VCU Institute for Women's Health





Weaving Maya & Western Medicine

Summer Service Trip to Guatemala

VCU Team in Guatemala

Sponsored by the VCU Institute for Women's Health & Highland Support Project

Spend a week in partnership with indigenous midwives and health promoters, learning about traditional Mayan medicine and exploring the history of healthcare and healing in Guatemala.

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2020: the itinerary includes cultural, educational, service and exchange aspects and will be tailored to the interests of the team participants. We will stay in the Highlands where we will work with a women’s cooperative (AMA) Asociacion de Mujeres del Altiplano in Quetzaltenango. The team has opportunity to immerse ourselves in our host’s lives by living and sharing with community leaders in rural villages outside of town. The trip includes time with midwives and community leaders learning about traditional midwifery, health practices and medicinal herbs. Speakers on Maya healing traditions, a coffee cooperative tour, and a presentation from women working on a weaving social enterprise will be part of the itinerary. Upon arrival the team stays the first night and visits the breathtaking Lake Atitlan in Panajachel. You will have chances to shop at local indigenous markets, and we spend the last day in La Antigua Guatemala which was the colonial Spanish capital of Central America and is a World Heritage site, and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Guatemala before our Saturday departure back home.

The 8 day trip, with all expenses paid, includes all in country transportation, food, lodging and translators. The cost is $985.00 plus airfare (around $600-$750 round trip).


  • Maya Midwifery
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Bone Setters
  • Spirit Guides
  • Sweat Baths

Space is limited

NOTE: year we are promoting the program earlier and accepting applications on a rolling basis through March 1, 2020. We will send notice within 2 weeks of acceptance in the program. A $250 non-refundable deposit must be paid (within 2 weeks of receiving your acceptance notice) to secure your space. We hope this allows participants more time to make plans and perhaps fundraise for their trip, if needed.

For more information contact:

Heather Ashton:
Janett Forte:

In Partnership with Highland Support Project


Marrying Maya & Western Medicine
— Summer 2019 Service Trip to Guatemala

MIDWIFERY & HEALTH IN THE AMERICAS: Weaving Maya & Western Medicine

TRIP SUMMARY May 18–May 25, 2019

Guatemala Service-Exchange Program - In May of 2019, the VCU Institute for Women’s Health hosted its annual “Midwifery & Health in the Americas: Weaving Maya & Western Medicine” service-exchange program for the tenth year, in partnership with the Highland Support Project in Richmond and the Association of Highland Women in Guatemala.

This year's group included an interdisciplinary team of eighteen women from VCU and the surrounding community. VCU students and staff included social work, psychology, anthropology, biology, bio-medical engineering and nursing students, a VCU Alumni/returned Peace Corps volunteer, a birth doula and a student midwife. The Assistant Coordinator for the VCU Humphrey Fellowship Program in the Department of Psychology, led this year's trip.

The week-long exchange included participation with community leaders, village women, and Mayan midwives all providing training and services related to maternal and child health. The local Guatemalan group Association of Highland Women (AMA) works to empower and support traditional midwives by providing comprehensive and culturally appropriate training in holistic health care, essential equipment, and practical support.

The emphasis of mutuality and the collaborative nature of this trip was evident from the first days. Beginning with a stove build in the community, the group got their hands dirty working alongside community members to help channel smoke out of a future homestead. The typical cooking fire produces about 400 cigarettes worth of smoke an hour, but replacing this with a wood burning stove improves the air quality within the home. This hands-on activity leaves a lasting mark on the family’s health by decreasing respiratory issues prevalent among families that cook with open pit fires in the indigenous communities within the Mayan highlands. Together over four days, the team participants and the community members built six new stoves, learned about each other’s lives, shared meals and cultivated lasting memories.  

Other team activities included a presentation from the local bonesetter who taught a class on herbal and medicinal plants. This session brought together the area midwives and engaged participants in learning how to use these traditional remedies with pregnant women; they also shadowed a midwife on a home visit with a pregnant woman and participated in a discussion of cultural practices related to hygiene both during and after childbirth.

