Who We Are

Our Story

“None of us found exactly what we were expecting”
~Peter Rohloff, MD PhD

In 2006, four scholars came to Guatemala to study Kaqchikel Maya. Academically, the scholars were a diverse bunch, comprised of two linguists, an anthropologist, and a physician, but they were thrown together by circumstance and by the difficulty of the Kaqchikel language and the time and effort it takes to master. They would meet at the home of their teacher, Gonzalo Ticun, in Santiago Sacatepequez, to trade notes and to study, and as time went on, they met Gonzalo’s extended family, friends, and community members.

Guatemala’s rural healthcare system is scattered, unpredictable, understaffed and underfunded. There was a gap between the needs of the people who lived in Santiago and the availability and accessibility of care– a gap that was deeply felt by community members who saw the needs of their neighbors go unmet on a daily basis, and one that was visible even to the four foreign students who had come to Guatemala for language study.

Luisa Ixcajoc, a local Santiago woman and Gonzalo’s neighbor, saw an opportunity in the students, one of whom had a medical background and all of whom were dedicated to the study of Kaqchikel Mayan language and culture. She asked the students to come with her in their free time to check in on some of her neighbors; people who were too elderly and too ill to leave their homes, people who didn’t speak Spanish and who therefore lacked access to appropriate medical care. And so the students began following Luisa around Santiago every weekend, visiting patients in their homes, bringing medications and medicinal plants as needed, speaking with the patients and their families.

For most of these patients, this was the first time they had ever been able to speak with a medical provider in their own words, the first time they had been able to have a conversation about their health without having to do so through the use of an interpreter or intermediary.

After a few weeks, community leaders in Santiago Sacatepequez became interested in the work that Luisa, Gonzalo, and the four students were doing in the community, and approached them formally. Later that same summer, they called them to a meeting and asked them if they would consider starting a medical clinic in Santiago; a place where people could seek healthcare in their own language, a place where they could feel safe and acknowledged, respected in both their personhood and their culture.

Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance was founded on the principle that excellence is possible. You can provide healthcare to people in Mayan languages, and it can be world-class care. If you live with people, you share a life with them, you speak their language — you trust each other. That was our beginning, and that’s what we have strived to maintain ever since.

WK|MHA began with a few home visits in a single community; now, Maya Health sees over 20,000 patients a year in hundreds of rural Guatemalan communities, and employs over 45 community health workers in order to maintain our tradition of providing care in the language of the patient, wherever it is needed most; even if that means going hours out of way to reach patients in their homes in even the most remote parts of the country. We are dedicated to providing innovative solutions to persistent health problems for Guatemala’s poor, underserved and indigenous communities, and we invite you to join us.

Why we exist

whyweexistWe work in Guatemala’s most impoverished communities, solving their pressing health care needs. We overcome barriers to health–uniting medicine, culture, and language. Where others say “no,” we say “yes.”

WK ANNUAL REPORT 2014

Why Guatemala

whyguatemala

Guatemala is home to some of the poorest communities in the Western hemisphere. Guatemalan children suffer the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the entire world. A woman in Guatemala is ten times more likely than a woman in the United States to die during childbirth.

This is not a new problem. The arrival of the Spanish 500 years ago marked the start of a difficult history for the Maya. Their lands and their freedom were taken. In the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of lost their lives in a civil war.

whyweexist2Yet they have endured. 

Today, there are millions of Maya people living in Guatemala. More than half of all Guatemalans speak a Mayan language.

But the health care system in Guatemala does not serve them. Many would prefer to die at home than to be treated in a hospital where no one speaks their language or respects their dignity.

We work in Guatemala because the Maya people and Mayan culture are still alive.

We want to keep it that way.

About our name

We are Wuqu’ Kawoq | Maya Health Alliance.

We were founded on January 1, 2007, which was the day “Wuqu’ Kawoq” in the traditional Mayan calendar. This name is important to our work because it symbolizes health care and reflects our commitment to rural Mayan communities.

Our Team

We are a diverse team of physicians, nurses, anthropologists, linguists, teachers, nutritionists, engineers, public health practitioners, lawyers, designers, accountants, entrepreneurs, and community health workers. We are united by our devotion to Guatemala.

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