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!