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When Marta Caba Canay was 5 years old, she went to a clinic to have her vaccinations. When she returned home, she gave make-believe vaccinations to her sisters. It was the beginning of Marta’s ambition to become a doctor, which still motivates her today as she studies in the Guatemalan equivalent of the eighth grade on a scholarship from Mundo Exchange.


Marta is a serious young woman with a steady gaze, but she easily breaks into a smile, especially around her four younger sisters. She helps her mother care for the girls, especially if one is ill, and she has always taught her siblings the things she is learning in school. At CEMIK, a primary school funded by Mundo Exchange, she learned to read and write in the Ixil language as well as Spanish, and she learned to weave in the traditional style of her community of Chajul. She makes her own clothing with nature motifs, including images of ducks, horses, chickens, and eagles.

In Guatemala, public schooling is provided through the sixth grade, so the education of those wishing to go further must be financed by their families or through scholarships. Upon her graduation from primary school, at the top of her class, Marta asked her mother to help her find a scholarship so she could pursue her oft-repeated desire to become a doctor. Her mother, Maria-Teresa, is the principal teacher at CEMIK, and she asked co-founder Joan Williams if Mundo could help Marta attend junior high. Marta was awarded a scholarship and hopes to be able to continue her schooling through secondary school and through the university to achieve her dream.

In order to get the quality of schooling she needs to someday attend university, Marta travels nearly an hour each way to the town of Nebaj on a crowded microbus, built to seat 16 people but often carrying 24 or more. Her favorite subject is mathematics, and she also enjoys natural science, in which she is fascinated by the way trees breathe to provide oxygen. In addition to continuing her study of Ixil and Spanish, Marta also is learning English. She hopes to someday attend university in the city of Quetzaltenango, where there is a medical school. When she is a doctor she will be able to take care of people in her community, where medical attention is limited and expensive.


“I want to help people who have no money, and if my sisters are sick I want to help them,” Marta said. “I think my talents are needed in Guatemala.”

Marta’s talents would be welcome anywhere but are especially critical for Guatemala, where rates of malnutrition, maternal mortality, and infant mortality are high. Health care is limited and expensive, especially for the indigenous population. A number of nongovernmental medical organizations are trying to bridge the gap in service, but in the long run, the country, and especially indigenous communities like Chajul, need homegrown doctors who are steeped in the local culture as well as possessing western medical knowledge and who have a lifelong commitment to the health of their communities. In short, Guatemala needs smart, motivated, and committed young people like Marta to escape from the cycle of poverty, sickness, and early death.

Written by Tom Berridge, a generous donor who is also supporting another Chajul community member, Mateo, pursue his dreams. Thank you Tom for letting us share your stories!

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