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.
Use the arrows above to look through the image gallery from WINGS Youth Leaders’ training.
WINGS’ Youth Leaders program trains young men and women from ages 14 to 19 so they can provide accurate reproductive health information and service referrals to their peers through community-based activities. Our methodology incorporates the topics of gender equality and power.
In Guatemala, many children do not finish their education; most only go up to third grade and then start working in order to support their families. Some sell fruits and vegetables in “mercados”, some work with crops in the fields, and others shine shoes for a living. In this environment with scarce opportunities or access to schooling, children grow up knowing little about their own rights and their health. For children who do continue their education in the public school system, the picture does not get much better. Though Guatemalan legislation states that public schools must teach family planning and reproductive health topics, the culture remains very conservative and sexual health is still taboo, hence in most schools, these topics are not even mentioned. Not knowing much about reproductive health or contraception options, many girls become pregnant at 15 or earlier.
Additionally, Guatemala is a very patriarchal society where women’s voices are frequently silenced, especially in rural areas, where traditional gender roles are still very prevalent. Sadly, violence against girls and women is common. There are many pregnancies that happen as a result of rape, sometimes by girls’ own relatives.
At WINGS we believe in promoting equal rights and we know it is imperative for youth to receive an education. Unintended adolescent pregnancies can be avoided through reproductive health education and access to contraceptive methods. By informing youth about their reproductive rights, we can reduce teen pregnancies, increasing girls likelihood to continue their education, and pursue their future goals.
Just in January, we have already held two Youth Leader training sessions, one in Cobán and the other in our Antigua office. In total, we trained sixty young men and women. Both sessions were a huge success; the adolescents asked great questions, gave important feedback, and were willing to participate in all our fun activities. Even those who were shy at first warmed up to the topics and to their peers. WINGS’ staff taught the youth about the contraceptive methods we offer. To make sure that the youth understood, they got into smaller groups to make presentations about each method, with banners and demonstrations about how to use each. To keep the activities fun and dynamic, we held rallies so that the youth could run outside and play while learning. In addition to talking about contraceptive methods and how to use them, we also talked about reproductive rights, gender equality, and sexual orientation. We are aware that Guatemala is still a very traditional society, so it is important that from a very young age, our youth learn to respect all types of diversity. It was great to see that despite having been brought up in a conservative culture, the youth readily accepted these topics.
This past year, we noticed some very important numbers. Out of all the 14-19 year old adolescents we work with, 81% chose short term contraception, while only 19% choose LARCs (long-acting reversible contraception), even though the latter are the most effective.
This year we implemented the LARCs First methodology. We explain all available birth control methods in terms of efficacy: beginning with the most effective (IUD and subdermal implant) and ending with the least effective method (condom). There are numerous misconceptions about LARCs in Guatemala: it is believed that they are only meant to be used by married women or women who have already had children, some think that they can make women infertile, or that they are permanent methods. For this reason, during our training program we strongly emphasize these contraceptive methods can be used by women regardless of whether they have had kids or not, and that they can be removed after 5 years (in case of the implant) or 10 (IUD), or earlier if the person decides to.
Our Youth Leaders program is made up of many intelligent, determined youth who bring such positive energy and hope to the work WINGS does.
* Click on the “CC” button to watch with English subtitles
Here is an interview with one of our newest Youth Leaders, Samuel. Samuel talks about why youth are embarrassed to talk about sex, why adolescent pregnancies are so frequent in Guatemala, and what his dreams for the future are.
It is thanks to your support that WINGS Youth Leaders Program became reality. Please continue empowering youth in Guatemala by making a tax-deductible contribution to WINGS.