As 2021 comes to a close, we are grateful for all you have done to improve villagers’ health and wellbeing in Guatemala. This year GVH has strengthened ties with the Ministry of Health, completed the community center structure, trained health promoters, provided medicines and food supplements, sent a container full of much needed medical equipment, and coordinated 3 medical team visits. We hope you enjoy learning more about our work in this newsletter.
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by Nancy Lawton, ARNP
Upon returning from our medical trip to Guatemala in February 2020, stories of a viral respiratory infection spreading around the globe were just beginning to circulate. We watched with anticipation as COVID-19 spread and GVH trips were cancelled. After vaccines became available this year, I leapt at the opportunity to return to Guatemala with GVH this April for my third trip as a volunteer. What a great trip it was!
We inaugurated the new facility in Chinachabilchoch as a clinic and dormitory, reducing travel time to the villages and gaining an immersive experience. GVH maximizes the time we spend in villages, engaging with local leaders and training aspiring health care workers. Our smaller group of five medical providers worked closely with GVH’s Guatemalan staff – I treasure the mutually constructive interaction with lead health promoter Julio as we weighed, measured and monitored the growth of children receiving nutritional supplementation. He encouraged my elementary Spanish and helped me gain insight into his community, family and goals for becoming a better community health worker. GVH supports these reciprocally beneficial relationships – as North Americans we learn about culture and lifestyles and a little Q’eqchi’ while sharing resources and information. It is a privilege to be able to participate.
A mother and baby at the clinic in Chinabilchoch as Julio and Nancy record the baby's growth as part of the Baby Nutritional Supplement program.
This trip marked Nurse Nancy's third volunteer trip with GVH.
by Dr. Ale Zarazúa
We’re thrilled to announce Siomara Bol, an amazing nurse, as the newest addition to our medical team. Since joining GVH this March, her efforts and dedication have improved the development of all our programs as she has paid close clinical and prenatal care attention, followed up on chronic illness patients, and trained health promoters and midwives. She’s worked with me in planning and coordinating our activities in the area while going the extra mile to collaborate with and urge the Ministry of Health to be more present in the area. Siomara’s demonstrated that the goal of improving health in the villages is an attainable one. We’re so happy with all we’ve accomplished with Siomara’s hard work and are looking forward to continuing working with her next year.
by Sean Murphy
GVH is excited to begin its new School Education program, which is currently being developed by our School Education Committee, in memory of Steve Fain, our Board member who passed away last year. The committee is collaborating with a retired principal who represents another NGO, the Nicholas Fund, to incorporate their many years of experience with a similar program in Guatemala. Our goals are to improve the level of individual and village health and prosperity through culturally responsive education and mentorship for youth. Program objectives include improving quality and rates of completion of primary education, and providing access to and promoting middle and high school education. Near term activities will include providing access to books through a library, setting up a tutoring program, and a continuing education program for teachers.
Some of the challenges we must address:
Many parents cannot read or write to help the kids
Village kids are often far behind urban counterparts
Students often do not have funds to continue education beyond primary school
We are always looking for people with passion, time, energy, resources, or ideas to help us continue developing this important cause. We extend special thanks to those who have gifted specific funds to enable this new program!
Steve dancing with former Board Member Diana at a GVH event.
2021 brought us new challenges and new heroes, including two new dedicated Board member heroes. In late January, Guatemala-born Ferdy Aguirre joined us, bringing with him an impressive array of project management and leadership experience from 10 years at Microsoft. Ferdy jumped right in to help with our virtual auction in May and later in the summer traveled to Guatemala with GVH. While in Guatemala, he learned first hand about our in- country programs and reminded us all what it means to volunteer.
Our newest member Loida Guerrero, born and raised in Guatemala City, brings to the Board an extensive business acumen from her professional life at Boeing along with a thoughtful, clear and authentic voice. As a long-term GVH supporter, she has shined in 2021 with her support of the Race to Guatemala as Captain of Team Baby and on-site support at the Guatemalan Independence Day celebration in September. GVH grows with every new volunteer and Board member. We would love to have you join our community!
