gathered around in a circle with the Maya people to introduce ourselves. At the end, they presented us with bouquets to thank us for coming, before we had even started working. It was a touching moment.
 

As I turned around, I thought my eyes were deceiving me. The large bag of rocks I had just tried to pick up, that I couldn't even lift off the ground; she was carrying them! This Maya woman is the woman of the house who we were building the stove for. I was astonished. Not only did she carry heavy bags of supplies for the stove but she also helped us mix mortar and lime for the cement. It truly was a team effort, even the kids pitched in. Often in the U.S. I feel that a woman is seen as weak or inept, and I believe that women perpetuate this idea by allowing men to do certain tasks that a woman could easily do. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, it is a cultural difference that I did not see propagated in Guatemala. In fact, as our second day in the village came to a close, I realized I had not seen any men around. I found myself pondering, where are the husbands and fathers of all these women and children? We finished our stove today; the rest to be completed by the masons. The day ended with a fire ceremony at the AMA house that I felt incredibly blessed to take part of. I thought it was wonderful how every topic was covered in the ceremony, from thanking God for simple and daily necessities, such as water to praying and remembering those with addictions to praying that mothers would take care of their children to the best of their ability. Truly an experience that I won't forget.

 

For many of these people, this was quite possibly their first time getting height, weight, BMI and blood sugar and pressure taken. One man came up to me to have his weight measured and as he stood on the scale, his feet covered the display, so that I couldn't read the number. As I tried to adjust his feet, I couldn't get him to move his feet off the display without asking the translator to ask him in Spanish. I realized he genuinely had never used a scale before and it was shocking to me. More than that, it made me consider how drastically different health care is in Guatemala vs. the U.S. It is something I believe we take for granted and is something that not everyone has access to, yet is vital. In the future, I aspire to become a doctor and travel abroad to serve medically. This trip had already began to give me a small taste of what I could expect from an experience such as that.

All photos and testimonials are by Rachel Carr.

Karen Mayorga