When I became a Concern America field volunteer in Petén, Guatemala, it was 1997, just a year after the historic peace accords were signed ending the country’s 36-year civil war. Despite the devastation this war had brought, there was much hope throughout the country for building a new Guatemala. Concern America had worked for many years with Guatemalan refugees in Mexico, and as peace was emerging, we initiated our Guatemalan program in Las Cruces, Petén, in 1994.
One of my primary roles as a nurse was to organize the health promoter practitioner training courses, each year expanding the number of local health care providers. We also began leadership training and accompaniment, supporting what we called “multipliers,” those practitioners, midwives, etc. who were beginning to replicate what they had learned and were emerging as leaders in the growing program.
One of those multipliers was Guayo, a skilled clinician who gravitated to community organizing. He began working with me directly, and we would travel together to meet with communities without health promoter practitioners and/or midwives to explain the program and invite them to nominate volunteers to be trained to be their village’s health care providers. When I became pregnant, it became harder and harder to bounce down those muddy, jungle roads of Petén, but by then, I really didn’t need to be doing those community visits. Guayo and fellow multipliers were doing more and more of work of the international field volunteers, and building a strong, local team.
Three years into the program, when I arrived, I was one of 8 international field volunteers, and we were working in about 40 communities. Today, because of Guayo and an ever-growing local team of advanced practitioners, midwives, and environmental health promoters, there are now only four field volunteers, yet the program serves more than 300 communities. In fact, a number of the Guatemalan practitioners and midwives now travel to Colombia and Mexico in place of Concern America field personnel to staff and support the organization’s health programs in those countries.
In Guatemala, another moving development in the last few years is watching the emergence of the next generation of health promoter practitioners and midwives. In January of this year, the team in Guatemala started a new first-level practitioner training group, expanding the reach of the program once again. In this group were two bright, motivated, and energetic young women, who share a special bond: they are the daughters of health promoters, born after their parents were already leaders in the program! They are shown here taking one of their first turns in the teaching clinic in Las Cruces, precepted by the advanced practitioners/multipliers themselves.
After more than two and a half years not being able to travel to the field, I was able to visit our program in Guatemala this month. It was inspiring to watch the local team running the teaching clinic, organizing community visits, taking calls from distant communities to support a practitioner or midwife through a complicated case, and to hear them talk about the future of their program. It is one thing to say Concern America’s mission statement, “To transform need into self-sufficiency”; It is infinitely moving to see it in action and a reality in a place like Guatemala.