Since opening their restaurant Antigua Guatemala in 2019, Yadira Reyes and Wilfredo Lopez have brought not only Guatemalan cuisine to the table but also an incredibly giving spirit. Despite the pandemic-related hardships that many small businesses have endured, Yadira and Wilfredo have so generously contributed countless meals and hours to GVH’s fundraising efforts this year. In February we collaborated with Antigua Guatemala for our Taste of Guatemala fundraiser and delivered 100 Guatemalan meals around the Seattle area, raising about $2,000. Yadira and Wilfredo extended their generosity even further and provided a delicious buffet of tostadas, chuchitos and yummy drinks for our Guatemalan Independence Day event in September. When we say that we’re very fortunate to have the volunteers and supporters that we do, we don’t say it lightly. Every year our newsletter includes the Volunteer of the Year, but this year applauding Antigua Guatemala as our Champion of the Year felt more appropriate. Thank you, Yadira and Wilfredo, for your continued support and for sharing Guatemalan flavors with us!
Yadira and Wilfredo
Stop by Antigua Guatemala at 120 Washington Ave N in Kent, WA for your next meal!
by Anita Nadelson & Charlotte Rasmussen
Our 2-week trip with GVH’s Guatemala-based team of dedicated medical professionals and public health support staff started by heading to the east of Guatemala, where the villages are located. The skill needed to navigate the muddy and rutted roads, which are navigable only by motorcycle or 4-wheel drive, is a testament to the remoteness of these villages and the commitment of the GVH staff to providing healthcare in high need areas.
The clinic days were long and hot but full of beauty and adventure and passed quickly. Volunteers helped in the clinic or went on site visits to homes to test family’s Ecofilters and learn more about their use of composting toilets. We saw the fruits villagers are able to grow on their properties — avocado, banana and papaya trees are popular. All the families were happy with their eco-filters, and those interested in growing their own food really liked their composting toilets and were eager to receive more seeds from GVH for additional crops to try.
The team spent a clinic day in the village of Marcajam where GVH had arranged for the Guatemalan Ministry of Health to bring 10 Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. With volunteers Sofia and Tommy, aged 17 and 16, having prepared and presented a COVID-19 presentation for all the villages and being accompanied by a Q'eqchi' translator, we were able to find several brave villagers willing to receive the vaccines. We were excited to learn that a few weeks later 40 more people requested vaccines in a neighboring village.
There were exciting, heavy thunderstorms every afternoon and many nights, including one that flooded the clinic in Chinachabilchoch and another that washed out the mountain road the night after we came down. GVH quickly adjusted our plans so that we could visit accessible villages. These alterations played to the strength of our younger team members who helped develop a more comprehensive children’s program that engaged many village children for a long period of time while their families were in the clinic. Hand washing, oral hygiene and violence prevention were part of a fun program that included games and singing in Spanish and English.
Sofia reading to children at a clinic
GVH organized the trip so that volunteers had breaks throughout the week to explore the beauty of eastern Guatemala through activities such as relaxing in natural hot springs and waterfalls, shopping in Guatemalan markets, kayaking down the Rio Dulce to the Caribbean Sea, relaxing on the white sand shores of the Caribbean sea and visiting a UNESCO World Heritage site with Mayan ruins. We worked hard and loved every minute of it. We left with an appreciation for the beauty and warmth of the people, cultures and landscapes of Guatemala, and developed a much deeper understanding of the need for the work and services that GVH provides in these remote villages. The in-country staff and returning volunteers have seen the difference that GVH’s efforts have made to provide services that empower these communities to become more invested in their health and education. There is still much to do but GVH’s approach and our visit has made us all stronger supporters of this wonderful organization.
Charlotte and her 20-year old daughter, Zoe, and Anita and her 16-year old son, Tommy, along with 7 more volunteers (including GVH Executive Director Carolyn and her 17-year old daughter Sofia), were on this trip.
