La Madre’s continued financial support of La Clinica San Jose in Concepcion Tutuapa , Guatemala provides affordable consults for the local community, particularly women and families.
Run by four Franciscan Sisters from Central America, La Clinica provides free consults to families who travel miles by foot to receive care otherwise inaccessible in the high mountains of the region. With almost 30 years of healthcare experience including a year spent working in this community, Mary Clark has strong ties to La Clinica and the Concepcion area. In an effort to continue to strengthen the Sister’s prenatal care program, Clark along with her medical assistant and niece, met with the two most popular local midwives (comadronas) to discuss training the next generation of midwives. Partnering with Galileo Universidad and local organization Corazon Del Agua, the hope is for La Madre to find and sponsor local female trainees to join an existing training program. Young women belonging to different regions of the western and northern part of the country are integrated into this educational process through scholarships managed by the Corazon Del Agua. The plan is for La Madre to help women from Tutuapa participate in the program and give back to their community. This integrated program is new for Guatemala and aims to build a path in the recognition of midwifery and intercultural professionalization processes.
Upon our arrival, Madre Reyna gave us a tour of the clinic. Pristinely kept, the clinic had a pharmacy, a new dentistry practice room, cots for overnight patients, and an incubator and ultrasound in the labor/delivery room. Donations will hopefully help jumpstart their prenatal program, an area with the most need and where we believe we could be of the most help. After chatting with Madre Reyna about services provided in the clinic, we found that the obstetrical ultrasound machine was hardly used due to the RN Sr. Reyna’s lack of technical training. Mary gave Madre Reyna a basic operational overview and demonstration on ultrasound use.
Mary spoke with Sr. Reyna about her need for an ultrasound training course, which is available in the city of Quetzaltenango (Xela). A scholarship fund will be needed to provide the necessary obstetrical ultrasound training for Sr. Reyna to supplement existing prenatal care available at the clinic. Prenatal care includes regular physical exams, prenatal vitamins and once Sr. Reyna is fully trained, an obstetrical ultrasound if a patient and her family desire one (the ultrasound is optional, not required). It is a useful tool to determine position of fetus and placenta and sex of fetus as well as for dating pregnancy.
We brought printed posters of folic acid-rich foods to hang up in the clinic as a reminder to all patients, especially pregnant women, of the necessity of folic acid in prenatal development. Lack of folic acid in the mother’s diet puts the fetus at risk of developing cleft lip and palate in the first 6 to 11 weeks of pregnancy when the mother may not even be aware she is pregnant. Madre Blanca, one of the Sisters who runs the clinic, put together a mural of the photos we provided of broccoli, avocado, lentils, beans, etc. next to a picture of a child with cleft palate to drive home the message to pregnant patients who may be illiterate. On the wall, you can find bible quotes accompanying pictures of fetus size at crucial developmental stages. We paid a visit to the public health clinic or Central de Salud and they, too, had a picture of a baby with a cleft lip and palate on the wall. While at the Central de Salud, Mary spoke to the government doctor about collaborative efforts in prenatal education and care for this community.
We also accompanied Sr. Reyna on a visit to the two most popular midwives in the area, Dona Clara and Dona Nativia. Spanish-speaking Dona Clara lives in the town of Concepcion and has practiced midwifery for 35 years. Indigenous Mam-speaking Dona Nativia is responsible for women of six surrounding aldeas, or neighborhoods. The indigenous Mam-speaking women Dona Nativia serves in the area of Concepcion tend to have large families and give birth in the home. We saw the birthing hut where women go to give birth on all fours while a wood-burning fire fills the hut with smoke. Interestingly, for as long as the midwives can remember, local indigenous culture pays the midwives more for the birth of a boy, than a girl. Many of the most common prenatal problems resulting in birth defects or complications often exacerbated by the traditional setting of the home birth and aftercare can be prevented with regular prenatal care. Modern prenatal care and labor and delivery services are culturally taboo and rarely accessible for women in the area who spend much of their childbearing years pregnant. The majority of women do not have access to gynecological and obstetric services and respectful of the conditions social, cultural relevance, and much less the situation of women. Regular prenatal education and care is essential for healthier moms and babies.
We made solid strides in assisting the Sisters in kick-starting an effort to train local midwives. Sourcing the comadronas who will nominate girls to attend the training program at Galileo and become midwives to their community. This technical career, implemented in conjunction with the Galileo University, aims to train professional midwives with knowledge, attitudes and skills that enable them to provide reproductive health care at the community level, which respects, values and applies affordable ancestral knowledge to their territories, to provide culturally relevant attention. The program will hopefully establish networks to provide lasting and adequate medical services for these affected communities.
In addition to the prenatal and labor and delivery support, we traveled to villager homes with Madre Reyna to check on clinic patients. One particularly devastating case, a two-year-old girl with an eye tumor thought to be cancerous, was in good spirits despite her dire situation. Madre Reyna was working with Cancer specialists in Guatemala City (7 hours away). The Oncologists wanted to know the home living conditions were like for the discharge of the child after six rounds of chemotherapy when her immune system is weakened and there is an increased risk of infection. The child comes from a very poor family, living in a one room house with dirt floors and an outhouse. She was to take the young girl in the following week.
La Madre has financially supported the good work of La Clinica San Jose in the area of Concepcion Tutuapa, Guatemala for about 10 years and continues to be a fundamental source of community health services in the impoverished area of Tutuapa. Such care would not be available to these women and children without the generous contributions from our donors and the caring work of the Sisters. The Sisters filled our bellies with delicious meals throughout our stay and welcomed us with open arms. From them, we learned more of the problems affecting the community and what we can do to help. We witnessed the suffering of the people and the ways in which La Madre relieves some of that suffering through the dedicated work of the Franciscan Sisters of La Clinica San Jose.