Health and Healing in Guatemala Melanie Person

Taking Off!

  • Taking flight from Philadelphia to Guatemala
  • Observing the differences between Guatemala and the United States from an over head view was immediate.
  • This was a mountainous land with a variety of different housing structures.
  • After landing in Guatemala, I immediately noticed a numerous amount of vendors and people selling handmade items to tourists outside of the airport.

In Route to Panajachel

Driving through the Guatemala City was a little different than the U.S. I noticed that there is a lot of traffic with mopeds, motorcycles, and bikes squeezing in between cars to get through the traffic.

Things were surprisingly inexpensive when I observed all the advertisements and billboards throughout the city.

The landscape was very different. While driving to Panajachel, I realized that there were countless winding roads and uneven terrain.


  • We finally arrived at our fist hotel in Panajachel. Our hotel and the scenery was beautiful.

We took our things to our rooms to get settled. We could not drink the water so we had to use bottled water to bush our teeth and wash our face.

Dinner in Panajachel

We had a delicious dinner filled with a few traditional dishes of Guatemala.

Goodnight Panajachel

  • This was a great first day in Guatemala. One cultural difference I noticed between Guatemala and the U.S. is the friendliness of the people. People are more likely to initiate conversations and smile when making eye contact.
  • A difficult thing to do was to deny people when they tried to sell me something. After realizing that selling homemade items was a means to feed their family, turning away people became hard.
  • Is there a better way people could make money in Guatemala?

Coffee Day!

Today we get to leave to San Juan Laguna and tour the Coffee Cooperative.

After finishing breakfast, we walked to San Juan Laguna.

Almost There

After crossing the Languna, there was an uphill journey to the coffee cooperative. The town we walked through was beautiful, filled with vendors and vibrant colors.

Once we arrived, we took in the scenery of our surrounding environment and proceeded with a very informative tour about the economics of coffee, how it is grown, and how it is prepared.

After returning from the tour, we had a traditional lunch and had the opportunity to purchase Guatemalan Coffee.

We then returned back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and prepare for the next day.

  • In Guatemala it is much harder to grow produce and coffee due to the limited resources and machinery that we have in the united states.
  • I was surprised to learn the economics behind coffee and how business really works with importing and exporting. I was also surprised to learn that Guatemala is a rich and bountiful country that is just oppressed by the rich that own the land.
  • Do you think that the dynamics of business in Guatemala will ever change?

Zip-lining Day!

I was so excited to be able to experience zip-ling. Even though I was eager to do the next activity, I was sad I had to leave biscuits.

I left him some breakfast

Zpitrec Xtremos

When we arrived, we first walked through a butterfly sanctuary.

We had a long and strenuous hike up to the red extreme zip-line. This was my first time zip-lining and it was an exhilarating experience. You could see the mountain ranges and the lake from above while zip-lining. Unfortunately, I could not take my phone zip-lining to take pictures in case it dropped.

After zip-lining, we traveled to Chichicastenango for lunch and shop in the markets.

After leaving Chichicastenango, we had dinner and went to our new hotel in Quetzaltenango. We had time to unwind and reflect on this exciting day in our journal.

  • One cultural difference that I noticed today between Guatemala and the U.S. is that most products are handmade. Guatemalans create handmade blankets, jewelry, clothes, etc. and sell them to make money to feed their families. Most products in the U.S. are mass produced in factories or by other people to make a profit.
  • It is very difficult to make it ahead in life when you are born into poverty in both the U.S. and Guatemala. The elite tend to have the control of the capital which continues the divide between the rich and poor.
  • Do you think Guatemala will ever become more of a democracy?

Meeting the Community

Today we get to meet the community in the highlands of Ostuncalco. We recieved a warm and loving welcome. There was a language barrier, but the students and the community communicated with each other very well. We also played a game which made all of us more comfortable with one another.

After we got acquainted with the community, we were shown a demonstration on how to build stoves out of cinder blocks, cement, water, and dirt.

Students were separated into groups of three and paired with a home owner. Anjali, Danielle, and I were paired with Irma. She was very sweet and was curious to observe how to build the stove and how it worked.

We then had lunch with the community. This gave us an opportunity to explore the village and get to build relationships with the community.

After working on the stove for a few hours, we returned to Quetzaltenango to have dinner at AMA.

  • In Guatemala, I noticed that the village is very welcoming. They welcomed us into their family with open arms. In the U.S. people are more skeptical of strangers and it take a prolonged amount of time for people to feel comfortable.
  • Something surprising is how the community makes things work with so little. They are very innovative and find various uses for one item.
  • Do families in the village use certain household items differently than we do in the United States?

The Building Continues...

Today when we arrived ti the community, all the children were very excited to see us.

We said hi to all the kids, went to the residents' houses, and continued working on the stoves.

This was a very difficult and long process. Leveling the first layer of the stove was the hardest part.

After working on the stove for a few hours, we got to take a lunch break where we got to know the kids in the community.

After lunch, we finished the second and third layer of the stove and added a door.

Before we left the village, we took pictures and talked to the community.

We went back to AMA to listen to a presentation. A Guatemalan professor taught us different techniques and natural remedies that the Mayans used to solve different health complication.

