VCU Institute for Women's Health




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Please check back for future trips or contact Highland Support Project for other opportunities:

Telephone:  (804) 464-3467


Weaving Maya & Western Medicine

Summer 2018 Service Trip to Guatemala: May 19–26, 2018


VCU Team in Guatemala

Informational Flyer – 2018 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 Maya medicine and exploring the history of healthcare and healing in Guatemala

For More Information | Application

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)

For more information contact:

Janett Forte at

Muna Hijazi at

Application deadline is March 23, 2018

Midwifery & Women's Health in Guatemala 2018 (flyer)
Information Sheet
Application (Word document)



Marrying Maya & Western Medicine
— Summer 2017 Service Trip to Guatemala

July 22–July 29, 2017
 by Beth Collins

For the eighth 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 five women from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the surrounding community. Two undergraduate students expressed interest in exploring their continuing education and career options in nursing and midwifery joined two VCU alumnae. They represented VCU's RN-BSN and Executive MBA programs. The team leader for this year's trip is housed 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 (and impromptu dance lesson) 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 and studied in the Western Highlands of Guatemala in the community of Twi Ninwitz, San Juan Ostuncalco. The weeklong exchange included time with Maya midwives, health providers and various community leaders in activities that ranged from weaving demonstrations to Mayan ceremonies.  Beginning with a stove build in the community, the group got their hands dirty to help channel smoke out of a future homestead. This hands-on activity 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.

Together the group worked with the local Guatemalan group Association of Highland Women (AMA) in the continued support of holistic health programming. Highlighting this year’s program our team was honored to attend the ceremony for the graduating midwives and to help with the live broadcast in the presentation of their supply bags. These supplies were made possible due to earlier fundraising efforts and continued support via the Equip a Maya Midwife Campaign ( Nineteen of AMA's women's circle members graduated as newly trained midwives from the CODECOT's traditional midwifery program.

In Guatemala, the midwife (or comadrona) is a vital part of the traditional health system and they play an integral community role as both a leader and healer. For more about Traditional Midwifery please see the Highland Support Project’s page at

AMA has been working on projects to empower and support traditional midwives and community members by providing comprehensive and culturally appropriate training, essential equipment, and practical support on the ground. The team from VCU participated in one of these activities with a Mayan bone-setter with emphasis on their sharing information on traditional Maya medicine and practices. The preparation of herbal salves and local wildlife identification was well received by all in attendance.

The group also participated in multiple cultural activities outside the community including a whirlwind tour of Xela in quest of supplies for the midwives with stops at a local fabric store and time for some to explore the Catedral del Espiritu Santo located in Central Park of Xela's historical district. Team members had the experience of a Maya temazcal. This curative ceremony (or ‘bath') is thought to purify the body, healing the sick, improving health, and for a nurturing rite for women giving birth.

Despite the promise of rain, the group also participated in a traditional Maya ceremony and then later, thermal baths (with waters originating from the Zunil volcano) rewarded the team after stove building activities 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.

As has been the case over the last 8 years, the team’s experience was transformative. Having time to spend with the inspiring, talented indigenous women allows for lasting reflections on our collective and as individual journeys moving forward.

The next VCU Institute for Women’s Health trip is scheduled for May 19-26, 2018. Space is limited.

For more information and/or to apply for this opportunity, contact Janett Forte at or Beth Collins at

For more information visit:




VCU — Haiti Maternal Health Partnership

Dates: March, 2016

The project builds on a study abroad partnership between VCU and a non-profit based in Richmond, VA, Midwives for Haiti (MFH), which works in Haiti to reduce maternal and infant mortality by training Haitian women to deliver pre-natal care and life-saving skills during childbirth. In 2014-15 the project received GEO funding to support ten students to study abroad in Haiti. This second phase builds on the work related to MFH’s Mobile Clinic Project which serves women in remote villages.

Phase 2 focused on utilizing students to study abroad and conduct a more comprehensive evaluation of the group care model with the development of a research design and plan for seeking funding for a full scale research project examining the efficacy of group prenatal care in Haiti. Offering MFH the expertise of VCU faculty and student researchers to develop this study of their mobile clinic impact and effectiveness, sought to incorporate a well-designed monitoring and evaluation plan aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the mobile clinic prenatal group care services contributing to efforts to advance maternal and child health outcomes. 

VCU NEWS March 2016: IWH partnership supports education and health care services for expectant Haitian women

The photos below are from the March 5-12, 2016 trip, which included Institute for Women’s Health project P.I. Janett Forte and a VCU School of Nursing student, Hannah Samuels and VCU Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Psychology, Jasmine Abrams who is now faculty at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Haiti 2016 | P.I. Janett Forte, MSW and VCU Nursing Student Hannah Samuels and VCU Ph.D. graduate in Psychology Jasmine Abrams
(l to r) VCU School of Nursing student Hannah Samuels, Institute for Women’s Health project P.I. Janett Forte and VCU Ph.D. graduate in Psychology Jasmine Abrams

VCU & Haiti 2016 | Hannah and mobile clinic midwives
VCU School of Nursing student Hannah Samuels & mobile clinic midwives

Haitian Advisory Board
Haitian Advisory Board

Haiti & VCU 2016 | Community Education
Community Education in Haiti 2016




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