We’ve come back from Guatemala after another couple of weeks filled with good experiences. Our first week, we trained 15 comadronas (traditional midwives) in Santiago Atitlán, on the edge of a large lake, Lago Atitlán, with a beautiful backdrop of volcanoes. Many of these comadronas had a lot of previous experience, (some up to 50 years). They felt very grateful for the opportunity to participate in our hands-on and practical course. One thing that made the importance of our course very real to these women was the fact that there was a maternal death in Santiago our third day of teaching. During our closing circle, all said how valuable the course was and that they learned many new techniques that they knew would be helpful in their practice. Having only 15 in the class meant that they each had a lot of time to practice the various skills we were teaching. We had a wonderful graduation ceremony and each student received their diploma and manual, as well as a kit of supplies to help them during their next number of births.
Our team was composed of Dr. Ruth Brighouse and Annette Borkent RN, (both of us being the directors and originators of the project) and Birte Paschen, a registered midwife, joining us for the 5th time, and our Guatemalan teammates: Cenaida Juarez, our co-ordinator, Gloria Cutuj, our practising comadrona and Gaby Castellanos, our nutritionist and comadrona. As we completed our 18th year of this project, we have now taught over 1,280 people!
We met a few people involved in other projects that made for good connections and conversations about the possibilities of collaborating in the future. The building we used for our training was donated space from a school that trains Registered Midwives, called POWHER, funded by an NGO Salvando Madres (Saving Mothers). They really like our hands-on model and see the importance of educating comadronas who then go back to their own communities and that this has the power to change rural Guatemala.
Each year we have to adapt to various challenges. This year one of the communities that requested our course had to cancel just before we arrived. This meant we had time to go to a grade 5-6 class and teach 57 (10-13 year old) girls about female anatomy, menstruation, youth pregnancy, the right to say “No”, etc. The girls were given the opportunity to ask questions anonymously by placing a small piece of paper with their question on it into our basket. We then read the questions out loud and answered them. This went over very well.
We also took the time to give updates to our Guatemalan teammates, providing them with new information, a refresher course and recertification of the many topics we teach. This was a very valuable exercise; one we generally don’t have enough time to complete. We also updated the manual we give to each student to reflect these updates.
We were also invited to Chichicastenango, a city of 75,000 people, by 3 bomberos (volunteer ambulance attendants) that we had trained 3 years ago in another town about 1.5 hours away. They shared stories of how valuable our course had been for them. They had been called to a number of birthing emergencies and were able to save lives of women and babies by using techniques that we had taught them. They asked us to come to their city and train the remaining bomberos with our hands-on course and we have plans to do so.
Once again “Thank you for your amazing support of this important project, educating comadronas and bomberos in the impoverished nation of Guatemala. Our Guatemalan teammates continue to go out and train other groups throughout the year while we are in Canada. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. If any of you have not yet donated this year, any donations will be most welcome to fund our teammates throughout the year.
Check our ‘The Safe Motherhood Project’ Facebook page to see videos of us in action and to see how much we enjoy working with these wonderful women.