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
We have already raised nearly $2,500 for Guatemalan mothers thanks to 18 amazing donors and many enthusiastic supporters who shared the campaign!
And with this update, we would like to share a different but important picture of what motherhood looks like in Guatemala with the story of this young man we had the pleasure to meet during a 3-day workshop for 150 WINGS Youth Leaders last month in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala.
While participants of the workshop discussed gender roles and social norms, 19-year-old Anilson caught our attention: his duties at home are those traditionally assigned to women in Guatemala – cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. He explained that his mother passed away 6 months ago, leaving Anilson to help his father and take care of his younger siblings. We had a chance to talk to Anilson after the workshop and he shared his story with us. more
The invisible girl lives in rural areas, seldom attends secondary school, marries early and has little control over how often she becomes pregnant and how many children she has. She escapes national data because she is hard to reach and expensive to serve. Yet, she is expected to raise her children free of malnutrition, stay healthy, and contribute to the overall well-being of her community. She appears in brochures to fundraise or promote tourism, provided she’s smiling.
This girl exists to the State up to the age of two, when she’s taken for vaccination. She reappears at the age of six or seven, or whenever she gets a chance to attend elementary school. Once she completes sixth grade, she would only be counted if there is a census, or as a member of a household in one of the national surveys. She will again be eligible for a State-run program when she becomes pregnant. Sometimes the gap between leaving school and marriage is a year; sometimes it is a bit more. In the meantime, she will work at home, collaborate in agricultural production or help her family sell these products. She will be courted and will marry and move to her husband’s family home.
This persistent pattern is often labeled “inevitable” or “part of the culture” and thus relegated in the list of official priorities. Yet, we cannot claim that girls “choose” to marry and bear children early if they are not aware of other alternatives. Racism and ethnocentrism play an important role in keeping these girls invisible, and therefore irrelevant. Ignoring their needs is equivalent to planning poverty.
THE COST OF INVISIBILITY
Programs that target these girls have demonstrated that well contextualized, girl-centered planning works. Girls respond well to programs that focus on building self-esteem and skills, are rights-based and focus on their health and family planning decisions as part of a process that remains girl-centered. Girls recognize the challenges of marrying early and the hardship of having little control over their fertility. Attending school and skills-based programs constitute a protective factor that allows them to postpone their transition to adulthood.
Guatemala will not change overnight but working to make girls visible is a step in the right direction of reaching them. However, there is an ongoing bias in favor of in-school, urban youth. In Guatemala, it is easy to make a case for almost every segment of the population and rural girls have historically “lost” when programs make choices based on cost and accessibility. Today, ⅓ of rural adolescents aged eighteen and younger are pregnant or already mothers. There are services that, if minimal, are available to them. The other two thirds are home, working for little or no pay, most likely in the informal sector. Fewer than 15% will be enrolled in high school. Their chances of participating in programs, governmental or not, will decrease once they are married and have children. There is not much choice in this.
Alejandra Colom is a Senior Program Director with the Population Council, managing program activities in Guatemala, and a WINGS’ board member. You can learn more about her and her work at the Population Council.