Mayan Medical Aid
Photo: Mayan Medical Aid
The Maya of Guatemala generally live in rural areas and survive primarily on subsistence farming, service jobs, and seasonal work on coffee, cotton, and sugar plantations. Unfortunately, neither the farming nor the work they perform is economically sufficient. The amount of money they earn does not even come close to providing them with a sufficient income to properly feed or clothe themselves or their families.

The result is extreme poverty. Due to this poverty, malnutrition is the number one health care problem. The most devastating effect of this situation is that it causes poor neurologic and immune system development. These factors lead to a) an inability to develop normal cognitive function, and b) susceptibility to a wide variety of illnesses at an early age.

The lack of cognitive function leads to poor performance in school, which results in one or more social consequences. First, poor performance frustrates the student and brings with it a high drop-out rate. Second, even for those who continue through the sixth grade – the highest grade level only a few achieve – the options for upward mobility are nil. As a result of both of these consequences, these people live in a cycle of poverty, from which neither they nor their children, nor their grandchildren can escape.

A greater susceptibility to illness, alternatively, not only contributes to the abovementioned poor school performance, but also causes death at a premature age. The rate of death for children under age five in Guatemala is one of the highest in the world. And the general longevity for persons who live beyond five years of age also is low, due both to life-threatening diseases and death during childbirth.

It is the mission of Mayan Medical Aid to break this cycle of poverty and malnutrition, while maintaining intact the important and beneficial cultural traditions of the Maya. By providing adequate nutrition, primary health care, and improved sanitation, our organization will intervene to disrupt the centuries-old pain and suffering the Mayan people continue to endure on a daily basis.

Over the last century, the Maya have been the recipients of much in the way of medical care and social assistance. Unfortunately, the kinds of assistance received have not come close to solving the problem. Such assistance, although well-meaning, has not come in either sufficient quantity or in an appropriate manner.

Although many medical missions come to Guatemala, the presence of the health care personnel from these missions is transitory. They come for a week or so, deliver health care in the form of treating acute diseases or correcting congenital, surgical problems, and then they leave. The problem this method engenders is that there is never adequate follow-up or continuing care.

Another common method of intervention is for a group to come to a village and erect a building, such as a kitchen in a school or a set of public bathrooms. With the completion of the project, the group presents the finished building to the community and, then, heads home, leaving responsibility for the functioning and maintenance of the structure to the community.

Most often, such efforts are wasted for two reasons: 1) the project does not blend into the culture of the Maya, and 2) no one in the community has sufficient training, experience, or economic resources to properly use or maintain the new facility. So as the Maya see it, people and projects come and go, but nothing for them really changes.

It is with this frustration in mind that Mayan Medical Aid operates differently. We intervene with an eye toward sustainability. We only implement projects that are in keeping with the culture of the Maya. We train workers from the community to be successful. And we stick around until the project can function on its own for the long-term.

Craig A. Sinkinson 2016
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