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.
At WINGS, we believe the key to creating lasting change is empowering people at the local, community level. For this reason, we established our Voluntary Family Planning Promoter network back in 2006. Volunteer promoters are men and women who distribute low-cost short-term contraceptives and provide quality counseling and referrals to WINGS for additional services. As our promoters are locals, they have an intimate linguistic and cultural knowledge of the communities they serve. Currently, 60 women and men serve as WINGS´ volunteer promoters throughout 11 departments.
Lucy, 24 years old, was born in Santa María Cauqué, a small village located in southern Guatemala. She is one of five siblings, and her mother is a midwife. In Lucy´s community, health services are scarce, and as a result she helped with her first delivery when she was only 7. Though Lucy was exposed to reproductive health issues at a very early age, her family and teachers never taught her about her own reproductive and sexual health. When Lucy was sixteen, she had her first baby. She shared with us that at the time she felt like she was still a child herself, not ready to have a child of her own. With little to no money, Lucy worked hard as a farmer so she could make ends meet.
One day a staff member from WINGS came to Lucy’s village to offer counseling and sexual education talks. “It is like she came into my life like a mother, to talk to me about all the things I had never learned”. From there, Lucy became very interested in working with WINGS, and was trained to become a family planning promoter. She said at first only her cousin came to her for a contraceptive method, but slowly, word traveled throughout the community and more women started to arrive. Now, Lucy has been with WINGS for six years and provides counseling and contraceptives to more than 250 women each month.
Lucy explains that her role in her community is crucial to many poor people who cannot afford health care in a private health facility. Many pregnancies in her community are the result of lack of means to pay for contraception. When discussing her role, Lucy mentions that she sees about 60 women per week. She has a form that she fills out for each of the women, to keep track of when they are due for their contraceptive method.
“Without even reading my forms, I always know when each of my patients needs her contraceptive method. I know all the ladies by name!”
Personally, family planning has been challenging for Lucy. When she started working with WINGS, her husband and mother-in-law refused to accept that she only wanted to have two children. Her husband was raised in a family of many siblings, and he told her his mother had many kids, so she should do the same. At some point Lucy’s husband even told her that contraceptives were poisonous and that he would not give her permission to use them. Lucy’s mother-in-law said, “You are a woman; you have to keep as many children as God sends you”. Lucy bravely chose to use a Jadelle subdermal implant without her family knowing. She recalls what she felt making such a big decision; “I did it because I did not want to have the same life that my parents had, and for that I am proud. I can now say that I am in a much different situation than my parents were. There used to be so much ignorance, and now I feel like I’ve reached a very successful point.”
Lucy sees the change and successes in her community. Women never used to talk about family planning. Now, the majority of women ask Lucy when she’s coordinating the next mobile clinic, or when they can stop by for counseling. Now, many want to use long-acting reversible contraception, such as the IUD or the subdermal hormonal implant, which would have been unthinkable in the past.
When asked how working with WINGS has impacted her life, Lucy shared that before, she and her husband would not have been able to afford the most basic things such as water and electricity. That thanks to WINGS, she has an income of her own, which has empowered her in many ways. Together with her husband, she has saved up money to invest in the future of their children. Lucy is humbled by the trust her community places in her, but is most shocked by the change in her husband’s attitude. For a long time, he was reticent about anything that had to do with WINGS. Lucy shared with us that her husband apologized; “I am so sorry, because when you first wanted my support, I didn’t give you that. Now, you have been able to help yourself. You are free; you should do whatever you want to do. Support whomever you want to support. Fight.”
After six years with WINGS, Lucy is extremely happy to be making such a positive impact in her community and hopes to continue for years to come.
by Caroline Webb
Estela was born in 1994, one year my senior, and chose to undergo the surgical process of an elective tubal sterilization provided by WINGS. Already the mother of three children, Estela could not fathom having another pregnancy, birth, or child to feed, clothe, educate, and love.
As I sat by Estela’s side outside a pop-up surgical operations clinic in Chimaltenango, she breathed heavily through the nausea, a side effect of the voluntary surgical contraception (VSC), and I was humbled by her strength in the face of her decision to make a free, informed choice about her fertility and family.
Though the two of us have been circling the sun for roughly the same amount of time, our lives and responsibilities are miles apart; I have never known the weight of such a permanent, life altering choice, and due to the privileged world into which I was fortunate to be born, probably never will. Allow me to draw a comparison: as I face decisions of undergraduate majors at my fancy private school, consider potential careers, revise my resumé, or rationalize decisions because they build character and do things “for the experience,” Estela – and many of the women with whom WINGS works in Guatemala – faces decisions that ultimately determine her family’s future and reproductive path.
