To bring our series Fifteen Stories for the 15th Anniversary to an end, we look at some of the challenges, successes and the impact of WINGS’ work over the past 15 years, as well as what the future holds for both WINGS and the Guatemalan people.
“With considerable help from dedicated and skilled leadership and staff, WINGS has exceeded my wildest dreams. We now have a presence throughout nearly half of Guatemala, particularly in the areas surrounding Coban, Antigua, the south coast and increasingly the western highlands. We’ve had to overcome many challenges – machismo, myths, religious beliefs, fundraising (we receive no funding from either the U.S. or Guatemalan government), among others. But with help from faithful donors and local advocates, we continue to grow.”
– Sue Patterson, WINGS’ Founder
Since its founding in 2001, WINGS has grown to be a nationally recognized and respected leader in reproductive health. We are the only organization in Guatemala dedicating the entirety of our time and resources to providing quality, low-cost reproductive health information and services to rural, mostly indigenous communities. The road has been full of challenges, due to the nature of our work, and that many communities see family planning and reproductive health as taboo. However, we have made huge progress and established meaningful partnerships throughout these past fifteen years.
Click here to learn more about the highlights of our work in the last 15 years.
Fifteen years ago, most women would have answered when asked how many children they planned to have, “As many children as God sends me.” Today, more women are aware of the risks of having too many children, especially if they cannot support them financially; also, more women are aware of the reliable birth control options available to them and their right to choose if and how many children to have. Now, it’s more common to hear two or three when asking how many children a woman plans on having. Over the past 15 years, WINGS has educated and counselled more than 200,000 women, men and youth on family planning, as well as prevented over 225,000 unintended pregnancies. The national fertility rate has declined over the years, at 5 children per women two decades ago and now down to 3.1 children per women. However, that still leaves Guatemala with the highest fertility rate in the region. WINGS takes a variety of approaches in our fight to increase information about and access to reproductive health services in Guatemala. We’ve grown throughout the years to cover 13 of the 22 provinces in Guatemala with a network of volunteer family planning promoters, two mobile medical units, 3 stationary clinics, and a network of Youth Leaders.
In Guatemala, it’s very common to see household decisions made by the men in the family. WINGS broke ground in the reproductive health community in Guatemala with our WINGS for Men Program. Launched in 2007, the program aimed to improve access and information to sexual and reproductive health services for men, with the aim that they participate actively and positively in their own sexual and reproductive health and that of their partner. Funded by USAID and ESD (Extending Service Delivery), the program reached men at the community level through small groups where they would talk about reproductive health issues facing both men and women and how to access methods, among other topics. Unfortunately, the WINGS for Men program ended when funding was no longer available, but WINGS has continued to incorporate men and boys in our programs wherever possible.
Our Youth Leader Program trains many young boys, as well as girls, in sexual and reproductive health education. Through a series of workshops, youth learn about gender equality, self-esteem, the importance of setting goals for their future, healthy relationships, and of course the different contraceptive methods available. Our educational activities and services not only consider boys and men to be allies who support the choices of girls and women, but also recognize their specific sexual and reproductive health needs and link them with the information and services they require to make well informed decisions. Through our Youth Leaders, we seek to create a new generation of informed women and men who are shifting gender norms and identities at the community level to achieve greater gender equality.
We also offer affordable vasectomies for men, which is a way for men to take control of their own reproductive lives and become more involved in family planning. Recently we have seen a shift in that men are becoming more positively involved, supporting their partners in their decisions, and also in women feeling more empowered to make their own decisions regarding their life and reproductive health. In the next fifteen years, we will continue to welcome and engage men and boys in our work.
In 2001, WINGS screened 200 women for cervical cancer, a huge accomplishment for the first year. In 2006 we began using a rapid test, visual inspection with acetic acid, and treatment process highly recommended for developing, low resource countries as the testing, results, and treatment were all done in one visit. Since that first year, WINGS has screened over 50,000 women. Still cervical cancer remains the number one cause of cancer-related death in Guatemala. WINGS has conducted thousands of cervical cancer detections and cryotherapy treatments and has helped thousands of women improve their quality of life because we have caught the disease on time. However, the need for this service in Guatemala remains huge – it is estimated that still roughly 60% of Guatemalan women have never had a cervical cancer screening and too many do not realize they are at risk. It is imperative that we continue to educate Guatemalan women about cervical cancer and provide these services so that they can live healthy, long lives without having to worry about a disease that is 100% treatable if caught on time.
