VCU Institute for Women's Health




Weaving Maya & Western Medicine

Summer 2019 Service Trip to Guatemala: May 18–25, 2019

VCU Team in Guatemala

Download and Print Flyer—2019 Service Trip to 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.

Download Flyer | Application (Word) | Online Application

Application Deadline: MARCH 30, 2019

The itinerary includes cultural, educational, service and exchange aspects. Learn about traditional Maya midwifery practices, medicinal herbs, bone setters, and spirit guides. We will stay in the Highlands where we will work with a women’s cooperative (AMA) Asociacion de Mujeres del Altiplano in Quetzaltenango. We will immerse ourselves in our host’s lives by living and working with community leaders in a rural village outside of town. There will be a visit to breathtaking Lake Atitlan in Panajachel and time for shopping in Artisan Markets in Antigua. 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-$700 round trip).


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

For more information contact:

Elizabeth Collins:
Heather Ashton:

In Partnership with Highland Support Project



Marrying Maya & Western Medicine
— Summer 2018 Service Trip to Guatemala

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

2018 TRIP SUMMARY May 19–May 26

For the ninth year, the Institute for Women’s Health hosted a service-exchange program for the in partnership with the Highland Support Project in Richmond and the Association of Highland Women (AMA) in Guatemala.

This year's group included an interdisciplinary team of fourteen women from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the surrounding community. VCU students and staff included a Care Partner at MCV a VCU Health Clinical Social Worker for Inpatient Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Newborn Nursery a Psychology Department Humphrey Fellow a biology major and several pre-med students. The team co-leader works within the VCU Office of Research and Innovation and is a doctoral student in VCU's Media, Art, and Text (MATX) program.

Guatemala’s many cultural sights and activities started in 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.

For most of the week together, we worked in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in the community of Los Marroquines. The weeklong exchange included time with Maya midwives, health providers and various community leaders in activities that ranged from weaving demonstrations to Mayan ceremonies. 

This year’s group spent considerable time in the village and worked alongside community women to build four stoves. The day to day working together with the families had a profound impact on the participants as we experienced firsthand how hard the village women work and got to share in their pride in working with us to build stoves for their own kitchens.  We also knew how these stoves will leave a lasting mark on the family’s health by decreasing respiratory issues that are prevalent among families that cook with open pit fires in the indigenous communities within the Mayan highlands.

After our days of stove building the village women prepared a celebratory meal for us and we ate and danced together. The team had an opportunity to wear traditional Maya dress. We learned about the native dress of the Mayans -- which is called traje – and found it varies by village and language group, though the intent of native dressing remains the same: To preserve the rich culture history provided by the Mayans from days of long ago. To Guatemalans, their native costumes are their identity. There are 22 Mayan ethno-linguistic groups, which mean a wide variety of colors, emblems and styles in costumes were represented. The celebration sharing a meal and dancing together after our time working together was an experience of true cross cultural connection I don’t think any of the team members will ever forget.

The team also participated in a presentation with a Mayan bone-setter with emphasis on his sharing information on traditional Maya medicine and practices. The group along with the midwives hiked up in the hills near the bone-setter’s home and helped in replanting trees in areas devastated by floods and over cutting of trees. Along the way our hosts pointed out native plants and shared about their use in herbal remedies and salves.

The trip also included salsa lessons and a visit to a local hot springs with the final days allowing our group time 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.

As has been the case over the last 9 years, the team’s experience was transformative. We work hard to develop a real sense of community among our participants and the results pay off every time. The partnership with Guadalupe Celeste Ramírez and Highland Support Project has been the foundation of providing a meaningful ‘travel with a purpose’ experience for participants. Feedback surveys noted comments such as “life –changing, it was beyond my expectations, loved time in the villages with the midwives, I enjoyed every experience”. We look forward to continuing the partnership and offering this experience for VCU students.


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