Complex Care: Hidden Heros
“Is it usually like this?”
“Oh yes. This is a normal day,” Mérida explained as we stood pressed up against the wall at Roosevelt Hospital waiting for her patient, who was undergoing blood tests. It was barely six in the morning, and a line of patients extended down the hallway.
More than 45% of children in Guatemala under five years suffer from malnutrition.
Guatemala’s Mayan population has one of the world’s highest rates of childhood stunting, or impaired growth and development; rates reach as high as 90% in some rural indigenous communities.
Malnourishment in the first two years of life affects cognitive development, education, and health later in life, increasing risks of chronic diseases like diabetes and diminishing the ability to work and participate in family and community activities.
Maya Health provides treatment for 1,500 children a year suffering from malnutrition, contributing to a 35% reduction in malnutrition in the communities where we work.
We take a comprehensive, individualized approach to addressing malnutrition that combines monitoring, education, empowerment, and nutritional supports.
Our nutrition interventions include:
- Growth monitoring
- Micronutrient supplements
- Nutrition advice delivered at the home by Community Health Workers
- Classes and cooking demonstrations delivered in mothers’ languages and communities
- Women’s empowerment; building self-esteem and support among women
- Family gardens
Andrea Paola Guzman
Andrea manages our internationally recognized nutrition program and coordinates our community gardens pilot study.
She spends her days working with our nutrition clients, monitoring growth in the critical first years, and helping families learn about healthy diets and food preparation. She focuses on acute cases in which children are recovering from severe malnutrition, and on complex cases in which patients have suffered from serious illness and need nutritional follow-up. While the work is challenging, she also finds it enormously rewarding, especially when she is able to see children grow and thrive. Andrea believes that supporting mothers is a key factor in combating malnutrition since these women often face daily barriers to providing and preparing healthy food for their families, from lack of resources to domestic abuse.
Thanks to Andrea’s excellent leadership, our programs continue to flourish and improve lives in rural Guatemala. This year, the US Academy of Nutrition recognized Andrea with the Wimpfheimer-Guggenheim Competitive Essay Award for her paper on our nutrition program.
We are so thankful for all of Andrea’s hard work and feel very lucky to have her on the team.
Glenda Angelica Gomez
I’m sitting with Glenda, a member of Maya Health’s Women’s Health and Chronic Disease teams, in her kitchen after a long day of home visits in the Boca Costa. Thunder from the incoming rainstorm rumbles in the distance and cumbia music blasts from a neighboring home as she tells me her story.
Like many other women growing up in Guatemala, Glenda was told from a young age that she couldn’t. She could not keep studying because she was a woman. She could not complete first aid certification because she had to support her male siblings. But Glenda continued to look for opportunities to continue her education. “Finally, after much insistence on my part, my parents allowed me to study and I earned a degree in primary education,” she said. She had to fund herself by selling drawings, purses, and backpacks, but was able to pursue her dream of higher education.
At 20, Glenda began working as an educator for Maya Health’s clean water program, teaching families about our point-of-use water filters. As time went on, she developed an interest in nursing and was able to study part-time while continuing to work. Now, ten years later, Glenda is a registered nurse who brings compassionate care to Maya Health patients in Boca Costa.
“I don’t see my patients as patients. I see them as my brothers and sisters and I listen intently every time they speak about their lives. I learn a lot from that,” she said.
Glenda uses the knowledge she gained from Maya Health to complement what she learned in school, and is now respected in her family and around her neighborhood as a health expert. Neighbors routinely visit her house with questions about medicine or for consultations.
Maya Health injects us with confidence. Maya Health teaches us that we can.
I asked Glenda to describe the best part of Maya Health. With a bright flash of a smile, she responded “Maya Health injects us with confidence. Maya Health teaches us that we can.”
- Leah Shaw, Maya Health Research Fellow