My name is Shaili, and I have been the Development Assistant for WINGS for over a year. I was born and raised in Guatemala, but my journey at WINGS started when I was living in Minnesota and I had just graduated from college. As many college students, I had no clue what to do, but there was one thing I knew for certain; I wanted to back to my country and work at a nonprofit organization that focused on women. I was job searching on the daily, and my uncle recommended an organization that I had sadly never heard about.
I explored WINGS’ website and saw all their efforts and accomplishments and I knew I had to work there. I decided to write to the Executive Director Rodrigo Barillas, who kindly offered me an informational interview via Skype. He then had me meet with one of WINGS’ Board Members Sue Wheeler, who happened to live in the same state I was living in. I got along very well with both Sue and Rodrigo, and soon enough, I was offered a brief internship in WINGS’ M&E Department.
My adventure at WINGS then started; I arrived in Guatemala on October 21st and on the very next day, I was off to Antigua to get trained in. I traveled to several different communities in Coban to interview youth who had somehow been involved in our Youth Program. No matter how many times I have been in rural Guatemala, the reality there always shocks me. I saw what is very common in this country; dirt floors, mud houses, several malnourished children, exhausted mothers, absent fathers, and extremely high level of poverty. I had always felt very frustrated knowing people live in such dire situations, and working at WINGS gave me the satisfaction of knowing that we’re a team of people who all want to improve these communities’ lives.
I came back to Antigua and after going through an application process, I was hired as the Development Assistant for WINGS. I remember how ecstatic I was; I had never wanted a job as much as I wanted this position. It lived up to its expectations; I had the most amazing experience working with hundreds of Guatemalan women and families who were willing to change their lifestyles and rid themselves of myths regarding contraceptive methods. I loved hearing women laugh and chat, little children running around, fearless young women taking control of their reproductive health, and bold men challenging the patriarchal norms of our society.
I also deeply enjoyed working with the staff members of WINGS. These people are brave; they talk about topics that many Guatemalans would refuse to discuss, and they courageously challenge the status quo of this country for the better. I won’t forget every single person’s effort here; our drivers and nurses sometimes left the office at 4:30 AM to carry out a mobile clinic in rural Guatemala, and even though they came back exhausted, they were up and ready for the next task the next day. Within the office, everybody’s passion was evident. Day in and day out, WINGS’ staff worked endlessly doing outreach to communities and youth, crunching numbers so that our budget worked out well, doing research on best practices, monitoring and evaluating our practices, fundraising, and so much more. I have so much respect for this team and the work we do. Again, I used to feel so frustrated about my country’s situation. But now, after working with WINGS, I know that my country’s future is in the best hands possible. On a personal level, this experience and the people around me have shaped my life and future in ways I had never imagined and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
To bring our series Fifteen Stories for the 15th Anniversary to an end, we look at some of the challenges, successes and the impact of WINGS’ work over the past 15 years, as well as what the future holds for both WINGS and the Guatemalan people.
“With considerable help from dedicated and skilled leadership and staff, WINGS has exceeded my wildest dreams. We now have a presence throughout nearly half of Guatemala, particularly in the areas surrounding Coban, Antigua, the south coast and increasingly the western highlands. We’ve had to overcome many challenges – machismo, myths, religious beliefs, fundraising (we receive no funding from either the U.S. or Guatemalan government), among others. But with help from faithful donors and local advocates, we continue to grow.”
– Sue Patterson, WINGS’ Founder
Since its founding in 2001, WINGS has grown to be a nationally recognized and respected leader in reproductive health. We are the only organization in Guatemala dedicating the entirety of our time and resources to providing quality, low-cost reproductive health information and services to rural, mostly indigenous communities. The road has been full of challenges, due to the nature of our work, and that many communities see family planning and reproductive health as taboo. However, we have made huge progress and established meaningful partnerships throughout these past fifteen years.
Click here to learn more about the highlights of our work in the last 15 years.
Fifteen years ago, most women would have answered when asked how many children they planned to have, “As many children as God sends me.” Today, more women are aware of the risks of having too many children, especially if they cannot support them financially; also, more women are aware of the reliable birth control options available to them and their right to choose if and how many children to have. Now, it’s more common to hear two or three when asking how many children a woman plans on having. Over the past 15 years, WINGS has educated and counselled more than 200,000 women, men and youth on family planning, as well as prevented over 225,000 unintended pregnancies. The national fertility rate has declined over the years, at 5 children per women two decades ago and now down to 3.1 children per women. However, that still leaves Guatemala with the highest fertility rate in the region. WINGS takes a variety of approaches in our fight to increase information about and access to reproductive health services in Guatemala. We’ve grown throughout the years to cover 13 of the 22 provinces in Guatemala with a network of volunteer family planning promoters, two mobile medical units, 3 stationary clinics, and a network of Youth Leaders.
