By Lily Bodinson
Medical Programs Coordinator, Xela, Guatemala
Xeabaj is a small indigenous Maya-Quiche community in the Western Highlands of Solola, Guatemala. In 1992, few students finished middle school, but Lorenzo Guachiac was motivated to change this reality for himself, his siblings and his community. When he heard of scholarship funds being offered by the Asociacion Pop Wuj, Lorenzo saw his chance and he took it, walking the 30 kilometers to Xela, Guatemala to meet with the directors of Pop Wuj, Carmen, and Roney Alvarado. Through Lorenzo’s inspiring actions, he and his siblings became the first in Xeabaj to not only finish middle school but also graduate from high school and go on to university.
Fast forward 25 years and Don Lorenzo has a Masters Degree in Social Development and Community Progress. He still lives in Xeabaj, where the rate of students that graduate from middle school is now over 80%. Despite major community setbacks, such as the natural disaster Hurricane Stan that destroyed and devastated the community in 2005, they have been able to bounce back. Within 2 years of the hurricane, the community had not only completely moved locations, but had built new schools and a community center, installed running water and electricity, and were beginning to pave roads.
Yet, there was still something essential missing for the people the Xeabaj – access to reliable healthcare. In a country notorious for its discrimination towards indigenous populations, access to public healthcare in predominantly indigenous regions is extremely limited. The people of Xeabaj only had access to a local government health post that was an hour walk away. Furthermore, it is common to find these health posts in rural Guatemala understaffed and without basic resources and medications. Don Lorenzo and the people of Xeabaj strongly maintain that it is the government’s responsibility to provide accessible healthcare to its people, but what do people do when the government fails to provide these basic needs?
Timmy Global Health began working in the community following Hurricane Stan and have witnessed many improvements over the past 12 years. Timmy Global Health and Pop Wuj provide reliable access to primary care services in Xeabaj through Timmy Medical Service Trips as well as additional mobile clinics and a school deworming program.
Like Don Lorenzo and the people of Xeabaj, Timmy hopes that our services won’t always be necessary in the community. Having seen the tremendous strides that the local education system has made in the past 25 years, we are optimistic about the future of healthcare in the Xeabaj – and now more than ever. Don Lorenzo’s son, Juan Eduardo, has just finished his first-year medical school at the top university in the country, Universidad de San Carlos in Xela. He is currently a scholarship recipient of Pop Wuj, and thanks to the generosity of a Timmy volunteer, Dr. Drue Ferrante, who was inspired by Don Lorenzo’s story while on a Timmy medical service trip, along with other benefactors, Juan will continue his studies debt-free. Unlike most doctors in Guatemala, he hopes to return to his home of Xeabaj when he finishes his studies. Like his father, Juan wants to use his education to give back to his community.
This is the cycle of care that Timmy Global Health promotes in Guatemala. It may take time, but it’s worth it.