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Published: September 3rd 2011
Guatemala, the district of Alta Verapaz, and specifically the Municipality of San Juan Chamelco have staggering statistics regarding childhood illness, infant mortality, and maternal mortality. The numbers are hard to comprehend laid out on a white sheet of paper. When you enter into the communities the statistics doesn’t slap you in the face. You don’t see children with tiny arms and legs, lethargic from malnutrition. The people of the community are very welcoming and on the surface the suffering isn’t glaringly apparent. It is obviously a difficult life but it is tricky sometimes to see the statistics. Looking around at the unpaved roads, and the lack of electricity and running water in some communities, it makes you wonder how we got to be so lucky. What exactly was it in the development of our country that allows us to have the standards that we have now.
After having been here for a month I am slowly beginning to see the rumblings of the statistics. They live under the surface of the community but after a time of being here and getting to know people I am starting to see and hear things that show the reality of these numbers. While
we were in the city of Chamelco organizing some of our supplies there was a small procession down the street. Four men in suits held a small coffin covered in white silk at their shoulders. Women dressed in their traditional wares followed behind. No one was crying. It was a simple procession that passed by in less than five minutes. A week earlier I had witnessed a large joyful wedding procession on this same street and now by contrast the body of a nine or ten year old child passed by with only a slight pause in the flurry of activity at the town center.
A few days earlier I was working with Ninnette and Enrique when he received an urgent call for Ninnette. The person on the other line spoke rapidly, Ninnette replied with concern and frustration in her expression. One of the main focuses of our community trainings is maternal health. Increasing access to prenatal and intra-partum care and training for the recognition of maternal danger signs are just some of the ways that MTI is hoping to decrease the maternal mortality rate in the area. Guatemala has the 46th highest rate of maternal mortality in the
world at 190 deaths per 100,000 live births. The Municipality of San Juan Chamelco has a rate of 271 deaths per 100,000 live births. Our field staff is working with the community elected health committees and maternal monitors to provide trainings and develop emergency plans to get women to the clinic or hospital in urgent cases. In this instance that plan was enacted far too late. The mother was two weeks post partum and had been experiencing bleeding since before the weekend but somehow it was decided that she would go to the clinic on Monday. But Monday was too late.
While I realize this is not the happiest of posts I think that it is important for me to share about all that I am experiencing not just the things that provide good photo opps, while there are many. This is one of the reasons that I was attracted to this yearlong position in an area of Guatemala that really rarely sees any tourist traffic. The depth and reality that can be found by really getting to know a place and its people is endless. I hope that over the next year I will see a change in the reality. Hopefully the efforts and trainings from our field staff and the projects from the groups that come to visit will have an impact on these statistics.
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