Our annual fundraising auction was back this May after having been canceled last year, and we raised almost $60,000! The virtual auction and gala was called Last Mile Healthcare to emphasize the importance of reaching the remotest villages. The online auction featured smaller items and experiences while the live auction gave people the chance to bid on some stunning getaways like a week at a Caribbean island home and fabulous dining experiences like a 3-course French meal with wine pairings. New this year, attendees were able to order a gala box which included wine and Guatemalan coffee and chocolate! We’re hoping that next year the auction will resume in-person since it’s one of our most engaging events and gives us a chance to meet GVH supporters!
Our Gala Box included a bottle of wine and Guatemalan coffee and chocolate.
On September 12th, GVH welcomed Guatemalan painter Fabian Hernández to the Duwamish Longhouse where he showed his beautiful oil paintings. Fabian is self-taught and has a studio and gallery in Antigua. Attendees were able to have personal conversations with Fabian and purchase his paintings and prints. This exhibit was in celebration of Guatemala's 200th year of independence.
Explore Fabian's art here.
"Tiempo de Jugar" or "Time to Play"
Our second annual Race to Guatemala, which raised $10,000, was extra special this year since it coincided with Guatemala’s 200th year of independence. It was a joy to see a total of 81 new and returning racers logged miles, such as cycling down the west coast and rock climbing in the desert. The 8 teams’ goal was to each log the 3,700 miles from Seattle to El Estor to raise funds for their respective GVH program. Over 29,000 miles were logged and Team Teach took the gold this year with a total of 4,925 miles! The race ended with a closing ceremony in conjunction with our annual Guatemalan Independence Day celebration at Seattle Farm. With it being our first larger in-person event since the start of the pandemic, it was so much fun to celebrate with the Guatemalan community, our long-time supporters, and many new faces. It was an evening of music, dancing, and delicious food from none other than Antigua Guatemala Restaurant.
Hiking was one of the most popular ways for racers to log miles.
We thought 2020 was a challenge, but then came 2021.
The great news is that we have not only survived but also grown and even developed!
Dr. Ale Zarazúa, our Medical Director, and Samuel Alvarez, our Administrative Director teamed up with our nursing team to enhance our Chronic Disease and Healthy Babies Supplement programs with better monitoring and education. Currently we provide care and medicines to about 100 patients with diabetes, hypertension and asthma along with supplemental food to 200 babies in the first 1000 days of life. In March we hired our first Professional Nurse in El Estor, Siomara Bol, who works collaboratively with us and the Ministry of Health to supervise and provide health care in the 13 villages of our Territory in the Sierra Santa Cruz mountains. Her team includes our longstanding staff, Julio Choc and Lesbia Xi, as well as 2 auxiliary nurses provided by the Ministry of Health.
Dr. Gil with a patient during the April trip.
Despite COVID-19, we were still able to send 2 medical teams (all fully vaccinated, of course) to provide care in the villages. In April with just a small team of only medical people, we saw approximately 45 patients in each village bringing the first clinical care in over a year. The August team saw patients and collected evaluation data for our Ecofiltros and composting toilets projects as well as our Healthy Babies program.
AS COVID-19 stabilized, our Project Manager, Vladimir, returned to work with the villagers to complete the community center supported by funding through New World Villages. Local and international teams can now stay comfortably in the second floor dormitory with access to showers, composting toilets, and a kitchen complete with a smokeless stove. Currently we are collaborating with the Ministry of Health to build a recognized health center which they will staff. We have already used the community center space for clinics, an acupuncture training course (NADA), meetings and events. The NADA course was a great demonstration of the possibilities for training now available in the villages, and we plan to offer Alternatives to Violence Training there in January, and First Responder Training in March for the health promoters and midwives.
The top floor of the new building in Chinachabilchoch serves as a dormitory for GVH staff and volunteers.
Another big event this year was the container of supplies and equipment we sent in collaboration with Rotary clubs in both the US and Guatemala to support the health center in EL Estor and a new hospital in Morales which will serve our patients. Despite customs challenges, we were able to get all of the container contents into the country and distributed to those who will use them. Packing the container was a heavy lift here in Seattle for many of our warehouse volunteers – Lena Hightower, Teresa Bess, Alice Lobenstein, Sean Murphy, Teresa and Andy Blaize, and made possible by the space provided by the Lakewood Community Center. Thank you!