In Guatemala, it’s very common to see household decisions made by the men in the family. WINGS broke ground in the reproductive health community in Guatemala with our WINGS for Men Program. Launched in 2007, the program aimed to improve access and information to sexual and reproductive health services for men, with the aim that they participate actively and positively in their own sexual and reproductive health and that of their partner. Funded by USAID and ESD (Extending Service Delivery), the program reached men at the community level through small groups where they would talk about reproductive health issues facing both men and women and how to access methods, among other topics. Unfortunately, the WINGS for Men program ended when funding was no longer available, but WINGS has continued to incorporate men and boys in our programs wherever possible.
Our Youth Leader Program trains many young boys, as well as girls, in sexual and reproductive health education. Through a series of workshops, youth learn about gender equality, self-esteem, the importance of setting goals for their future, healthy relationships, and of course the different contraceptive methods available. Our educational activities and services not only consider boys and men to be allies who support the choices of girls and women, but also recognize their specific sexual and reproductive health needs and link them with the information and services they require to make well informed decisions. Through our Youth Leaders, we seek to create a new generation of informed women and men who are shifting gender norms and identities at the community level to achieve greater gender equality.
We also offer affordable vasectomies for men, which is a way for men to take control of their own reproductive lives and become more involved in family planning. Recently we have seen a shift in that men are becoming more positively involved, supporting their partners in their decisions, and also in women feeling more empowered to make their own decisions regarding their life and reproductive health. In the next fifteen years, we will continue to welcome and engage men and boys in our work.
In 2001, WINGS screened 200 women for cervical cancer, a huge accomplishment for the first year. In 2006 we began using a rapid test, visual inspection with acetic acid, and treatment process highly recommended for developing, low resource countries as the testing, results, and treatment were all done in one visit. Since that first year, WINGS has screened over 50,000 women. Still cervical cancer remains the number one cause of cancer-related death in Guatemala. WINGS has conducted thousands of cervical cancer detections and cryotherapy treatments and has helped thousands of women improve their quality of life because we have caught the disease on time. However, the need for this service in Guatemala remains huge – it is estimated that still roughly 60% of Guatemalan women have never had a cervical cancer screening and too many do not realize they are at risk. It is imperative that we continue to educate Guatemalan women about cervical cancer and provide these services so that they can live healthy, long lives without having to worry about a disease that is 100% treatable if caught on time.
As we are approaching the end of 2016 and WINGS’ 15th Anniversary year comes to a close, we are excited and optimistic about what the next 15 years will bring for WINGS and for Guatemala. And we’re most grateful to have you, our supporters, by our side as we move forward. It is thanks to you that we were able to accomplish so much over the last 15 years, and we ask you to stay with us and continue supporting WINGS now that we need your help more than ever. We are thankful for all your support and ask if you haven’t already, please consider making your year-end tax-deductible donation to WINGS before the year ends – you are the driving force of WINGS’ work in 2017 and the years to come, helping thousands of Guatemalans change their lives through access to quality reproductive health education and services.
Why invest in WINGS?
“Every cent that we invest in WINGS and every effort that we give results in better services for our population, more specifically for our women and younger girls. That’s why I invest in WINGS. I think WINGS has a huge advantage over other NGOs and it’s the fact that we provide services at the community level. More people should invest in this type of project.”
– Rodrigo Barillas, WINGS’ Executive Director
Olivia, 35, had never used a family planning method. “My husband didn’t really approve, and people around here say that bad things happen to women who use family planning methods. They say if a woman does not menstruate normally, blood will fill her stomach or go to the lungs and cause cancer. I was afraid, so I never took birth control pills or got injections.”
As a result of the misconceptions and cultural barriers when it comes to accessing family planning services, Olivia has 9 children. “They are all still alive, but some of them are still very small.”
Recently, however, one of Olivia’s neighbors explained the benefits of spacing out pregnancies to her and her husband. This made them both more interested in attending an informational talk on family planning when WINGS’ mobile clinic came to town.
