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