The team had an opportunity to experience Guatemala’s many cultural sights and activities including the shopping markets of Panajachel, a boat ride across Lake Atitlán following a visit to San Juan La Laguna and tour of local ‘Cooperativa de Cafe,’ a coffee cooperative. On this tour, the participants learned first-hand the important role that cooperatives play in the local economy. Stories were shared through an interactive experience connecting the environmental impacts of both chemical or sustainable practices and their effects on the citizens of the Highland region of Guatemala.  

The group experienced a once in a lifetime opportunity by participating in a traditional Maya ceremony led by a local shaman. After completing the stove building the team was rewarded with a visit to the area thermal baths (with waters originating from the Zunil volcano) at the local ‘Fuentes Georginas’ hot springs.

The final days allowed our group to wander through the of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican archaeological site of Iximche and a final night in the picturesque Antigua. This city in the central highlands of Guatemala is famous for well-preserved Spanish Baroque influenced architecture and local artisan markets.

The Midwifery & Health trip provided the opportunity to be in community with a group of women in the Highlands region of Guatemala, to learn from and with during a week-long exchange. It provided a transformative experience for the participants to increase their intercultural understanding through personal development and community building. As evident by the statements made by participants, “Every interaction I had with individuals on the trip were absolutely incredible. The people of Guatemala were so welcoming and kind, and I really felt like I was part of the community while I was there,” and “it was a transformative experience that reestablished my passion for comprehensive women's health,” and “it was life-changing.”

Team members comments:

Every interaction I had with individuals on the trip were absolutely incredible. The people of Guatemala were so welcoming and kind, and I really felt like I was part of the community while I was there.”

“I can't even put into words how impactful my interactions with the people were. My ability to speak Spanish opened me up to a world of hearing stories of crossing the border into the US, bonding with the staff of AMA, and overall immersing myself further in the world that we were experiencing. I learned so much from the people on this trip and I'm so grateful!”

“The staff was great, and they made everyone comfortable. I felt safe and secure with them.”

“Everyone is very kind and knowledgeable. I want to go back!”

What was the highlight of your week, i.e., the most memorable part?

“It's difficult to choose just one highlight, but one of the best moments for me was to witness a few of the weavers talking about their new pillowcases at the AMA event. It was really incredible to see the faces of those that were really benefiting from the organization, and witness the pride that came with their creations.”

“I have two.The first was when I met one of the girls who was cooking with us.When I learned her story I was so shocked and empowered by all of the hardship she went through and she was by herself.The second was at the end when we were leaving the village and everyone was there and sharing their experiences. I still get watery eyes when thinking about leaving them.It was such an amazing experience for me.”

“I can't really even pick a highlight. It was all amazing. Something that jumps out to me, however, is the temazcal. There was something so personal and intimate about that experience. I felt loved, appreciated and even celebrated by the women giving me the bath, and it gave me a better appreciation for the support these women have for each other.”

“From this experience, I have a new found appreciation for what it means to support local, small businesses. We were really able to witness first hand what it means to have privilege, and how important it is to use that to the benefit of everyone. Buying local or organic can really make a meaningful impact in other communities and lives.”

“I will take so much. Mostly, I've learned how strong not only Mayan women are, but all women. This trip made me so proud to identify as a woman.”

I think this trip just reminded me why I am pursuing the career I am. There are so many individuals with inadequate access to healthcare and that need alternative forms of treatment. As a healthcare provider, my duty is to provide to everyone, no matter their financial status or cultural beliefs.”

“It made me see how other people live and how it compares to how I live.Traveling out of the country is always a great thing to put on a resume. It also helps me sit back and look into someone else life before I judge or speak.”

“It has reaffirmed my desire to enter the women's health field.”

“This trip merely reinforced what I already knew: I want to work in women's health in areas with little to no access to health care.”

“Overall, this trip was really a once in a lifetime, life-changing trip for me.”

“You need to go. It will change your view of everything in the USA.”

“A transformative experience that reestablished my passion for comprehensive women's health.”

“The trip was amazing, sobering, fun, educational, and just wonderful!”


“Thank you to Heather & Lupe for being amazing leaders.”



Benoit Meyrieux

VCU Institute for Women's Health 
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VCU Institute for Women's Health
Box 980319
Richmond, VA 23298-0319


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Theater Row Building
730 E. Broad Street
4th Floor, Suite 4200
Richmond, VA
PO Box 980319
Richmond, VA 23298-0319
updated: February 17, 2020