Empowering indigenous communities for mother and child health

LAKE ATITLÁN, Guatemala—Whether she gave birth at home or in a hospital, Michaela Mendoza Chaves had extreme difficulties delivering all three of her children.

In Guatemala, maternal and child morbidity rates are high, especially in indigenous lake communities like Lake Atitlán where Chaves lives. Chronic malnutrition affects eight in ten children, many of whom, are younger than five years old.

Organization for the Development of the Indigenous Maya (ODIM) and Global Ministries are reducing the rates of maternal and child morbidity through community-empowerment programs like Healthy Mommy and Me.

Children wait for their mothers during prenatal checkups at ODIM health clinics. PHOTO COURTESY OF ODIM

“I had so many questions about pregnancy and childbirth,” said Chaves. “I found the answers through the talks given by health promoters, particularly about danger signs in pregnancy and labor and practical information about nutrition. Our teachers told us to practice at home, and we did! This program is important for helping [my classmates and me] find solutions in the midst of the multiple activities of young families.”

Founded in 2005, ODIM offers health services and educational programs focused on building local capacity in small towns around Lake Atitlán, home to the Tz’utujil tribe. Healthy Mommy and Me integrates health care, education, supplementation, and support groups for participants. Through funding support from Global Ministries, ODIM’s maternal and newborn program is reaching 733 women and children among indigenous Mayan communities.

Chaves is one of many mothers learning about maternal and newborn health through this Abundant Health-sponsored project. Participating mothers meet for health lessons, cooking demonstrations, and other activities. They also attend ODIM’s prenatal and well-child clinics. Pregnant women in the community are referred to local government clinics to deliver their babies, and most return to the clinics for postpartum appointments.

Graduating mothers from ODIM’s Healthy Mommy and Me program pose for a group photo. PHOTO COURESTY OF ODIM

In March 2017, 30 women graduated from the small-group program. Together, they make up a community of mothers who will reach out to more expectant mothers to join their movement.

“I want more women to join the program,” said Chaves. “Many of us don’t have the knowledge or enough experience about pregnancy, childbirth, or child care—even after becoming mothers ourselves.  It’s important for someone to explain things to us, help us to understand, and continue to work with us and our children in our community and at home.”

Health services, combined with personal health knowledge and practice, are essential to mothers everywhere. To support Abundant Health programs like Healthy Mommy and Me, donate to Advance 3021770.

*Bella Simonetti is communications specialist in Mission Engagement for Global Ministries.