As we are approaching the end of 2016 and WINGS’ 15th Anniversary year comes to a close, we are excited and optimistic about what the next 15 years will bring for WINGS and for Guatemala. And we’re most grateful to have you, our supporters, by our side as we move forward. It is thanks to you that we were able to accomplish so much over the last 15 years, and we ask you to stay with us and continue supporting WINGS now that we need your help more than ever. We are thankful for all your support and ask if you haven’t already, please consider making your year-end tax-deductible donation to WINGS before the year ends – you are the driving force of WINGS’ work in 2017 and the years to come, helping thousands of Guatemalans change their lives through access to quality reproductive health education and services.
Why invest in WINGS?
“Every cent that we invest in WINGS and every effort that we give results in better services for our population, more specifically for our women and younger girls. That’s why I invest in WINGS. I think WINGS has a huge advantage over other NGOs and it’s the fact that we provide services at the community level. More people should invest in this type of project.”
– Rodrigo Barillas, WINGS’ Executive Director
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.
We are thrilled to share a blog post written for CAMY and WINGS by our Youth Specialist in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, 23-year-old Fidelia Chub. Read on to learn about WINGS’ work with youth and the fight to engage local authorities in protecting young people and their rights.
To support WINGS’ work with youth, make a tax-deductible contribution to our #WINGS4YOUTH year-end campaign and change young lives!
On October 5th, Emily Barcklow, Central America & Mexico Youth Fund (CAMY) Program Officer and Gloria Diaz Jaso, CAMY Scholarship Recipient, joined WINGS on a visit to San José, a semi- urban community 10 minutes outside Cobán, Alta Verapaz. They were able to attend an informational talk for youth in the community given by Byron de La Cruz, a WINGS’ Youth leader. Byron began volunteering earlier this year as Youth Leader in our project supported by CAMY due to his desire to help his peers avoid teenage pregnancies.
By the time we arrived, 11 young women and men had showed up to listen to Byron’s talk. The topic for the workshop was, “Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, Reproductive Risk and Family Planning.” Byron had asked a local family if he could host the talk in their backyard and they were more than happy to let the youth use the space. During the talk, the youth who arrived were very active and participative, asking questions when they had doubts.
Upon returning to the WINGS office, Emily, Gloria and I talked about several areas of improvement and plans to continue with the current project. Something that we recognized was the diversity of young people in the area because the ones who attended to the talk that day were completely different from the girls from a Tanchí village that CAMY visited in March: the girls from the village were timid and had trouble expressing themselves. We concluded that when you are close to the municipal capital, you have greater opportunities to receive information which makes youth in those areas more active. Thus, it’s necessary to make sure the same information and services exist at the community level to promote development not just for one group, but for all people.
We also talked about other project activities completed in the last few months. For example, in August and September we organized advocacy activities in various municipalities to celebrate International Youth Day and the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Day.
In August, we also participated in the regional meeting for youth and teenagers called “Advocating for My Rights” in partnership with Plan International, the Network of Youth Organizations of Alta Verapaz (ROJAV), Youth Bureau of Cobán, Paz Jóven, and Social Cooperation Institute (ICOS). Several youth from the participating institutions joined WINGS’ youth leaders in the meeting. This two day event included a rally, artistic activities, and a forum with the local authorities and aspiring congressional deputies, to motivate young people and the invitees.
During the meeting, two forums were hosted – the first one with Ministry of Health and Municipal Youth Office representatives, and the second with four deputies participating in the October election. The youth were very engaged and asked the various representatives and aspiring politicians, “what have you done to prevent teenage pregnancies?” and “what will you do to support youth if you are elected to the Congress?” This was a productive space for the youth to advocate for their rights in front of local authorities and future congressional figures.
©Photo by CAMY Fund
Similarly, during September and October we hosted a roundtable discussion in San Cristobal Verapaz with local authorities. Although we had organized roundtable discussions in Santa Cruz Chisec, the local authorities did not arrive. Seeing the lack of interest from local authorities was extremely discouraging to the youth and teachers participating in the roundtables.
Some of our Youth Leaders expressed disappointment because some local leaders do not have any interest in young people and do not want to invest in youth. We realize how important it is to continue informing and sensitizing young people about the rights and existing laws that protect them. We agreed that next year, we will continue implement advocacy activities to show the authorities that now young people are demanding their rights.
Thanks to Nicole A. Otis and Clara Avila for helping with the translation!
Don’t forget to visit #WINGS4YOUTH campaign page and give a gift that gives back!