We then participated in a fire ceremony. This ceremony was very emotional and involved praying for ourselves, our family, and anyone struggling in any aspect of their lives.

  • I think that Guatemalans are more spiritual and in touch with themselves and their emotion than people in the U.S.
  • After my experience today, I noticed that cultural ceremonies in Guatemala help you connect with yourself and release negative energy.
  • Is there a ceremony similar to the Guatemalan Fire Ceremony in different cultures?

Health Fair Day

Today we got to put our nursing and communicating skills to the test. We all set up a community heath fair and formed different stations such as a blood pressure station, eye exam station, height and weight station. This was a great way to gain some clinical experience and learn more about Guatemalans' cultural health.

Community health students then gave a sugar shock presentation. In between The different stations and presentations, we had a lot of time to bond with the community.

We then left the village and went back to AMA to for dinner and a weaving demonstration. We learned about Mayan history and culture. We were able to observe all the handmade items that the women of AMA created and purchase various items.

  • I feel like people in the U.S. think that charity and money will help the less fortunate. After today, I realize that it is more important to help empower others. Mental empowerment will go far beyond the power of a dollar. Providing knowledge to better the lives of others, make money, and improve health is more valuable.
  • Something I found surprising was learning that the midwives from the village had trouble taking proper blood pressures. This was surprising because the standards for becoming a midwife are vastly different in the United States.
  • Do you think that the education for prospective midwives will ever improve?

Saying Goodbye

Today clinical students gave an STI and contraception presentation to the midwives in the community. They did an amazing job. It was interesting to see how they interpreted the information.

We then listened to the Bone Setter's presentation, who reminded me of a chiropractor compared to a U.S. profession. The midwives gave most of us massages in a small sauna. This was a bit of a culture shock, but it was a good and interesting experience.

The women of the community dressed us in their traditional clothing. The details and the fabric was so beautiful. They hand picked bouquets for us and wrapped them in handmade clothes. When they presented us with the bouquets and thanked us for helping, everyone got very emotional. This was such a touching experience.

Saying goodbye to everyone in the community was the hardest part.

After we left the village, we drove to the hot sprigs at Fuentes Georginas. The view was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen. The hot springs were filled by hot water trickling down from the volcano. We swam in the mineral rich waters of the springs and then left to get changed for dinner and salsa night.

  • The most difficult aspect of today was leave the community. After forming bonds with such loving people, it is very hard to say goodbye without knowing when you will return.
  • It is amazing how I feel like I have learned more about the world and about myself after this cultural experience than I have after living in the U.S. my whole life.
  • How many villages in Guatemala still need assistance from the Highlands Support Project?

We took a pit-stop on our way to Antigua at the Mayan Ruins of Lximche.


We spent the next two days relaxing and spending time experiencing the culture of Antigua.

Adios Guatemala!

This trip was truly a life changing experience. After learning from the readings, lectures, and personal encounters, I have a better understanding of healthcare issues in Guatemala. Discrimination is a huge factor. It is difficult to have adequate knowledge about health, make money, or receive proper healthcare when you are discriminated against by the residents of the country you live in. This creates lack of opportunity. When you do not have the opportunity to learn or to make money, it can impact your health. Many people in the village did not realize the amount of sugar they ingest because they did not learn the ingredients of popular snacks that are considered treats to them. When people are not treated equally and have equal opportunities, it is almost impossible that the less fortunate will have equal health qualities of life.

There are a few similarities and differences between the U.S. and Guatemala. There is discrimination in both Guatemala and the United States which has negative implications on economics and health. Like Guatemala, it is very difficult in the U.S. to escape poverty once you are born into it. People that live in poverty in both countries are more likely to have a poorer health status, receive less education, and make less money. This creates a repeating cycle of poverty. One difference I noticed is that the U.S. has a more diverse population than Guatemala. The United States is a melting pot of different races, religions, and cultures. I only noticed a little more diversity in tourist areas of Guatemala.

The greatest challenge for me on this trip was leaving the community that we got to know and love. This was hard because I learned so much from the people living in the village. I loved helping wherever I could because they are people that will give you their last and expect nothing in return. I was hard seeing how little they had and how much they needed and then leaving to go bad to a life in the United States. I had a difficult time integrating myself back into my daily routine while constantly thinking of the people I left. I attempted to overcome this barrier by motivating myself to further my education, graduate, and become successful so I have the opportunity to go back to Guatemala and try to provide as much support as possible to that same community.

After interacting with my team and the people of Guatemala, I learned that I love helping people and that is what I am meant to do in my life. I enjoy jumping into new cultures and learning all I can. I was very surprised how attached I became to certain people in the community and how close I got to my classmates. This trip made me realize how emotional and in touch with my feelings I am. After coming back, I see how trivial certain things are and focus my energy and emotions on the important things in life. This trip to Guatemala has changed mindset on so many things and made me realize what I want to do in the future.


Created with images by PhillipC - "Take off queue, Philadelphia, 11 Nov. 2009" • davidconcua - "antigua guatemala guatemala sunset" • Noah Sussman - "The ash bucket" • rkarkowski - "moon the fullness of sky"

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