“I’ve learned from WINGS that, with each birth, my health is put at risk. I don’t want to die and leave my children without a mother. And I know I have had too many children already.” Keeping this in mind, Olivia opted to get a Jadelle sub-dermal implant, which will protect her from unintended pregnancies for five years the day of WINGS’ mobile medical clinic.
Olivia is excited that she will be better able to give her children what they need, without worrying about having to provide for another. Her top priority is education, but “sending them to school is expensive. If we can’t afford notebooks, they won’t learn how to write because the teachers do not have extra supplies. We will try to divide our money to help our children the best we can.”
Olivia was fortunate to be able to attend WINGS’ mobile clinic, learn correct information about spacing pregnancies and choose the birth control method she preferred. However, the unmet need for contraception in rural, indigenous communities in Guatemala remains huge, resulting in the country’s fertility rate being the highest in all of Latin America and the Caribbean. WINGS’ mobile units go out to those communities to make a difference and YOU can help! Your donations allow us to reach year after year more underserved, remote communities and to begin to change the shocking statistics. We need you now more than ever – by supporting our year-end campaign with a tax-deductible donation before December 31st, you will help WINGS’ mobile units reach more than 7,000 women, men and youth in 2017. Please do not wait, act now to make your year-end donation count!
How long have you been working for WINGS, and how did you start working here?
I have been at WINGS for six years. A friend who was a driver in this organization referred me to the job. I started off doing one shift a week, then the shifts increased. Time passed and at the end of the year I was going out twice a week. Later on, WINGS gave me a job offer and that’s when it all started.
On a regular day with the mobile clinic, what does your day look like?
Well, they aren’t normal days. It all depends on the time the mobile unit is scheduled to leave in the morning. For example, if we are supposed to leave at 5am, I am already leaving my house at 4am. I make sure everything is okay with the unit before we leave. A trip can be from half an hour to 4 hours long, and this happens before we even have breakfast. Once we get to the mobile clinic location, around 8am, our work day starts. We already know our lunch break is never at an exact time; if we are lucky, we eat at 1pm. If not, maybe at 4pm. On a good day, we’re back at 8 or 9pm, and I get to my house at 10pm. That’s what a work day looks like for me.
What does this job mean to you?
To be a driver at WINGS, it’s not just about showing up and driving. Here, you need extra knowledge and you have to use all your creativity, show support and integrity, and give as much as you can toward the organization. I’ve had so many new experiences here! We support the organization in things that drivers usually don’t. I never thought I’d be in an operating room at a hospital, helping patients through the surgery. If the drivers don’t help, our mobile clinics fall behind. I feel a great deal of satisfaction because I’ve learned a lot and I always want to learn more. It makes me happy to know we’re helping so many women.
In all your years working with WINGS, is there a mobile clinic experience that you can’t forget about?
During my sixth year at WINGS, we went to Agua Dulce in Huehuetenango, a community which shares a border with Mexico. It was a long, long trip. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d been working at WINGS for six years and now I’d finally covered the whole country; from Livingston to Huehuetenango. It took me six years to travel through all of Guatemala, from one end to the other. I won’t ever forget the experience because we really reached a community nobody could have ever imagined was there.
Have you had the chance to share information related to WINGS work with your family?
Yes. I learned about reproductive health during my school years, so I came into WINGS with some ideas. I just hadn’t seen reproductive health up close in our country’s reality. However, back when I was single, I made a choice to not have many children and that if I were to someday get married, it wouldn’t be because my partner was pregnant; I wanted to plan out everything.
I have had the chance to talk about reproductive health with my family, especially with my eldest daughter. But it’s weird for her if her dad talks about it; she is more open when somebody else talks to her.
Surprisingly, the one who understands the importance of family planning the best is my 12 year old daughter. She always says she wants to get a tubal ligation when she’s older because financial circumstances in Guatemala these days make having a family difficult. I tell her that it’s a big decision to make at 12, but find it interesting that she already thinks about those things.
As a driver, have you seen a great deal of need for mobile clinic services?
Yes, there’s definitely a great need for the mobile clinics. I’ve noticed that sometimes, patients don’t know who is providing the service and they think the government is responsible for it. Government services are available, but language is a barrier, and also the information isn’t always delivered accurately. We need to keep on giving people more information about WINGS and the work we do. The need is there. The challenge is getting our information out there.
