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!
In Guatemala, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related deaths among Guatemalan women. While the disease is preventable and highly treatable if detected early, in countries like Guatemala where healthcare is largely inaccessible, it’s a grim story.
Inadequate health centers, lack of knowledge, and geographic barriers make it difficult for women to get screened for cervical cancer in Guatemala. Ten years ago, WINGS developed its Cervical Cancer Prevention Program to overcome these challenges by providing visual inspection with acetic acid and immediate cryotherapy treatment for pre-cancerous cells. We continue to offer these life-saving services in stationary clinics in Sololá, Cobán and Antigua, and through our mobile clinics, which travel to the most remote areas of the country to reach underserved women. We have provided lifesaving services to improve the lives of thousands of women in Guatemala, even within our own team!
41 year old WINGS’ Nurse Rosy was born in a rural community in San Cristobal, located in northern Guatemala. Rosy travels every month with our mobile team to provide family planning information and contraceptives to the most remote areas of the country.
Like many of the girls and women we serve, Rosy has faced many challenges in her life. When she was only 15 years old, her family forced her to marry a man who turned out to be abusive. Sadly, in Guatemala it is very common for young girls to be married off without their consent. Rosy suffered through her marriage because, similar to many women in her situation, she didn’t have a say in any decisions. Although Rosy was finally able to separate from her husband, the difficulties persisted. As a single mother, Rosy had to figure out how to make ends meet so she could feed her four children and send them to school. Luckily, her former father-in-law was very supportive and encouraged her to go back to school.
Rosy and her family had never received any information about reproductive health and prior to resuming her studies, she knew very little about her own health in general. As a child, she lost her mom and aunt to cervical cancer. Neither had ever been screened and Rosy was terrified that the she would face the same health burden.
However, as an Assistant Nurse providing these important services throughout Northern Guatemala, Rosy decided to undergo a screening with our team. Unfortunately, our staff discovered abnormal cell growth which could lead to cancer, but our team treated Rosy immediately.
As Rosy shared with our team that day, “I am truly grateful to WINGS for supporting me and allowing me to keep being a mother to my children. I now have my nursing diploma and I am so proud to be able to help people who need it. I am thankful for the opportunity to work with WINGS; I love every part of my job. I give educational talks to different communities in my native Mayan language; I provide different birth control methods; and I screen women to help prevent cervical cancer. This work is so important and I hope that I can keep doing it forever.”
Like Rosy’s aunt and mother, there are thousands of women in Guatemala who do not know about the causes of cervical cancer and how to prevent it. WINGS has worked endlessly to change this and provide information and reproductive health services to Guatemalan women in need. In 2015, we surpassed our cervical cancer screening projection by 141%, ensuring that 3,062 women were able to undergo preventive screenings. And in the first three months of 2016 alone, we have already provided 496 cervical cancer screenings. Moving forward, we will continue providing these imperative services, thanks to your unwavering support.
To support women like Rosy, make a donation to WINGS today.
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