Learning how to best support marginalized communities…
While attending college in Southern Arizona, I volunteered in clinics in a border town in rural Mexico. Our patients, facing formidable obstacles, possessed profound strength and were eager to improve life in for one another. Hearing the hopes of our patients, I became interested in how to better support marginalized communities.
After graduating, I sought to learn more about community health and development. I chose to volunteer with Wuqu’ Kawoq because they are incredibly mindful in their approach, using indigenous languages in their interactions and habitually revising their programs through anthropological research. For my internship, I moved to an indigenous town near Lake Atitlán that we hope to support in the future. Living with a kind family, I learned the Kaqchikel language and interviewed women about their lives, perceptions, and needs.
I was particularly struck by their experiences with local development organizations. Each organization seems to have its own requirements to decipher and fulfill. Women often wait in lines, fill out forms, attend far away meetings, or sweep roads in return for meager benefits. To complete these tasks, they abandon tremendous responsibilities tending their homes and caring for their families. Many described regularly suffering headaches from thinking and worrying too much. I was sorry to hear that such well-meaning organizations could contribute to their distress but amazed to find how much you can learn by taking the time to listen to stories told in a first language. Pondering and writing about what these women have experienced, I continue to learn more about how to best support marginalized communities. I continue to volunteer with Wuqu’ Kawoq as a medical student, and I hope to be fortunate enough to work with them as a physician.
Jillian is a second year medical student at Harvard Medical School. Along with women’s health and environmental impacts on health she has been investigating palliative care for indigenous Maya in rural areas.