In your opinion, how do Guatemalan men view family planning?
Well, even in Antigua, a very progressive city, my male friends don’t understand family planning. It’s like I’m speaking a different language. Nobody likes getting a vasectomy; I tried suggesting it to my brother and it didn’t work. So imagine what happens if I talk to someone who isn’t my family member.
Men make family planning the woman’s responsibility. But then, they also complain if she uses a contraceptive method without him knowing. This is why we need to educate young men starting when they are in school. If not, they blame young girls, teenage girls if they get pregnant, and it shouldn’t be like that. Initiating men into this topic when they are young is important. Trying to change an older person’s mind is difficult. Youth are more open to change.
During your time with WINGS, have you noticed any changes in patients? Are they more interested or more open to the services?
Yes, definitely. In the rural area, I’ve noticed that more people want our services. In the urban area, there are many adolescents who come to our clinics for a contraceptive method, and I think that’s a huge change. Years ago, we’d only see older women getting a method, but that is quickly shifting because younger people are getting more involved. Overall, I think we’re definitely improving and let’s hope it stays that way!
What’s your favorite part of the job?
What motivates me most is when we’re doing a mobile clinic in a new community I haven’t been to. I find myself like a kid with a new toy; I don’t wonder how long it will take to get there, or whether we’re going to eat or not; for me it’s more about the excitement of seeing different communities and people for the first time. I also really like when communities give us a warm welcome; some are very grateful and they even serve us lunch! We don’t forget about those details.
For 15 years, WINGS has been guided by a dedicated group of individuals who’ve chosen to support WINGS with their time, knowledge, skills, and financial contributions. WINGS’ Board of Directors, comprised of physicians, international development experts, communications experts and nonprofit professionals, just to name a few, ensures that WINGS is always working towards achieving our mission and vision.
Hear directly from several board members their motivation for supporting WINGS:
“WINGS was founded in response to the expressed wishes of seven courageous Guatemalan women who wanted to take charge of their reproductive lives and better provide for their existing children. That set us on the right path of actively listening to the young people, women and men we serve, to understand their reproductive health wishes and create lasting ways to make them come true. We have remained true to that path, while pushing ourselves toward continuous improvement through honest self-examination. This is a recipe for success, in my view, and the reason I have supported WINGS from the beginning and served on their Board over the last ten years. It is a privilege to be part of this organization!”
– Sue Wheeler, Board Member since 2006, Board President from 2011-2013. Non-profit Leadership and Organizational Coach.
“Having worked in the international reproductive health field for 30 years, with much of that time focused on programs in Latin America, I was drawn to WINGS as an organization where I could contribute my experience and expertise in a meaningful way. WINGS’ approach offers personalized high quality reproductive health care to youth, women, and men in Guatemalan communities where such services are extremely limited or unavailable. As a local organization staffed largely by Guatemalan professionals and trained community members, WINGS’ commitment to its clients is rooted in a shared understanding of the culture and community values. This sets WINGS apart from many other organizations in Guatemala and in other Central American countries.”
– Marilyn Edmunds, Board Member since 2014. Global Health and Fundraising Expert.
“There are so many important issues to address in today’s world and so many deserving organizations. For me, investing in family planning is a way to have an impact in so many different areas – improving maternal and child health, empowerment of women and girls, keeping girls in school, protecting the environment, and contributing to economic development. And investing in WINGS is a sure bet for making progress in all of these areas through its inspirational and dedicated efforts to fulfill the rights of Guatemalan women, men and youth to high-quality and accessible family planning services. By giving WINGS my support, I know that I am helping to build a better world, one satisfied client at a time.”– Lynn Bakamjian, Board Member since 2012, Board President 2014-2016. Global Health Consultant.
“I joined the board four years ago. I have been involved in reproductive rights since my first job out of graduate school with the international division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Since 1979, I have worked around the world to strengthen the management of local family planning organizations. These organizations, working locally with international funds, provide reproductive health and family planning services to low income families. International donors, however, place restrictions on their funding. They generally have other goals (such as population control, reduction in immigration, political stability) that are sometimes in conflict with the needs of the communities in which these organizations work. WINGS is an exception.
I am proud to be a part of this extraordinary organization. It is run by Guatemalans. It accepts funds only if they support the mission of the organization, precluding large bilateral assistance. WINGS provides quality services in an environment of privacy and deep respect for clients. Nurses and promoters speak the language of their clients.”– Tonia Papke, Board Member since 2013, Board Treasurer 2013-2016. Non-profit Financial Consultant.
