It’s smack-dab in the middle of the rainy season here in Guatemala, and months ago I planned a visit to Wuku’ Kawoq, an NGO which works towards ameliorating chronic malnutrition, among other health problems, very similar to the goal of the Peace Corps Maternal and Child Health Project, though I was worried that I might get rained out! Why o’ why had I decided to plan a vacation/NGO site visit during a month when we might get torrential downpours?

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Fortunately the weather was beautiful!

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I stayed at the Albergues Hotel which I had passed many times in the Peace Corps van. By taking a peak at Google Earth beforehand, I could make out cabins surrounded by greenery of some sort, so I figured it would be a nice place to spend a week. I hadn’t expected to find interesting pieces of artwork, such as a bicycle, and other everyday objects, repurposed into planters and spacious rooms at this hotel which describes its grounds as an ideal place for contemplation.

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The staff at Wuqu’ Kawoq were very friendly and helpful indeed, and their mission of providing healthcare services to indigenous Mayan in their own native language parallels the Peace Corps ethos of placing volunteers in rural sites where volunteers can become part of the community and work from within the community to effect change.

An interesting poster caught my eye when entering Wuku’ Kawoq headquarters, empty bottles of energy drinks, sodas, juices, and other beverages high in sugar were glued on a board with the corresponding sugar content measured out in granulated sugar and dutifully posted under each bag. An empty bottle of “agua pura” or bottled water had, of course, an empty bag signifying zero sugar content.

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I was fortunate to be able to attend one of Wuqu’ Kawoq’s women’s groups, as well as learn about some of the research that this NGO does, which includes giving a food survey to women receiving nutritional classes to quantitate to what degree the classes help women, who have children recovering from malnutrition, improve the diet of their families.

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This was a fortuitous experience as I have a Peace Corps grant to do nutrition classes as part of a garden project, and after my experience at Wuku’ Kawoq I designed a food survey that I will have the women in my women’s group do before beginning the classes to get a baseline for how they are planning their families meals.

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As opposed to Wuku’ Kawoq’s detailed food and health survey, (which no doubt will be used to publish pertinent research I will read with great interest), my survey won’t produce publishable investigations, but will rather be used internally by Peace Corps to judge the effectiveness of the project, and perhaps more importantly the women in my groups will learn how to analyze their family’s food consumption.

I tried to design my survey so that women in my community, who may have a low-level of literacy, or whom might not speak Spanish fluently, could easily use it to document and analyze their family’s overall nutrition in terms of diversity and quantity of food groups.

Sometimes when you study a problem, such as treating sepsis in the emergency room in the hospital, the problem magically gets better just by studying it. For example, various international organizations try to raise awareness of sepsis SurvingSepsis.Org, and early recognition and treatment of this serious medical condition when a patient comes to the emergency room. If a patients with sepsis can be treated earlier with intravenous fluids and other medical therapy, they have a greater chance of surviving, so just by involving doctors in a certain hospital in a study about sepsis, awareness of this condition due to the study in itself might help improve treatment of the problem.

In kind, I am hoping that by making women in my groups aware of the nutritional intake of their family, and the high prevalence of chronic malnutrition, this attention will help mitigate this problem through their direct involvement in the collection of data and analysis of this “research”. If the majority of women in my women’s group had refrigerators, I’d want them to post the food survey on them and think about food groups when planning family meals.

Overall, my visit to Wuqu’ Kawoq was very interesting and helpful, and I’ll have much more to say in upcoming posts! Most heart warming was hearing the experiences of a patient navigator who helps link-up indigenous Mayan who need healthcare services only provided by tertiary healthcare centers, such as those in Guatemala City, and the barriers faced by such patients who may only speak their native Mayan language of Kaqchikel. In the hospitals in Guatemala City, often simply referred to as “Guate” by Guatemalans, there might not be a translator available to speak in Kaqchikel, which can be a significant barrier for Kaqchikel only speaking patients who need specialized medical care which may involve multiple appointments and specialized tests in different locations and in different facilities. (Photo of painting in Wuqu’ Kawoq below that reminds me of a Children’s Hospital for some reason.)

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For interested Peace Corps volunteers, Wuqu’ Kawoq also has Americans serving as volunteers at this NGO, and Wuku’ Kawoq assists volunteers in finding funding sources to help pay for their room and board during their time with Wuku’ Kawoq, and I think there is a discount for Peace Corps volunteers at the Wuku’ Kawoq Kaqchikel langauge field school. Probably if a COS’d Peace Corps Volunteer wanted to learn Kaqchikel and help arrange medical services for patients with complicated medical problems, this would be a great place to do it!

I got interested in Wuku’ Kawoq after reading their research articles, many of which are available online and this NGO has sponsors, and connections, with many reputable organizations.

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