I was born in Patzún, Chimaltenango, Guatemala, but when I was 2 we fled to Mexico. That was when the civil war started. My parents were working in an NGO at the time, working on projects regarding health and community development. This was something that the government didn’t want people doing. They didn’t want us helping indigenous people. The situation was very grave. For the indigenous people, they didn’t have rights, they were like slaves to the powerful elite. They didn’t have access to health, education, or opportunities. They were categorized as a minority, and exploited as such.
How was your childhood?
My childhood was hard. I was always trying to support my family, but there were problems with working. I had a job, but that wasn’t enough. My parents were always working, while my sister and I were studying. But, my parents would always tell me “Don’t forget that you are Guatemalan. We are from a country that is suffering, but we are Guatemalans.” But, I didn’t really know Guatemala. Having to leave the country when I was 2, I had no memory of it. It wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I got to take a trip to Guatemala, but I was only in the capital for 2 weeks. I took a short trip to Patzún, but that was really all I knew.
But it was a happy childhood also, because we arrived in Mexico to a town where the people were really great people, in solidarity. They took us in like a family. I’ll never forget that.
How was it growing up in Mexico?
We all worked in Mexico. I worked from the time I was 10 years old. My mother and father would make clothes, like jackets and pants, while my sister and I would help cut fabric every day so that our parents could sew and weave all day. Then, we’d sell our clothes in the north of Mexico, which was 16 hours away from where we were living in Toluca.
How was your path to becoming a doctor?
Being a doctor was something that I had thought about since I was little. It felt like my direction in life. But I had to enter medical school first, and my abilities were limited. Out of 3000 people, they only accepted 80 students. We had to take 2 exams, which were very difficult and grueling. They tested our knowledge on subjects we had learned in school previously, as well as our mental ability. There was also a psychological test at the end.
I usually went to school from 7 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon, but I got permission to leave early in order to attend another class. This class was sort of like an introduction to medicine. It wasn’t mandatory, but it helped with admission to medical school. I would leave school at 1 in the afternoon to attend 4 hours of this class every day for 4 months. It was very hard, but it helped me get into the rhythm of medical school. There were a lot of people in this class, but not everyone got accepted into medical school. I’d say that 90% of my class wanted to enter the medical profession, about 50% attended this class, and of those who went to this class, 2 people got accepted. I don’t know if everyone wanted to be a doctor, but it was a well known fact that it paid well.
How was medical school?
I was lucky to receive a grant at the beginning of the semester. Grants were awarded to anyone who scored more than 8.7 points, out of 10, on their exams. That grant helped me buy books, nice shoes for school, food, but it was limited. I had to travel in order to get to campus because I lived farther away, so all the traveling really diminished the amount of money I had. My friends and I would share textbooks, and I had to spend a lot of time in the library just so I could borrow books to read. I was practically living in the library. I was always finding way to make it work. Because once I entered medical school, I didn’t have time to work like I used to. Instead, I would buy baby clothes to sell.
I was studying for 7 years total – 5 years in school, 1 year in a hospital internship, and 1 year of practicum where we had to work in a clinic in another part of the country and see patients. During that time, I was also writing my thesis and taking exams.
When did you come back to Guatemala?
After medical school, I worked for a little bit in Mexico, for less than a year. I came back to Guatemala because my parents had come back. My father came back to Guatemala while I was in medical school. There was a crisis in Mexico at the time and he was no longer able to work there. When I finished 5 years of school, my mother then came back. I had the idea of coming back to Guatemala, and I wanted to. I wanted to work in Guatemala. But, there were some difficulties because my father got sick and almost died, and shortly after, my mother started getting sick. My sister was living in Mexico, was married, and had her ow life. Once I finished everything – school, work, exams – I was free to choose what I wanted to do. So, I decided to come back.
When I came back, I stayed at the University of San Carlos for a year, in order to get permission to work in Guatemala.
How is your life nowadays back in Guatemala?
I have been married for 10 years now. I met my husband when I was living in Mexico. We have 2 kids, one is 7 years old and the other is 1 year and 9 months. I would like to be good to my kids. That’s the only thing I want – to be healthy in order to see them grow up and to support them.
I love my job with WK because I get to see patients’ lives improve. It is not just their health we are improving, but also the value of their lives. We work in areas to make changes and to teach them how to take care of themselves. Inequality exists, but it is great to know that by helping one person in a community, changes can be made for them to have opportunities.
Take care of yourself to take care of your kids, and there will be possibilities. My dream for my kids is to be good people and hard workers, who can study what they want, and be what they can. Education is very important to me. I wouldn’t be where I am without it.
How long have you been with Wuqu’ Kawoq (WK)?
6 months. I worked with WK in 2010, but I left in 2012 because it became too intense having to work in so many different communities. I was also thinking about having a baby at the time, so I decided to leave. I had my baby in May 2013, and after things settled down, I came back to WK in the middle of 2014.
Which locations do you work?
All of Altiplanos, which includes Chichimuch, Payá, Paquip, Tecpán, and Sololá.
What is your role within WK?
I am the medical director, but I also help out with administration and proposals.I am supposed to see patients only on Wednesdays, but almost every day, I see patients because many of them are sent to me. I do a lot on the communication and administration side, helping organize programs in Altiplanos and manage our workers. For example, if a worker is with a patient and he/she doesn’t know what to do, what to give them or what not to give them, he/she will call me and I will give them guidance.
What do you like most about your work with WK?
I can provide support to people who have very little resources and I can help with cases that are very difficult.
Why did you choose to work with WK?
Well, first, they called me because they wanted me to return. But I learned a lot during my time previously, and I had the opportunity of helping as a doctor. There are a lot of doctors in Guatemala City, but not enough in other places that really need working doctors. For example, in Paquip, there was one doctor working in the entire community, but he left because he wasn’t getting paid. In Tecpán, there are only 35 doctors for 83,000 inhabitants. The capital of Guatemala City is full of doctors, but in the rest of the country, that is not the case.
Why do you think it is important to speak Kakchikel in education classes and clinics?
By speaking in Kakchikel, our patients have more confidence in our work and therefore, they know that we are treating them as equals. They can tell us what they want us to do for them. It is very important for communication and mutual trust.
How would you like to see WK grow in the future?
I would like to see WK continue growing and finding people who are committed and passionate about helping out in rural areas, so that we can keep helping communities with the same, or better, quality of care.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to read novels, especially ones by Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez. My favorites include “Of Love and Shadow” by Isabel Allende, “Primavera Con Una Esquina Rota” by Mario Benedetti.
I also like listening to music called ‘trova,’ which is a kind of protest music. Having lived in Mexico for 22 years, I love their typical and traditional dances. I also play the mandolin!
What would you like to say to all those who support WK?
It has been a blessing that you are thinking about people who are less fortunate in Guatemala and that you are so willing to help out our country.