Over the past 15 years, WINGS has educated and counseled 216,332 women, men and youth on family planning, screened 50,278 women for cervical cancer, and prevented 1,269 child and 82 maternal deaths. All this is only made possible by the continued support of WINGS’ friends, followers, and donors.
Why do you support WINGS? Leave your answer in the comments section below!
Ana Isabel is a 31-year-old mother of three from the rural community Pueblo Viejo. She spends her days caring for her home and children, while her husband works in the fields. Ana Isabel had her first child, a baby girl, at the age of 20. It was an unplanned pregnancy, as she knew almost nothing about family planning methods at that time.
“Back then, this wasn’t talked about. I don’t know why; but even our parents didn’t talk to us about it. And on the occasions when our parents did talk about these topics, they would ask us to leave the room or they would send us somewhere else where we couldn’t hear anything. We were told that it was adult stuff, so they refused to talk about it.”
After her first pregnancy, Ana Isabel started to hear a bit more about contraceptives from other people in her community. But all the information made her believe contraceptives were dangerous.
“I heard about birth control, but I was afraid to use it because people told me that it caused diseases. I was also told that it would dry up my cervix and that I wouldn’t be able to have kids after, so I got scared.”
Eventually, after her third child Ana Isabel began using the 3-month injection to plan her family and continued using that method until recently, when she decided she wanted to have another child.
A woman in Ana Isabel’s community told her that WINGS’ mobile medical team would be offering a family planning and cervical cancer prevention mobile clinic in their community. Ana Isabel decided to attend and undergo a cervical cancer screening. She shared, “…the reason I wanted to get a cervical cancer screening was that I can’t manage to get pregnant, and I would love to have another baby.” Ana Isabel admitted that before the mobile clinic, she didn’t actually know what cervical cancer was, but thought she might have some illness and maybe WINGS could help. “Sometimes, because of ignorance, we don’t know what goes on inside us, and we can’t afford getting a checkup. So, when a mobile clinic comes here, we have to take advantage of it because it helps us. We can’t go to hospitals because it would be too expensive, and here, we don’t have the means to afford those services.”
Thankfully, the results of Ana Isabel’s cervical cancer screening were negative. WINGS’ nurses did detect a common sexually transmitted infection during the exam, and gave Ana Isabel counseling and treatment for herself and her husband. WINGS’ mobile team are happy to have provided reproductive health services for Ana Isabel, which she could not afford elsewhere. Ana Isabel left well-informed about her personal health and with the reassurance that she did not have cervical cancer.
WINGS’ Mobile Units travel to many remote, rural communities each month to provide long-acting reversible contraception and cervical cancer prevention services. We put every effort into reaching Guatemalans who normally don’t have access to these services. We dispel myths about contraceptives and raise awareness of cervical cancer and the importance of regular screenings. Each clinic brings women the power to control their reproductive health and lives. It is thanks to your support that we can continue reaching even further. Support our year-end campaign Reaching the Unreachable this December to help.
During the week culminating on October 11th, the International Day of the Girl Child, we ran a special emergency campaign focused on raising funds to empower girls in Guatemala and give them control of their futures. A generous donor offered to match all donations up to $5,000.
We received 28 donations through Generosity platform and numerous checks from supporters who wanted to contribute to the campaign.
We are thrilled to share that after adding up all donations we received through Generosity and checks that were posted to us towards the campaign, we have reached a total of $5,097!!!
After adding the matching funds, we raised $10,097 through this emergency campaign – these funds will help WINGS reach many vulnerable girls in Guatemala and help them take control of their futures.
HUGE thanks to everyone who supported this campaign – you invested in girls in Guatemala and their futures and this is an investment in the society as a whole!
16-year-old Emily is one of 22 young women and men serving as WINGS’ Youth Leaders in and around the Antigua area. Through a variety of activities, informal talks, health fairs, and in-school talks, they provide their peers and youth in their communities with important, accurate information concerning sexual and reproductive health. They also provide referrals to WINGS’ youth-friendly clinic for private counseling and services with our Youth Program Coordinators and team of nurses.
Emily visited our Antigua office the other day and we took the opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Before joining WINGS Youth Program, what was your knowledge of sexual and reproductive health? Did you talk about the topic at school, with your family, with your friends?
