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A family matriarch and her grandson in Yalix Moq'lil

Our Goal

One of the main objectives of the Peace Corps is to create sustainable change through local training. The focus of our Peace Corps program, Healthy Homes, is to promote family health improvements by means of interactive community education and small infrastructure projects.


Through health education trainings with community members, we are trying to create an understanding of personal health and promote a focus on family hygiene. Participatory weekly talks in each community include topics such as basic health and hygiene habits in the home, nutrition, family gardens, organic composting, natural medicine, money saving techniques, emergency preparedness, construction of simple health-improving structures, trash management, and reforestation. We help facilitate discussions on these topics and encourage the development of action plans.

Katharine speaks to a group of women about maternal health in front of the vaccination post in Miman Moq’lil

Once a month we meet with a women's group from each village alongside a translator from the health clinic in town. All female heads of households participate. Using dynamic activities and fun games, we have been treating themes particular to female and maternal health: prenatal care, pregnancy danger signs, nutrition, the menstrual cycle, and general healthy hygiene habits. We also meet with smaller women's groups to give cooking and nutrition classes and to discuss issues important to women.

One of two teachers in Yalix Moq’lil instructs his young students

In coordination with the local teachers, we provide weekly bilingual (Spanish and Q'anjob'al) health lessons for all of the grade levels in the three local schools. During these lessons and hands-on activities, we encourage participation, creativity, discussion, and critical thinking. These sessions cover a variety of topics, including personal hygiene habits, nutrition, clean water, environmental education, and self-confidence. We support the teachers in the incorporation of these themes and teaching methods into their normal curriculum in order to ensure that education on these subjects will continue after we have left.

Through these health lessons and the promotion of healthy habits, we hope that the schools may serve as examples of healthy environments for the entire community.


Nicholas helps a woman and her son build their stove during the construction project of a fellow volunteer

Our Healthy Homes construction projects provide the opportunity for every family in our three working communities to directly remedy the unsanitary conditions of their homes. These projects were selected through personal discussions with families in their homes and then approved by the community. Improved wood-burning stoves will improve indoor air quality and drastically reduce toxic smoke contamination, while cement floors will eliminate an environment for the growth and spread of bacteria and promote overall cleanliness.

It is our focus, as well as that of the Peace Corps, that our work should be as sustainable as possible. Therefore, we do not wish to collect donations and simply give these projects, as is common in the operation of many other aid organizations.

Rather, in addition to personal fundraising, we guide and train community members in the process of organization and solicitation of funds. In the application process for Small Project Assistance grants from USAID, the villages have created official committees with a focus on community development and have opened bank accounts in the names of the committees. These seemingly simple accomplishments are actually very crucial and significant steps in the communities' process of development and will allow them to solicit funds from other institutions in the future. Together with committee members, we have conducted home visits and project diagnostics, created a budget, and written grant proposals.

We serve mainly as facilitators; the major responsibility of the grant process resides with the leaders. In our method of participatory development, committee members gain first-hand experience and knowledge in the process, and families receive an appropriate technology in their homes that will improve the health conditions for every member of the family.

International Women in Need is a Virginia Tech non-profit student organization partnering with us to raise funds and awareness for the women and families in these rural villages.

Women in Development

Gender discrimination (machismo, in Latin American culture) is ubiquitous in all of Guatemala. In our villages, men commonly view women only as child-bearers and caregivers, often considering them with a lack of respect. Unfortunately, this cultural tendency affects a low self-confidence in women, despite the inherent strength and character of Q'anjob'al women.

Similar to the lives of women all over the world who live in extreme poverty, a woman's day consists of collecting firewood (even when pregnant or nursing), preparing all meals over an open fire, carrying water, washing clothes, washing dishes, caring for as many as 13 children, helping with the harvest, and, sometimes, dealing with physical abuse. Mothers of the family usually run the house and take care of finances, but still lack respect from their husbands or males in the family.

Katharine facilitates a health talk to a group of women as they prepare a nutritious meal together

In general community meetings, we actively encourage women to talk in front of the group to express their opinions and constantly try to empower women in the way that we present family situations and health suggestions.

We speak with women individually about their true views on health during our regular house visits. Women, many of whom lack them in their homes, unanimously suggested improved wood-burning stoves as a health project for the community.

In addition, women's groups and cooking classes are safe environments to discuss issues facing women and promote self-confidence. In all-male situations, Nicholas addresses the themes of respecting women, domestic violence, and a man's role in the family and community.

Recently we have formed an emergency action committee for women in labor to address the high maternal mortality rates in the area, one of the highest in the country. This is the first all-woman leadership committee in the villages and will hopefully evolve to address other women's issues and to serve as women's health promoters.

una niña educada es la madre de desarollo
an educated girl is the mother of development

A young girl in the family inherits a "woman's" responsibilities at as early as six years of age, and many young girls are discouraged or forbidden to attend school. We encourage the parents of students to keep their children, especially their girls, in school and to show interest in their schoolwork.

On the way to one of their regular community meetings in Yalix Moq'lil, Katharine and Nicholas walk along the mountainside, among freshly sprouting corn plants.

Our Commitment

Education and discussion does not stop at the end of a formal workday. We live in the communities, and the recipients of our health education efforts are our neighbors and friends.

We have established a solid trust within the community, and our house has a constant flow of visitors. Our most cherished moments are those spent enjoying the company of our friends in the village whether it be over a cup of coffee, going on a walk, playing basketball, crocheting together, sharing a humble meal, or enjoying a warm fire on a cold day.

Frequently we share health information through non-formal conversations in our house, a neighbor's home, or even a casual conversation anywhere in the village. Most treat us like members of their family and have welcomed us openly and completely since our first day.

It is our commitment to serve these communities in whatever way we can in order to help facilitate a movement towards a healthier lifestyle.

Help Us Help Them.


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