Contents of the container being unloaded in Guatemala.
This year we achieved two milestones in training for our lay health workers. First, training was completely developed and taught by our in country health team. They covered topics including COVID-19 vaccines. Second, we had the first (of what we hope to be many) certification training that included team members from the villages, our Guatemala City team and visiting North Americans – all learning a form of community acupuncture that can help with trauma, stress, depression and detoxification from addiction. The villagers loved being our patients, and our health workers are thrilled to have another tool for helping the people of their villages.
Midwives in Semanzana.
We have been building a local partnership with the Ministry of Health in El Estor and the department (state) of Izabal over the past 10 years, and now we are planning to join forces to pilot implementation of a new primary care-based model of care in our villages. Integral to this model is the development of Family Medicine as a newest specialty in Guatemala. Our co-founder Jennifer attended the first Congreso de Medicina Familiar November where planning began for training doctors (and perhaps nurses) in this primary care specialty focused on promotion of health and prevention of disease as opposed to acute treatment once someone is ill. Discussions ranged from the transition to considering the whole person, family or community as the unit of care to the need for providing continuity of care across time and the many levels and locations of care. We discussed the importance of the therapeutic relationship and acknowledged necessity of a population-based system of access to care. We debated training for the existing general medical workforce in contrast to development of residencies for new graduates with immersion in clinical training. In all, this is the most exciting development in medical care since our arrival in Guatemala in 2008.
Throughout the pandemic we have maintained our women’s health services with care including prenatal vitamins for those who are pregnant/breastfeeding and family planning for those who are not. The Ministry of Health is now supplying all forms of contraception to our villagers, and our nurse is able to give injections and place implants.
In addition, this year we have been able to reconnect with our lay midwives. Siomara sees their patients with them monthly and has been training them in identification of pre and post-delivery risks requiring referral to the Health Center/CAIMI in El Estor. Fortunately this allowed the midwife in Semanzana, one of our most remote villages, to recognize a case of post-delivery bleeding, call for help to transport her, and contact Siomara to meet her at the CAIMI so she could coordinate with us to support the woman’s transfer by ambulance to the hospital in Puerto Barrios which literally saved her life.
A mother and children in Chinachabilchoch.
When the schools reopen in January we will be working hard to reestablish our toothbrushing and fluoride programs in addition to increasing the presence of our health promotors in giving health education talks, and our nurses providing screenings and referrals for children in need. We did install composting toilets and hand washing stations in the schools before the pandemic, and these will be re-initiated with education on use and maintenance when schools are in session.
Kids at school.
During the pandemic we had two great harvests of vegetables and fruits which provided nutritious food to our staff and many community members in need. The house is finished and now provides lodging for our medical teams from the USA at the beginning and end of the trip. Currently we are focusing our energies on completion of an authentic model Casa Mejorada/Healthy Home, completion of the upper level of the pharmacy/storage building with administrative offices and a training clinic. Vladimir is experimenting with a new methane gas based smokeless stove, cultivation of edible fungi, and development of a series of workshops to share what we have learned working in the villages with other organizations in an effort to increase self-sustainability for the center.
After extensive development work, we were finally able to take permaculture to the villages in a sustainable way. This year we started food forests in several villages and began experimenting with food that can be grown in the family garden. In the coming year we plan to restart cooking classes that teach villagers how to cook with super-nutrient foods that they can grow, which interestingly overlap heavily with traditional Mayan cultivations like amaranth and chia. Using the motivation of well-cooked meals, we will invite new families to join in the permaculture cultivation of fruits, vegetables and grains in their home gardens to increase levels of nutrition for the whole family. One of the possible crops we are most excited about is… you guessed it peanuts, which are now being successfully grown in Chinachabilchoch, and the high nutrient grain, amaranth, which does grow in Semanzana.