I think maybe we were embarrassed. For me talking even a little bit about this with my friends or family, was embarrassing. Also, where I go to school, it is run by nuns. So they don’t talk about these things. But here [at WINGS] we have learned that trust is really important and we need to work on good communication. Learning about these topics helps us feel secure and more confident so we can talk with other people.
Why do you think adolescent pregnancy is so common in Guatemala? Is there a reason young people don’t use contraceptives?
Because people don’t talk about it, there is no guidance. There are also places where people don’t know contraceptive methods exist. There is a lack of trust and information. Maybe as well people lack the resources to buy and use methods.
What do you hope to change by being part of this program?
Through this program I can guide those close to me, give them information and bring them to the WINGS’ office so they can learn and receive the same guidance I have received. They can learn about the different options available. I can encourage them to seek counseling and services. Also, other youth trust us, we can talk to them about these topics and they feel comfortable, safer, able to ask the questions they have, that they wouldn’t ask an adult. Because we are the same age as our peers, we understand better what they’re thinking and feeling.
What are your plans for the future?
I am just finishing middle school and next year will start my career training. I plan on going on to college. I would like to travel and see different countries. I’d like a job where I learn many skills and where I can also keep helping and volunteering my time.
Anything else you’d like to share about your experience?
My experience, I’ve liked my time with WINGS because I feel more confident and self-aware. There are things I didn’t know before and now I do know. I like going to the different communities with Ana Lucia (Youth Program Coordinator) and providing youth information. I really like doing this work.
Through WINGS’ Youth Program, Emily has had the opportunity to learn about contraception and sexual and reproductive health.Through developing youth leadership and expanding access to information and services, we seek to create a new generation of informed young women and men who are shifting gender norms and advocating for their rights at the community level. Unfortunately, there are still too many young girls in Guatemala, particularly in remote, rural, indigenous communities, who do not have access to this information. As a consequence many become pregnant at an early age and less than 30% get to attend secondary school.
We want to change this and we’re asking YOU to step in today.
This is the moment for girls – with your help, we can reach more vulnerable girls and empower them to make their own decisions about their futures, just like Emily. Support our emergency campaign culminating on October 11th, the International Day of the Girl Child. Please hurry – there are only 4 days left!
Each donation made will be matched by a generous anonymous donor so your impact for girls in Guatemala will double!
Happy Mother’s Day! Today, in celebration of all mothers who impacted our lives, we’re sharing another story from our series: 15 stories for the 15th Anniversary!
WINGS’ mobile clinics travel to remote areas of Guatemala, where access to health services is extremely limited. During the clinics, we provide contraceptive methods, cervical cancer screenings and cryotherapy treatment. In many Guatemalan communities, family planning or anything related to reproductive health is still much stigmatized, so it takes courage for women from these villages to go to our clinics. We have met strong women who have overcome many struggles, as is the case with Ana Maria.
25-year-old Ana Maria was born in Nicaragua. Both her parents died when she was a child, and without family or opportunities, she came to Guatemala, told by a prospective employer he would provide her steady work and a place to live. At just 14, Ana Maria was sold into the sex slave industry, and obligated to pay off her travel and housing debts. After 3 months living a nightmare, Ana Maria managed to escape with the help of a friend, now her husband.
A few years later, Ana Maria went to a WINGS talk about family planning and cervical cancer. The risk factors for cervical cancer really concerned her, considering her past. Ana Maria wanted to undergo a screening, but worried about the cost; her husband works on a banana plantation and some months they barely have enough money to feed their 3 children. WINGS nurse Alejandra heard Ana Maria’s concerns, and offered to waive the fee for the screening. Unfortunately, Ana Maria’s screening results came out positive for pre-cancerous cells. WINGS’ staff provided Ana Maria with immediate cryotherapy treatment that day, to prevent precancerous lesions progressing to cervical cancer. With tears running down her face, Ana Maria said: “I could never afford this treatment. Sometimes we don’t even have enough to eat. I thank God that there are organizations providing services to the poorest people.”
Ana Maria’s three children and her husband were also very grateful to WINGS. The children are still very young, and with their father busy working at the plantation during the day, Ana Maria is their main caretaker. Thanks to the cervical cancer screening and treatment, Ana Maria got the opportunity to be with her three children and see them grow up.
