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A Knowledge Exchange trip to Guatemala


OPSEU Indigenous Circle held a meet and greet at the Native Canadian Center of Toronto to meet two members of the Maya K’iche Midwives Juliana and Alba, who spoke about the health challenges and successes Indigenous Maya K’iche’ peoples face in Guatemala’s Western Highlands.

Juliana Teresa Caniz Tzoc de Rosales is a traditional Indigenous Maya K’iche’ midwife and Spiritual Guide from the village of Nimasac in Totonicapán, Guatemala. Teresa has practiced her calling as a midwife for over 20 years, having had the opportunity to also observe birth deliveries at the Quetzaltenango Regional Hospital and the Totonicapán National Hospital. As an Aj’Qij, or Spiritual Guide, Teresa also performs Maya ceremonies for patients and their families.

Alba Saturnina Acabal Zarate is a traditional Indigenous Maya K’iche’ midwife from Totonicapán’s Momostenango district in Guatemala. Alba has practiced her calling as a midwife for nearly 30 years and has actively fulfilled leadership roles in her community, including being president of the traditional midwives’ collective in Momostenango and a member of her municipality’s community health commission.

Under the MNCH project, both Alba and Teresa are two of the 30+ core midwives trained by PIES de Occidente and the Totonicapán Health Directorate on updated maternal and child health best practices. They in turn helped to train and strengthen the knowledge and skills of other traditional midwives across the province of Totonicapán.

Throughout her life, Alba has firmly believed that it is essential to recognize the value and knowledge of Maya medicine as a key piece in the effort to strengthen the health of Maya peoples in Guatemala. The OPSEU Social Justice Fund’s contribution to the “Maternal, Newborn and Child Health: Transforming Indigenous Lives” (MNCH) project has provided training workshops and equipment for traditional Indigenous Maya K’iche’ midwives, in addition to supporting knowledge exchanges between midwife organizations and helping equip Totonicapán’s only public hospital.

Designed with direct input from traditional midwives themselves, the equipment that is included in colorful Maya textile bags helps midwives who receive it ensure clean and safe birth deliveries for the women in their care. Resources such as these are greatly improving the health of Maya K’iche’ families in Totonicapán and play a crucial role in saving the lives of mothers and children.

The OPSEU Indigenous Circle has partnered with Horizons of Friendship for an Indigenous knowledge exchange to Guatemala on February 7-17, 2020 as part of their Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health: Transforming Indigenous Lives (MNCH) project. This partnership includes sending OPSEU Indigenous members to Guatemala who are health care practitioners and/or work with women who have experienced violence.

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas views this partnership with the Maya Ki’Ché peoples of Guatemala as “one way OPSEU makes good on its promise to walk the path of reconciliation with Indigenous communities.”  This path includes sending three Indigenous OPSEU members to Guatemala for a Knowledge Exchange trip in February 2020. “Healing cannot begin until Indigenous Peoples re-establish full control over their communities, economies and cultural traditions, and revitalize their languages and cultures,” adds Krista Maracle, Chair of OPSEU Indigenous Circle  “This is OPSEU’s contribution to the healing process.”