Friday, November 04, 2011

Jessica Reichard '10: Public Health in Guatemala

This just in from Jessica Reichard IPE '10:

Pop Wuj Clinic Tour from Timmy Foundation on Vimeo.

Hello Loggers! Have to say, always feels good to greet fellow Puget Sounders.

I’m writing from Quetzaltenango (Xela), the second largest city in Guatemala. I arrived here about 5 weeks ago to work on a multifaceted grant on behalf of Timmy Global Health, an American non-profit working through locally run clinics here in Xela, as well as two in Ecuador and one in Nigeria. I stumbled across Timmy after months of searching for an organization that aligned ideologically with my strong belief in sustainable and locally focused development – in addition to a willingness to cover my minimal in country costs.

The grant itself focuses on improving a number of public health goals within the population served by our local clinic and Spanish school, Pop Wuj (named after Popol Wuj, the Mayan book of mythical history). It funds an 18 month long development program focusing on midwifery, early childhood nutrition, improved stove building, the education of local community health workers, and increased levels of chronic disease care.

I’m sharing the responsibility of this rather intimidating task with another young woman, Anna Pollack, a recent MPH graduate from John’s Hopkins, and Dr. Meg Sullivan, a fantastic pediatrician and director of medical programs at Pop Wuj. I’d love to describe all of them, but I fear I’d lose readership with such a verbose post – however, I’d love to share more, if anyone is interested in a particular aspect of the funding itself.

I’m lucky enough to be focusing specifically on the nutrition initiative, which currently includes about 20 families with children under 2. Myself, Meg, and a group of local volunteers interested in improving nutrition teach about improved food health and nutrition, as well as give out small packages of ‘NutriButter’, a very delicious, sweet peanut-buttery substance that contains essential nutrients to stimulate growth and prevent stunting, and incredibly common outcome of high levels of malnutrition in rural Guatemala. We hope that with both components – one short term to stave off imminent stunting, the other long term to improve overall familial health outcomes – we will be able to make a difference in at least one small Mayan community here in Guatemala. The malnutrition numbers are truly staggering in this country, and I’ve quickly discovered that taking small bites out of a massive problem is the only realistic way to achieve success on this scale.

Taking the leap and committing to a long term of international work – be it volunteer or compensated (ever so slightly) – is both the greatest dream and greatest fear of most IPE majors. From my short experience so far, I can say I have absolutely zero regrets, and feel better prepared every day to continue pursuing my passions both inside and outside of the classroom.

In addition to awesome social entrepreneurship going on here in Xela, Pop Wuj also offers an incredible immersive Spanish program. Those looking for something amazing to do in the summer should really consider a trip to Xela – it’s welcoming without appearing in the least bit touristy, and a fantastic place to carry out meaningful social development. Oh, and did I mention, best hot chocolate of my life? Absolutely to die for.

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