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MNCH: Participate in the Second Canada-Guatemala Knowledge-Exchange!

Raul Scorza blog

Raúl Scorza
Community Outreach and Communications Coordinator

Horizons is thrilled to invite the next group of Canadian maternal and child health practitioners, experts and advocates to participate in its second Canada-to-Guatemala knowledge-exchange, planned for February 17-26, 2018.

These exchanges form part of an ambitious, four-year Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) project, with support from Global Affairs Canada and led by our local partner PIES (the Association for Health Promotion, Research and Education), that is improving the delivery and use of MNCH services for thousands of Indigenous Maya K’iche’ women, children and families in the province of Totonicapán, Guatemala.

Knowledge and experiences will be shared between Canadians vocationally concerned with MNCH and Guatemalan MNCH providers and leaders, including traditional Indigenous midwives. Canadian participants will therefore learn first-hand of the challenging MNCH realities Indigenous Maya K’iche’ communities and health providers face in Totonicapán, a predominantly Indigenous province with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, and how the project is helping overcome them – training over 1,000 traditional Indigenous Maya K’iche’ midwives in culturally-pertinent MNCH best practices, providing essential medicines and equipment to dozens of severely undersupplied health centres, executing a wide-ranging health promotion campaign and more.

The exchange is not designed to be service-based, as is common in medical brigades. Rather, it will provide an opportunity for participants to approach MNCH through a social justice lens and go beyond a ‘technical’ medical intervention. 

One of the health centers visited by the team

A nurse talks to the Canadian exchange participants

Not only will the exchange team shadow traditional Indigenous midwives and PIES health educators as they perform home visits in rural villages, and observe the care provided in formal health institutions. The team will also learn about the historic and systemic inequalities that have marginalized Indigenous peoples in Guatemala and contributed to alarming MNCH gaps, while understanding the crucial need for culturally-pertinent care given a virtually all-Maya K’iche’ population. 

Knowledge-sharing under the exchange is thus a fundamentally reciprocal process that will take place between equals – be they traditional Indigenous midwives, doctors, nurses, public health experts, community health educators or even Maya priests. Horizons firmly believes in the importance of Indigenous approaches to health, and is convinced that by rescuing and respectfully promoting them, spaces for traditional and Western medicine to coexist and learn from one another can be created.

After an incredibly successful first exchange, 10 Canadian participants became committed to fostering long-term solidarity with their Maya K’iche’ and Guatemalan counterparts thanks to this experience. These are some of their testimonies:

Canadian team with Guatemalan health providers

6 midwives, 3 nurses and one family doctor formed the first exchange team

“I now have a much better understanding of the limitations health providers, including traditional Indigenous Maya K’iche’ midwives, face in Totonicapán. Due to this situation there is a need for various health groups to work together, trusting and respecting each other. Horizons and PIES’s MNCH project is contributing to this trust and respect by providing culturally-pertinent training to traditional midwives and by sensitizing formal health staff to the Maya worldview, making the initiative an excellent example of sustainable, culturally-sensitive aid.”

  • Dr. Paul Caldwell – Family doctor who has provided family practice obstetrics at the Northumberland Hills Hospital in Cobourg, Ontario.

“There were several personal moments that highlighted the challenges experienced by Indigenous Maya K’iche’ communities in Guatemala – especially during our visits to rural health clinics and the home visits with traditional Indigenous midwives. Both provided a better understanding of the day-to-day issues, and left a strong desire to help address such blatant within-country inequalities. Horizons and PIES’s project is a wonderful example of what a positive partnership with mutual respect and a common goal (MNCH) can look like. I have spoken of this partnership and initiative often as an example for others to follow.”

  • Dr. Patti Tracey – Registered Nurse and Professor with the Trent/Fleming School of Nursing at Trent University in Peterobourgh, Ontario.

“I have had the opportunity to witness or be involved in many NGO projects in several countries over the past 20 years. I can honestly say that the MNCH project with Horizons of Friendship is the most impressive, people-centred development initiative I have encountered to date. Horizons’ partnership with PIES, the ethics behind implementation and the scope of its outcomes – including our exchange – makes this a project, and organization, I can wholeheartedly endorse!”

  • Joanne Gillies – Registered midwife working in Victoria, British Columbia, and former locum midwife in a primarily-Inuit community in Nunavut.  

All Canadian professionals that work in an MNCH-related field or are prominent advocates that support MNCH can apply to the second exchange. This includes, but is not limited to: family doctors, OBGYN professionals, pediatricians, midwives, nurses, community health workers, public health personnel, researchers, community leaders or gender equality experts. 

Horizons will release a call for participants in early August, with full details and a link to an online application. If you would like to learn more about the exchange, and join the applicant distribution list, please contact Raúl Scorza at rscorza@horizons.ca / 905-372-5483 / 188-729-9928 [ext. 24 for both].

Thank you to our individual and organizational donors, whose support makes this important project possible.