For Maya Guatemalan women living in the highlands of Santa Cruz La Laguna, education on reproductive health and rights can be an invaluable, yet difficult to access, resource.
A steep hike up the shores of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan, about a dozen women from Mercado Global’s Grupo Cruceñas cooperative congregated on plastic stools in the cooperative’s President Cristina Hernandez de Sajquiy’s clay yard, where chickens and dogs roamed freely. This marked the first training on reproductive rights offered to the women of Grupo Cruceñas.
Accompanied by Aurora Mátzar López, Mercado Global’s Community-Based Education Training Coordinator, Senayda Mendoza led the training. Mendoza is an instructor from WINGS or ALAS, a Guatemala-based NGO that provides sexual and reproductive healthcare support to rural women that Mercado Global is partnering with this year..
Senayda began the program by taping a poster citing articles from Guatemala’s constitution on a corrugated sheet metal wall.Senayda then proceeded to inform the women present – many of whom were rocking children on their laps and breastfeeding – of the reproductive rights and resources that the Guatemalan law affords them.
According to WINGS, Guatemalan women report on average that their ideal number of children would be 2; however, the average number of children the indigenous women give birth to is 3.7. Additionally, WINGS has reported that 1 in 3 indigenous women have no access to health and family planning services.
In a fluid blend of Spanish and Kaqchikel, an indigenous Maya language spoken in the highlands of Guatemala, Senayda informed the women of their right to choose the number and timing of their pregnancies. She also led a conversation about forms of contraception that can help them make these decisions and how to access family planning resources.
Elena Chiyal Tepaz, a Grupo Cruceñas artisan and the mother of one, shared that she does not wish to have any more children due to financial constraints. Because of this, she said that she found the training on sexual and reproductive rights particularly empowering, as it afforded her the information on how to make this choice.
The reactions of the women to this new material varied from giggles and jokes to quizzical looks and downcast stares. Some women responded readily to Mendoza’s questions and others were wary to answer. Judging by their attentive listening, the women saw the value of the information given and took it to heart. The decision to use or not use the education they received will be up to these women, but either way, the opportunity to make that choice is theirs, and that is powerful.
Nothing brings a smile to Felipa de Jesus Lopez Estrada’s face quite like the topic of her daughters, Gabriela and Victoria. Though she may have just finished discussing her family’s difficult economic situation and the challenges she and her husband have endured, the moment her daughters are mentioned, the worries disappear. A concerned and tired woman is instantly replaced by a beaming mother who can’t contain her pride.
“The oldest really wants to be an astronomer,” Felipa says through laughs, unable to say where the girl got that idea. “She just loves to study everything that has to do with space and stars. She spends all her time looking up at the sky!” Her youngest, she explains, wants to be a lawyer. Despite the pride she feels, Felipa does admit that her daughters’ boundless ambition has created some unease for her and her husband. In order for them to reach their goals, she acknowledges, they will need to keep studying, something that won’t come without heavy costs. And, until a little over a year ago, Felipa did not think it would be possible to provide them with that opportunity.
Felipa’s journey with Mercado Global began last year, when she joined the Ajkem cooperative in her community of San Andrés Semetabaj. She had been with the group years ago, before they had heard of Mercado Global, when they had come together to learn how to use sewing machines. Eventually, Felipa decided she could not keep up with the time commitment and had to leave. She returned when the group was invited to join Mercado Global, and has been an enthusiastic member ever since.
“It has been such a wonderful experience because I have learned so much,” Felipa says. “We’ve made traditional bags, and now we’re learning to use a loom. Little by little, we’re learning new techniques that will be so beneficial to me and my family.”
One program that has been especially valuable to Felipa has been Mercado Global’s Domestic Market Access Program, which has recently been implemented in partner communities. The program teaches partner artisans the skills necessary for success in Guatemala’s local markets. With trainings that teach sewing and weaving techniques, coupled with an education in business management, artisans are able to be more independent and generate additional income through their own local businesses.
Through the program, Felipa has learned embroidery and other useful techniques that she can use for products to sell in her community. Not only does she hope to use this additional income to contribute to her daughters’ education, but she also hopes the new knowledge will benefit them in other ways. “The things I’m learning are great because now I can make things for my daughters and invest less money in clothes for them,” says Felipa. “I am also able to teach them the techniques I am learning so that they can do it for themselves. It has been so helpful for us.”
Mercado Global’s impact within Felipa’s home also goes well beyond the added income generated through new techniques. She also credits the nutrition and personal savings trainings her group has received as part of the Community-Based Education Program for improving her family’s quality of life. “We’ve been taught how to manage our money better, and take note of how much we’re spending on a daily basis,” notes Felipa. “That all helps, because you’re not always aware of where our money goes. You just buy what you think is necessary at the time and don’t put much thought to it.”
The group, Felipa says, has learned how to properly budget as a result of the trainings. That, paired with lessons on health and nutrition, have completely changed how she shops for food. “Sometimes we have the bad habit of buying a soda, for instance, without thinking twice about it. Now I realize how much money goes into that. On the other hand, buying a juice is a lot more cost effective and nutritional as well,” says Felipa.
Going forward, Felipa sees a door of opportunity that she did not see a little over a year ago. Though she and her family still face hardships and the future is anything but clear, her involvement with Mercado Global has provided a path for her to contribute to her daughters’ education.
“More than anything, we want them to study so that in the future, they have a way to defend and provide for themselves,” says Felipa. “Because without an education, life can be very, very difficult.”
Worldwide, women are struggling to obtain equal rights and access to basic health services. As we approach International Women’s Day this year, we are presented with an opportunity to reflect on the communities around the world in which we can help women the most.
