Providence hosts event for 215 health workers in Guatemala

August 23, 2015 Michael Connors
August 23, 2015

Event increases capacity and builds local leadership

In the central highlands of Guatemala, barriers to access health services often prove overwhelming. Lack of a common language, access to transportation, discrimination and limited availability of affordable, quality care combine to impact health conditions of the majority of the rural population.

By partnering with local health workers Providence is increasing the capacity of village families to meet basic health needs. Local women are designated and trained as volunteer community health workers to provide education, prenatal care and health monitoring close to home. Known locally as madres consejeras or counseling mothers, these volunteers empower village women and build community knowledge while filling a crucial gap in the health system.

On August 20-21, 2014, Providence and Medical Teams International co-hosted a community health conference for more than 215 of these community health workers to enhance their training and secure their connection to local health care providers. For many of these women, this conference was their first opportunity to travel far from home because of limited resources and their family and community responsibilities.

In addition to strengthening the mother counselors’ life-saving health skills, keynote speakers from Providence Community Health Improvement Center also focused on the crucial role of women in their communities, leadership and building self-esteem. The conference also included workshops to facilitate knowledge sharing and give voice to the community health workers’ experience. Presenters from the Providence Community Health Improvement Center included:

  • Marie Mayen-Cho, MPH, director for access to care and health education outreach
  • Miriam Hernandez, manager of the Latino Health Promoter Program
  • Carmen Castro, health promatora
  • Maria Romero, health promatora
Promatoras in California plays a similar role as the madres consejeras in Guatemala. This crossover gave Providence caregivers and local volunteers an opportunity to collaborate and share their experiences, while celebrating the important work they do in their communities. In addition to supporting the health leadership of mother counselors, the collaborative process to develop the conference also enabled Providence and MTI staff to learn from each other. For every person who was involved, it was a time to work across borders, support one another in professional growth and truly make a difference in the lives of some of the most marginalized people of Guatemala.


The incredible success of the conference was felt in the energy and comments of the conference attendees.

Margarita Sum May, a madre consejera from the village of Chocbul, shared: 
"Everyone here is so beautiful and kind. It was difficult to leave home but it is important to do something different, to learn new things, and to bring that information home to our communities. I want to learn everything about health and I want to share that information to help improve other communities."

Marie Mayen-Cho said: 
“This event is truly a dream come true for all of us to be able to exchange ideas, experiences and challenges so that we can improve the health services we provide for our respective communities. Our partners have been so welcoming and expressed how honored they are to have our support…Over the past few days, we are all filled with inspiration from witnessing their commitment and dedication to community health improvement and the people they serve.”

Miriam Hernandez, manager of the Latino Health Promoter Program, provided a passionate opening keynote inspiring the women to consider how one person can make an impact in their community. Maria Cho Xol, an attendee from the village of Paapa shared: 
"I am so happy for all the people I have met. In the talk by Miriam Hernandez, Miriam said that it only takes one butterfly to make a difference in a group for all the rest will follow. I can identify with that because I can see myself as that butterfly in my community and I can lead others in improving the health of our children."

MTI Cobán manager, visionary and director of the conference, Aurelia Ma shared that the event: 
“[provided time for] the women to recognize themselves as important people in their communities. Not just a mother or wife, but the role she can have to make a difference in their communities. Yesterday, when we gave them a round of applause for their work, we realized it was the first time they had been truly honored in this way. It was very emotional for all of us.”

Impact in community health

After the event, conference organizers invited local organizations to come together to collaborate in supporting women's rights and discuss their important role in their communities.

Event organizers from Providence, Medical Teams International, Food for the Hungry and Mercy Corps presented to representatives from the Guatemalan Ministry of Health about their approaches in preventative care and health promotion through women leaders. Madres consejeras also joined the discussion, sharing their experiences and dreams of healthier families in their communities. The event provided a foundation for future collaboration and knowledge sharing as our Mission continues to grow in Guatemala.  

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