During my time interning with WINGS, I have been exposed to shocking truths and realities of many strong women like Estela. These will forever inspire and humble me.
As a Development Intern with WINGS, I worked primarily in the Antigua office, but was also able to assist in the field: I accompanied the incredible unidad movil to assist in a pop-up mobile cervical cancer screening/STI testing/method distribution clinic in a rural highland community, the VSC operations clinic where I met Estela, and a women’s health conference at a community hospital in Mazatenango. I assisted WINGS’ youth educator in a taller at a local school presenting to male adolescents the reality of pregnancy (complete with realistic pregnancy simulators!) and the misconceptions of gender roles. Another field experience took me to Escuintla, a region in Guatemala with high rates of AIDS and HIV, to assist in a unique charla with female sex workers, teaching about cervical cancer, HPV, different methods of contraception, and the accessibility of these options through WINGS’ services.
During these trips – replete with rutted rural roads, sunrise departures, surprise traffic obstacles (a camioneta accident ahead is not a valid excuse to arrive late to meet women waiting to take control of their reproductive health), and mara extortion – I met incredible women working toward a better future for themselves, their families and Guatemala, and witnessed firsthand the incredibly valiant yet tiring work the empathetic nurses, promotoras, and educators do to manifest WINGS’ mission.
WINGS’ vision of creating a future where all Guatemalans are capable of exercising their sexual and reproductive rights is already becoming a reality. One by one, with each IUD or subdermal implant distributed, cervical cancer screening or tubal ligation performed, and each woman, man, and youth learning and talking about sexual health and their reproductive rights, WINGS enables individuals to be their own agents of change.
Estela, like so many women I have had the privilege of knowing through WINGS, inspires me through exercising her agency to choose her fate, plan her family, and be the dueña of her body. By taking advantage of WINGS’ tubal ligation service, Estela will never again need to consider contraceptives nor worry about an expanding family to support. Thanks to WINGS’ services, Estela’s three young children may now have a better chance of transcending the vicious cycle of poverty by having access to more education, nourishing meals, better resources and special attention from their mother.
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.
For World Humanitarian Day 2015, WINGS is celebrating one of our dedicated team members. A true humanitarian who provides reproductive health education to thousands of youth, women, and men in some of the most underserved communities in Guatemala, and never loses her enthusiasm and motivation! We don’t know what we’d do without her and we know that countless families throughout Guatemala feel the same.
Meet Ana Lucia…
How did you start working with WINGS?
I started volunteering with WINGS in 2007 after having participated in a reproductive health workshop. I was so inspired by what I learned that I joined WINGS to teach other young people about sexual and reproductive health. I accepted a formal position as a Youth Educator in 2011 and since 2013, I have supervised our promoter network as a Family Planning Educator.
Tell us about the work of WINGS in Guatemala.
WINGS works to improve the lives of Guatemalan families through sexual and reproductive health education and services. We strive to reach the most remote and underserved areas, helping women decide on the number of children they want and giving them the tools to space pregnancies, with the goals of alleviating poverty and reducing maternal and infant mortality.
What are the biggest challenges facing Guatemala with regards to reproductive health?
Sexual health is still a taboo here: religion is barrier to accessing services and the education system does not help – reproductive health and family planning are not given enough attention within the education system.
What do you enjoy most about working for WINGS?
I love seeing a woman leave our clinics with the contraceptive method of her choice. It might seem like a small thing, but behind her ability to choose is a lot of effort. Our team provides information and education across the country, enabling women to make informed decisions about their own bodies; we raise funds so that we can buy and provide subsidized contraception; we work with municipal leaders and decision makers to organize numerous clinics in the communities and our team of nurses, educators, drivers, and volunteers provide their services to make these clinics a reality.
When I see women happily leaving our clinics , knowing that they can now take control of their lives and give their families a better future, this makes me really happy and proud of the work we’re doing.
And the most important part of your job…
Helping Guatemalan women. I love visiting communities, understanding the needs of women living there and then being able to help them to improve their lives through family planning. I think the most important part of my work is understanding that women have the right to freely decide if/how many children they want to have and then ensuring that they are able to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.
Why are the reproductive health services that WINGS provides so important in Guatemala?
They are important because women are dying. They are dying because they are having many children, they are not spacing their pregnancies, and have very limited access to health services. It is crucial that we continue to provide education and services and work towards a better Guatemala and a better life for future generations.
Do YOU have a question for Ana Lucía? Just ask in a comment, she will be very happy to respond!
To help Ana Lucía and WINGS reach more underserved women, men and youth and provide reproductive health education and services, please make sure you spread the word about our work with your friends and family.
To donate, follow this link: www.wingsguate.org/donate