Often, the women most affected are those in rural areas, especially indigenous women. As clinics, hospitals, and health centers close down or lack crucial services, it can mean less access to reproductive health care and fundamental health education. Such gaps affect not only women but their entire families. This is the case in Guatemala, where we work to uplift and empower women and families.
Women’s health education and access is more important than ever— especially in Guatemala. Though it is an easily detectable and treatable disease, cervical cancer remains the most fatal cancer among women in Guatemala. Less than 10% of the population is screened every year.
But it doesn’t need to be this way. A woman who is screened just once in her lifetime reduces her risk of cervical cancer by 25-36%. That’s why this year, we want to focus on this simple, life-saving procedure.
Our Women’s Health Program gives women the opportunity to overcome these challenges. We provide mobile medical screenings, education and consultations at no cost to a population that needs it the most. Tailored to the specific needs of isolated, indigenous communities, our community health curriculum covers topics such as women’s reproductive health, family nutrition, and sanitation and hygiene, while providing essential medical screenings for early detection.
Our partnership with Case Western Reserve School of Medicine’s Global Health Program, supports MG staff to develop health curriculum, assist in monitoring and evaluation, and administer key health exams. At Mercado Global, we place the highest importance on building up the knowledge of indigenous women leaders. Providing insights that can alter habits in key health areas is the most effective way to circulate life-saving health practices within rural communities.
This year, our partnership with local NGO Waku Kawoq will allow us to provide even more education and care regarding cervical cancer. Waku Kawoq will administer free mobile screenings and follow-up care for women testing positive, while we will provide monthly education classes that reach near 200 women. Our trainers will travel to our artisans’ communities to deliver education classes, to serve as a support system, and provide a stepping stone toward empowerment and healthy futures.Join us this year in our #WomenForward campaign as we fight for healthy futures for our artisans and their families. Donations to this campaign will go directly to our efforts in Guatemala to educate, prevent, and treat cervical cancer. Donate to our Crowdrise page or even start your own. Show the world that women’s rights and women’s health access matters. Because when women are healthy, the future is healthy, and families thrive.
One of the first artisans to partner with Mercado Global, Julia Par Yaxon began working with Executive Director Ruth DeGolia when she was 18 years old, and she still has vivid memories of Ruth playing with her oldest son, Sergio Rodolfo, when he was 4 years old. Now he’s about to graduate high school and attend university to achieve his dream of becoming an accountant.
According to Julia, Mercado Global has come a long way since then, as have the women from her cooperative, Tejiendo Conocimiento. Partnering with Mercado Global, they have been able to learn new techniques and improve their products, accessing new markets and a better income. Says Julia, “Mercado Global has allowed us to better understand the story and value behind our traje, our language, and our way of life. We are able to learn the intricate weaving techniques of our ancestors, and preserve our culture that is slowly disappearing.”
In the future, Julia says she hopes to see more demand for the products she makes using these techniques, as her community still suffers. “I hope that more women participate in our cooperative, and aren’t forced to wait for their husband’s income. I know how difficult it is to support my two sons through high school. I see other women that have many small children, and it’s extremely difficult to provide food and clothing while also sending them to school.”
Julia notes that for her, Mercado Global not only provides a source of income, but a reason to be proud of her talents and heritage. “Among our community, we are the leaders and we have a respected reputation as women artisans. Mercado Global has empowered us to be leaders within our community, and given us the opportunity to preserve our culture and make it known to the world."
Fresh carrots and fruit licuados, or smoothies, are essential ingredients in the home of artisan Gloria Liliana Elizabeth Xiquin Sosa of Mercado Global’s Santa Maria cooperative. For Gloria and her family, good nutrition is not a simply a choice, but a necessity.
Many generations of Gloria's family suffer from disease related to poor nutrition. Both of her parents have Type 2 diabetes and her extended family, including her grandparents, uncles, and aunts are also diabetic. “When I was a child, our family’s eating habits were not good,” says Gloria. “We ate a lot of fried chicken, fries, soda. Things like that. Thankfully my siblings and I are healthy now, but looking at our family’s health history, it really makes you think about how important it is for us to eat well now.”
When Gloria’s son Roni was just sixteen months old, he contracted pneumonia, which led to an extended hospital stay. During this time, Roni also struggled with malnutrition, which only worsened his condition and brought about a whole new set of challenges for Gloria. Nursing Roni back to full health proved to be very difficult and highlighted the importance of eating healthy for the family.
From this challenging time, good nutrition has become an incredibly important part of their lives. As a partner artisan with Mercado Global, Gloria receives access to health and nutrition trainings. These trainings have helped her in her mission to improve her family’s eating habits and understand the potential dangers of consuming unhealthy foods. “Many times, I come home after a training and say to my mom, ‘Did you know about this recipe, or that this could be done this way? Let’s try it,’” says Gloria. “The trainings have also helped with feeding my son. Like a lot of kids, he’s picky about what foods he eats. Now, I’ve been learning new ways to make food that he’ll actually eat and enjoy.”
Increasingly, the family is finding that their diet is not only helping them to prevent diabetes and malnutrition, but also making them feel healthy, energetic, and happy. Gloria is often cooking new healthy recipes, and each family member is asking for more of their favorite nutritious ingredients.
In addition to this, Gloria has found that eating healthy has had other unexpected benefits. Mercado Global trainings on personal savings and budgeting, combined with the nutrition trainings, have made her realize that eating healthy is also a lot more cost-effective. “I’ve come to realize that certain unhealthy foods are so much more expensive,” says Gloria. “A can of Coca-Cola, for instance, is about 15 quetzales [about $2 USD], only lasts one serving, and is not at all healthy. If you instead buy a papaya, for instance, it costs only 8 quetzales [about $1 USD] and you get enough for three licuados.” This realization, Gloria says, has helped save her family a lot of money that they can put towards other important purchases.