Photo by Susan Ryan Kalina
by Marta Ixtuc & Rachel Turner
Doña Maria was sure she was dying. She had just been diagnosed with cervical cancer and she was leaving six living children behind. “Since I knew I was dying there was no reason to seek treatment,” said Doña Maria. “I felt extremely sad.”
This reaction is not unusual in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. Misconceptions and lack of education about health care, as well as limited access to culturally appropriate services, result in high rates of preventable diseases, including cervical cancer. That’s why Friendship Bridge created the Health for Life program to specifically address the preventive healthcare challenges that rural, indigenous women face in Guatemala.
Through a partnership with Wuqu’ Kawoq (Maya Health Alliance), Friendship Bridge provides health education and services to clients by women nurses who are from the local communities and speak the clients’ indigenous languages. The program also provides mobile clinics that travel to the clients’ communities.
Rebecca, Doña Maria’s nurse, visited Doña Maria often to help her understand treatment options. “What you have has a solution,” said Rebecca to Doña Maria. “I’ll travel with you. I’ll support you. We’re in this together.”
Initially, Doña Maria’s husband was suspicious, asking her where she had contracted such a sickness. After understanding that lack of medical care during and after her nine home births could have caused her cancer, he supported her treatment.
“Rebecca is not my daughter, but she is my life-giving angel,” said Doña Maria. For four months they traveled together to the capital for treatment and later an operation. “I’m so grateful to Nurse Rebecca, my Facilitator Gloria, and the support they gave me,” said Doña Maria. “They always told me, ‘We fight together, and we’ll win together.’ Now I’m here talking about my victory. I want other women to hear my story. It could save their lives. It’s our job to make the decision to defeat sickness; if I can do it, another woman can do it too.”
Today, Doña Maria continues to build her business making and selling tortillas. Supported by Friendship Bridge through microloans, education, and health services, she also helps her children continue their education.
The month of September, we challenge ourselves for change by crowdfunding for the Health for Life program. You can have your own fundraising page to raise funds for women’s preventive health services in Guatemala. Sign up here to start fundraising!
Marta Julia Ixtuc is the Communications Coordinator in Guatemala. Based in Sololá, she continues seeking to support the development of Guatemalan women in search of their own ways out of poverty.
Rachel Turner is the Global Communications Manager for Friendship Bridge. Having worked and lived throughout the world, she’s now enjoys calling Panajachel, Guatemala, home.