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Chosen Paths: Indigenous Maya Health and Youth in Guatemala

Horizons of Friendship and the Faculty of Social Science and Humanities invite you to a free public panel discussion that will bring together Indigenous Maya K’iche’ champions for women, children and adolescent health in Guatemala’s western highlands.

Horizons of Friendship is a charitable international development organization based out of Cobourg, Ontario. As part of its commitment to ending poverty and injustice in Central America and Mexico, Horizons of Friendship is working to close alarming maternal and child health gaps in the predominantly Maya K’iche’ province of Totonicapán, Guatemala. Maya K’iche’ women are two-thirds more likely to die during pregnancy than non-Indigenous women, and Maya K’iche’ infants are one-third more likely to die than non-Indigenous infants during their first year of life. Eight out of 10 Maya K’iche’ children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition.

With funding from the Government of Canada, Horizons’ Maternal Newborn and Child Health (MNCH): Reducing Gaps for Indigenous Peoples in Totonicapán, Guatemala project, implemented by local partner PIES de Occidente in collaboration with the Totonicapán Health Directorate, aims to contribute to the reduction of maternal, newborn and child mortality and improve the delivery and use of maternal-child health services for Maya K’iche’ peoples in Totonicapán.

This project:

  • Provides medical equipment to dozens of public health-care centres and the provincial hospital.
  • Provides skills and technical training for all front-line public health workers.
  • Delivers culturally-pertinent training to complement the knowledge of traditional Maya K’iche’ midwives.
  • Supports a variety of health education and promotion initiatives in the Maya K’iche’ language that also involve traditional community authorities and leaders.
  • Teaches in-school and out-of-school Maya K’iche’ adolescents about their sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Features opportunities for Canadians to learn directly about the issues the project addresses.
Join us and a group of visiting Maya K’iche’ youth, a traditional midwife and a representative of the Totonicapán Health Directorate as they share their powerful experiences and stories about their mission to save lives in their communities.

Chosen Paths: Indigenous Maya Health and Youth in Guatemala
  • When: Tuesday, October 29 from 5 to 7 p.m.
  • Where: 61 Charles Street Building, second-floor atrium
Speaker bios:

Dr. Martina del Rosario Ajpacajá Castro
Dr. Martina del Rosario Ajpacajá Castro is an Indigenous Maya K’iche’ physician born in a region known as ‘Agua Caliente’ in Totonicapán, Guatemala. After obtaining her medical degree, she provided her expertise to various health-oriented, non-government organizations serving Indigenous Maya peoples across the country’s western highlands. She is currently the Health Services Manager for the Totonicapán Health Directorate, where she manages the operations of all primary and secondary health posts and centres in Totonicapán. Despite the province’s health care system being severely underfunded, she works tirelessly to ensure quality, culturally-pertinent care is provided to Totonicapán’s predominantly Maya K’iche’ population—especially from the first 1,000 days of life to adolescence, when patients are at their most vulnerable.

Virginia Yojana del Tránsito Tacam Ramos
Virginia Yojana del Tránsito Tacam Ramos was born in Totonicapán, Guatemala. At only 23 years of age, she is already an active Indigenous Maya K’iche’ leader in her community, having been involved with the Aq’Ab’Al Indigenous Women’s Network by working to empower young Maya girls. She is currently studying at the Escuela Rural Normal de Occidente Guillermo Arriola to become an Intercultural Education teacher. She was part of the MNCH project’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) component, geared towards providing Maya K’iche’ adolescents with comprehensive, culturally-relevant sexuality education to live fulsome lives. She sees immense value in having learned about creating a ‘life plan’, which sets healthy goals for adolescents in their social, cultural, work and personal spheres. To her, it is particularly important for young Maya women and girls to create their own plan—not only to prevent teenage pregnancies, but also to grow into their roles as keepers of knowledge and champions in their communities.

Juan Eduardo Lux Tzoy
Juan Eduardo Lux Tzoy was born in Totonicapán, Guatemala’s Santa María Chiquimula district. He is currently studying to become an Intercultural Education teacher at the Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala and will soon turn 25 years old. Like Virginia, Juan was part of the MNCH project’s SRHR component for adolescents. The fifth of 14 children, he is committed to speaking with other Indigenous Maya K’iche’ youth like himself about the importance of family planning despite this being a difficult conversation to have in his community. Juan’s vision for Guatemala is one where Maya peoples enjoy their right to a better life, regardless of where they live—and a country where men recognize and act to ensure the health of women and children.

Alba Saturnina Acabal Zarate
Alba Saturnina Acabal Zarate is a traditional Indigenous Maya K’iche’ midwife from Totonicapán’s Momostenango district in Guatemala. She has practised her calling as a midwife for nearly 30 years and has actively fulfilled leadership roles in her community, including being president of the traditional midwives’ collective in Momostenango and a member of her municipality’s community health commission. Under the MNCH project, Alba is one of more than 30 core midwives trained by PIES de Occidente and the Totonicapán Health Directorate on updated maternal and child health best practices. She also helps enhance the skills of other traditional midwives across the province of Totonicapán. Throughout her life, she has firmly believed that it is essential to recognize the value and knowledge of Maya medicine as a key piece in the effort to strengthen the health of Maya peoples in Guatemala.