Summer Internship at Wuqu Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance

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Stefani Westby, Student of Macalester College Shares her Experience .

I have called Guatemala home all my life. This is where I was born and raised until I moved to Minnesota for college with the goal to study medicine. My interest in medicine began at the age of 14 thanks to volunteering as an interpreter for medical teams from the U.S who offered free medical services to low-income, usually indigenous Guatemalans. As my interest in this field grew, I became aware of the inequalities in the Guatemalan healthcare system. Most of the time during my time as a volunteer, I was not the only interpreter. There was someone else translating what I was saying in Spanish to a Mayan language. This chain of translations reminded me of the game I played in elementary school, called “Teléfono Descompuesto” (Chinese Whispers). It was unacceptable. How could people’s lives depend on the ability of others to translate or communicate? Unfortunately, becoming aware of the discrimination against indigenous people did not mean that I was actively trying to make a change. That changed after my time at Wuqu’ Kawoq.

At the end of my freshman year of college, I was ready to come back home. I was exhausted and needed a reminder of why I was going down the medical path. I found Maya Health Alliance l Wuqu’ Kawoq  (MHA I WK) through my dad, who also works for an NGO. He introduced me to Anne and I fell in love with the organization’s vision, mission and values. I began my summer internship at WK in May and now that I am at the end of it I am eager to reflect on everything that I learned.

Firstly, I was impressed by the team, composed of mostly indigenous women who offered healthcare in people’s native Mayan language. I had the opportunity to go on multiple home visits with members of the team in Tecpan. Most of the patients were elderly, indigenous women who suffered from diabetes. WK had an effective, long-term program to help its patients: for sixth months, a trained staff member visited them in their homes with a complete guide and a variety of activities to teach how to live with this chronic disease. It was impressive. Unlike many other organizations who provide band-aid solutions, WK wanted to have a real impact on the lives of its patients. Although I was not in Tecpan very often, my time there helped me understand the strength of WK’s commitment to its mission.

The majority of  the summer, I was in Antigua working with Anne and Karen in communications and fundraising coordination. I created the graphics and wrote the captions for all of the social media posts. I also helped with research and advertisement for WK’s new diabetes clinic GlucoSalud. This is how I discovered my ability and interest for graphic design. Additionally, I learned about problem solving, teamwork and responsibility when I was helping coordinate the stay of the Cincinnati Medical Team. I accompanied the team during their clinic days in rural parts of  Sololá to interpret and assist doctors. This was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I listened to the patient’s stories and was part of their treatment plan and path to recovery. For the first time I felt that I was part of making a change to help the indigenous community.

Now I am preparing to go back to school, eager to continue my studies. I leave home more satisfied and happy than ever, knowing that I helped a small part of the indigenous population. Through my experiences at WK I learned that medicine cannot be practiced without taking culture into account. Moreover, I learned a mixture of health care practice, NGO fundraising and administration, difficulties of doing medicine in low-income settings, as well as the social side of disease, poverty and discrimination. Without any question, my time at WK solidified my desire to become a medical professional to continue the fight to end discrimation against the indigenous community within Guatemala’s healthcare system.