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.
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.
In January 2015, WINGS launched a pilot of its youth peer education program (#WINGS4YOUTH). 144 young men and women from rural villages in the Alta Verapaz province received training in reproductive health and rights and are now active leaders in their communities.
Last month, with support from our partner organizations, we organized a 3-day leadership camp to celebrate the accomplishments of our bright, young leaders. Through games, team-building activities, and thematic workshops, the 50 attending youth leaders demonstrated their sexual health knowledge, strengthened their leadership skills, and boosted their self-confidence.
During the camp, our youth leaders also had a chance to experience parenting – by looking after electronic babies! The electronically simulated babies which cry when they need to be held, changed, or fed, eventually calm down and coo when their needs are met. Nevertheless, their spontaneous crying day and night was a challenging experience for our youth leaders! Here’s what the parents for one day had to say:
On the last day of the camp, after having received their ‘diplomas’, our wonderful group of youth leaders posed for a photo:
We were thrilled to hear how happy the youth leaders are to be part of our program. For many of these young men and women, this has truly been a life-changing experience. They admit that their newly acquired knowledge of sexual and reproductive health and rights has not only impacted how they think about their personal lives, but has also had an important impact on the lives of their peers and community members. They feel proud and empowered to continue helping other young people avoid teenage pregnancies and build a healthier and stronger Guatemala.
To support WINGS’ youth program, please consider making a donation to WINGS.