Empower women. Eliminate poverty.


Reflections on my experiences as a Friendship Bridge intern

by Madeleine Kane, Salud para la Vida intern

The bed leans precariously on three wooden legs and a stove base. There are two chairs, and just enough room to stretch your arms out in both directions. On top of the bed lay a few consent forms, a glucometer, a speculum, disposable gloves, a few bottles of pills and cotton swabs, and a hazardous waste container. Ana, the Wuqu’ Kawoq nurse, smiles at me with a stethoscope around her neck as I snap pictures and she talks quietly in Quiché with a client. To get here, Ana told me to tell the chicken bus driver that I wanted to get off at the 115th kilometer after Los Encuentros (just outside Sololá if you are familiar with the area), then walk off the side of the highway onto an unmarked dirt path. My only clue was that this path was underneath a certain political billboard. From there I followed a Friendship Bridge client down to her house, where Ana was waiting for us both.

This is what preventative healthcare looks like for 11 Friendship Bridge clients in Chulimán. Earlier that month at their monthly loan repayment meeting the Trust Bank participated in a Non-Formal Education session about cervical cancer and the importance of receiving Pap smears, a service that is now available to them as a benefit of being clients of Friendship Bridge. It’s too early to tell exactly what the impact of the education and the mobile clinics are, but 10 out of 11 women made it to their “appointment” with Ana that day and most chose to have a Pap smear.

My name is Madeleine Kane and for the past two months I’ve been interning with Salud Para la Vida, Friendship Bridge’s newest project focusing on creating better access to preventative healthcare for our clients. It’s one of three new projects that Friendship Bridge is rolling out as part of its commitment to holistic empowerment and poverty eradication among rural Guatemalan women. I graduated from Stanford in June 2014 with a degree in Human Biology (concentrating in Community Health) and worked in municipal community engagement in the Bay Area this past year before arriving in Guatemala during the middle of the launch of Salud Para la Vida.

Salud Para la Vida focuses on giving clients health education sessions through their regular monthly Trust Bank meetings and linking them with preventative health services offered by Maya Health Alliance, or, as they’re known locally, Wuqu’ Kawoq. I’ve been working with Amy, our Health Project Coordinator, and other Friendship Bridge staff to support four main aspects of the project – health education curriculum, field observations, data and survey work, and infrastructure development.

On different days I’ve found myself helping create the materials for a game that teaches clients how much sugar is in their favorite soda, or traveling by chicken bus and pickup truck to remote villages to watch education sessions with Trust Banks. I’ve hunched over endless Excel spreadsheets and graphs and worked directly with Wuqu’ Kawoq staff to iron out the little details like creating billing procedures. It’s not all exciting. But it all leads to moments that are improving women’s health in very real ways. It leads back to that little room where a woman is about to receive a Pap smear with a stove standing in for stirrups. It leads to the moment when a woman looks up in shock during an education session and swears off giving her children orange soda after finding out it has over 15 tablespoons of sugar per bottle.

In a country where cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women, yet 78% of Mayan women aged 17-49 report never having had a Pap smear, we are encouraged that in the first seven days of mobile clinics, 92 Friendship Bridge clients decided to have their Pap smear test done. Thousands more clients in the Sololá region have heard these Non-Formal Education sessions on cervical cancer, diabetes, and family planning. As the clinics continue to roll out to each Trust Bank in the Sololá region, we expect to hear many more success stories, and many more challenges. The work is only just beginning, and I’m grateful to have been a part of its launch.

At the end of the day, whether they’re working on curriculums, generating reports or offering clinics out in the field, the Friendship Bridge and Wuqu’ Kawoq staff working on this project are quite literally saving lives. I’ve been inspired every day by the passion here to continue to make sure that Friendship Bridge clients are not just surviving, but thriving.

Felicitaciones a todos, gracias por tenerme aquí, ¡y adelante con el buen trabajo!
(Congratulations to everyone, thank you for having me here, and let’s continue with the good work!)

Clients learn about nutrition during a Non-Formal Education session. Here they are learning about the sugar content in soda and how sugar relates to diabetes. Salud para la Vida includes four education sessions about topics related to preventative health.

A client draws eyes on the outline of a body. This exercise at a Non-Formal Education session asked women to draw a part of the body they were thankful for.

A nurse in one of the mobile health clinics gets ready for a day of work. Friendship Bridge clients earn the benefit of accessing preventative health services for free after two successful loan cycles. The services are delivered via mobile clinics that travel to the villages where clients live. The clinics are operated by female medical staff who speak the same indigenous languages as Friendship Bridge clients.