Guatemala: Giving Volunteers and Student Nursing Project

Building Possibilities through Educational Financial Assistance and Non-Profit Partnerships

In honor of Jennifer Talbot, Mundo’s initial supporter and advisor and to those survivors and victims of the Guatemalan Massacres

On Mundo Exchange’s recent service learning trip to Guatemala our six international volunteers were constantly made aware of one of the many challenges many rural Guatemalans are currently experiencing – that of obtaining an education that will eventually lead to a paid employment position.  This is so true in the small, primarily indigenous village of Chajul, located in the mountains of northwest Guatemala. Many of the Mayans who are now adults were unable to attend school during the 36 plus years of violence that wreaked extreme havoc in this area. Mundo Exchange along with many friends are making it possible for Cecelia to attend nursing school in Guatemala.

Mayan student nurse

Student Nurse Cecelia and child

Many Chajulenses, or the local indigenous inhabitants, survived large massacres, murders, and disappearances and were literally on the run from the late 1970’s through the early 90’s. (See Voices and Images: Mayan Ixil Women of Chajul, Asociacion de la Mujer Maya Ixil and M. Brinton Lykes, July, 2000; Mayan Women: Survival, Transformation and Hope, Joan Williams, 2000 for more information.)  Now they are raising families and trying to identify ways to financially support the family, as well as have an opportunity to pursue their own passions. Mundo has been supporting health and education projects in Chajul for over ten years.

One of Mundo’s strong supporters was Jennifer Talbot, a pediatric nurse practitioner who worked most of her professional life in Alaska.  Jennifer traveled to Guatemala to visit her sister, Joan. Joan, the current president of Mundo Exchange Board of Directors, was working with a group of women in Chajul who were defining the affects of the violence on their lives. They were deciding what they could do as a group to enhance the lives of their growing families.  It was clear from the work the women were accomplishing was important to many people in Guatemala. It was also clear that health care in general, and in particular, health care for woman and children, was severely lacking.  Jennifer’s hope was to eventually spend time in Chajul helping to develop their health care services. Unfortunately, she passed away from cancer before she was able to pursue her dream, but Mundo continues to work towards that goal.

Mundo Exchange supporter Jennifer Talbot

Jennifer Talbot Mundo Exchange Supporter

In October of 2009, Volunteer Andy conducted medical clinics and worked to bring down vital medical supplies to Chajul.  On our recent trip, Volunteers Bruce and Silas brought down another 100 pounds of well-needed medical supplies.  Now Mundo has an opportunity to support health care development in Guatemala in a different way – by helping a local Guatemalan pursue her dream of becoming a nurse.  Cecelia is in her early 30’s.  She hopes to attend nursing school in the nearby town of Nebaj and eventually work at the health clinic in Chajul.  Chajul’s Centro de Salud has finally become a functioning, exciting and expanding clinic that people can access free of charge.  This year they have focused on maternal health care and survival of mother and infant with great success.

Cecilia wants to join the health care team.  Upon successful completion of her training, she hopes to have a consistent job at the clinic.  She has two children for whom she is working very hard to put through school.  She is bright and optimistic about the future despite the fact that her husband is jobless in the US. Cecilia’s mother raised 13 kids by herself because her husband was killed during the civil war violence.

Cecelia's Mother and Mundo President Joan

Cecelia's Mother and Mundo President Joan

One of the things we have realized in our last few trips to Chajul is that very few careers are available to people in this region.  Three reasons come to mind.  A: Chajul was and still is primarily an agronomy society and has historically not had social services, including health or education; B: There are very few people literate enough to attain a professional position, and C: Very few institutions can offer quality educational/training opportunities. Mundo sees this as an opportunity to help with an education that will actually culminate into a sustainable job and will benefit the local community’s desire to increase their quality and quantity of health care by having local Maya Ixil nurses working on site, understanding the local Maya traditions of health care and speaking the local indigenous language.  Cecelia’s training will be at a hospital in Nebaj (the nearby larger city) which has been running for several years and has a good number of well-trained nurses and doctors.

To help Cecelia achieve her goal, Mundo has successfully raised the funds for her educational fees, uniforms, and other nursing supplies.  We are partnering with Limitless Horizons Ixil, a wonderful NGO that is focused on supporting middle and high school students in their pursuit of a quality education.  As an on sight organization, they know Cecelia well and had this to say about her: “she is a luchadora (a fighter), a single mom who really takes advantages of opportunities”.  While the nursing class in Nebaj is expensive and not the best program, Veronica (LHI Administrative Director) believes that with her children its really her only option of studies, and that she deserves the opportunity and has the potential to excel. LHI will manage the scholarship.  This means that she will be asked to sign a contract for Mundo, pick up monthly scholarships checks  and turn in copies of her registration and grades so that everybody can be sure she is in fact, taking the class.  This seems like good practice to us, and insures she has the needed resources for her education.

As Mundo Exchange volunteers continue to help Guatemala, Thailand, the Dominican Republic and other projects we sometimes take note that the life, work and family stresses we thought were so large in respect to those we help are mostly so very small; like communication with friends, family and work cohorts, disagreements and misreads, time when we were helping others when we felt they didn’t understand the best picture, the big picture often connected to our own needs and perspective are inconsequential in the real scheme of the world.

As visitors to other countries and projects we are humbled by the many many people we meet and volunteer and work with. It gives us a way to help the world and people and projects in need but also makes us look within and examine what may at times humor us, anger us, frustrate us, make us smile and make us cry. In some ways we are fortunate to have had some food, good water and other basic needs throughout life. In other ways these simple take for granted luxuries make us unable to sometimes understand global society as a whole. We keep trying and we somehow know we are on the right track in terms of Mundo’s projects, vision and mission. Volunteers, interns, local staff, directors, donors, web designers and all those that have helped or are helping with various global projects keep us guided. We thank you all for working together to help others and for your continued support.  Sometimes acting in terms of the global community instead of going with our own needs and desires is what is needed. You have all helped so much to make this world a much safer and better place for people like Cecilia.

A dream of the future for Mundo is to continue to help local communities build their capacity to educate, train, and ultimately offer high quality social services that the community identifies as critical to their well-being.  Thanks to everyone who is helping us pursue these efforts!

Joan Walton Williams Author