Ana Maria was very lucky. WINGS provided her with cervical cancer screening and cryotherapy treatment in time and she avoided developing cervical cancer. But what happens to all the women living in remote, rural area of Guatemala where access to health services is almost nonexistent? In many cases, these women have never attended a talk about cervical cancer and they don’t even realize they may be at risk. As a result, they do not get screened and there is a higher chance for cervical cancer to develop. If caught early, cervical cancer is highly preventable and treatable. It should not be the number one cause of cancer-related deaths in Guatemalan women.
This is where we are asking you to step in. We are aiming to screen almost 4,000 women for cervical cancer this year and you can help us make this happen. Join our Mother’s Day campaign today and make a donation to WINGS in the name of the mother you wish to honor. We will send you a beautiful personalized card for her, explaining the impact her Mother’s Day gift is making. Help us save lives!
When we think of adolescence, we tend to associate it with a period of discovery and change: growing closer to certain friends, becoming interested in different hobbies, hitting puberty, and transitioning from childhood to adulthood. In Guatemala however, the reality for many teenage girls is sadly very different. Due to lack of sexual education, sociocultural norms, and limited access to birth control, 22% of girls in Guatemala give birth before the age of 18, forcing them into adulthood too quickly. Guatemala has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in Latin America and the Caribbean and is the only country in Central America where teenage pregnancy is actually on the rise.
Through its Youth Program, WINGS seeks to prevent teenage pregnancies in Guatemala and enable girls and boys to decide about their health and futures. Our program combines youth led sexual education with free sexual and reproductive health services in remote communities.
In a recent mobile clinic in San Francisco Zapotitlán, on the country’s Pacific coast, we met 21-year-old Fabiola.
Born in San Francisco Zapotitlán, Fabiola is one of seven siblings. Her mother sold vegetables and fruit in the local market to provide for her children. While her mother was working, Fabiola was in charge of the house, taking care of her younger brothers and sisters, despite being a child herself. As in many Guatemalan families, nobody ever told Fabiola about birth control. When she was 18, Fabiola had her first child. She struggled because on top of looking out for her younger siblings, she now had her own baby to take care of. At 19, Fabiola had her second child. Today, Fabiola is 21 years old and has three children. Raising her three children has not been easy: “Being a mother is a beautiful thing, but sometimes I feel like I can barely manage. I can’t afford to provide my children with everything I’d like to give them, and when they get sick, I can’t sleep because I’m worried about their well-being”.
Days before the mobile clinic, our Field Supervisor Mylin visited women in San Francisco Zapotitlán to talk about their family planning options and encourage them to attend our mobile clinic. Although Fabiola showed up, she was very scared about using birth control. In San Francisco as in many Guatemalan communities, birth control is highly stigmatized. While she was afraid that her community would judge her, Fabiola knew that she could not afford to have more children. After discussing which contraceptive options we could offer her, Fabiola chose the subdermal hormonal implant, which provides up to 5 years of protection. Fabiola said she is grateful to WINGS because now she does not have to worry about becoming pregnant again and she is ready to dedicate all her time to raising her three boys. “WINGS is one of the few organizations that has reached out to women in my community. Many of us do not have enough money to go to a big hospital and pay for expensive services. Once I told the nurses I did not have enough money for the implant, they gave it to me for free!”
During the mobile clinic, we also met Berta, a 19-year-old girl who carried her 10-month-old baby in her arms. Berta too had never learned about birth control – not even in school where teachers are legally required to provide sexual education. When Berta was 5 years old, her mother passed away. She was raised by her aunts and her father. Her family is very religious, and she was not allowed to ask any questions related to sexuality. She was very surprised when she got pregnant, as was all her family. A friend of her late mother told Berta about the mobile clinic, so Berta came in to get a subdermal hormonal implant. Berta may want to have one other child in the future, but she is happy that she now gets to choose when she is ready for that.
When asked whether she was excited about Mother’s Day, Berta’s face lit up and a huge smile spread across her face. “Yes! You know, once my own mother died, I lost all hope of ever being able to say ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ again. But now, for the first time in my life, people will be saying that to me. Even though I didn’t plan to be a mother this early, I love my son and I want to be the best mother in the world for him.”
This Mother’s Day, you can support women like Fabiola and Berta by donating to WINGS. Give a meaningful gift to a special mom today and save lives!
Visit www.wingsguate.org/mothers-day-2016 to learn more about our Mother’s Day Campaign.