For 15 years, Felicity Thompson of Forest Park has been traveling to Guatemala as a volunteer with Faith in Practice. Pictured with her husband Richard, who has volunteered for the last 11 years, Thompson and a team of medical personnel, including volunteers from the United States and many Guatemalans, work together to provide cancer screenings, health care and training. Most Guatemalans live in very remote villages without any health care available to them, so they are willing to wait their turn to receive care. Richard said, “The Guatemalans are so giving with their hearts that you fall in love with working with them.”
Felicity Thompson of Forest Park guesses that she has made at least 60 trips to Guatemala over the last 15 years, providing life-saving health care and education. Thompson, who is a certified nurse midwife with the Tri-County Health Department, volunteers with Faith in Practice providing cervical cancer screening and treatment to women in rural areas of Guatemala, which has a cervical cancer rate eight times that of the United States, even though it is a detectable and curable cancer.
Thompson said, “Guatemala is not a resource rich country. It is the second most illiterate country in the western hemisphere and one of the poorest. [Haiti has the lowest literacy rate.] Also, the maternal and infant morbidity and mortality rate is really high, since most births are attended at home by untrained local women.” Thompson developed a course to provide basic skills to recognize and manage the most common emergencies in childbirth. Thompson teaches the course in Spanish, and it gets translated as necessary into any one of the 23 Mayan dialects. The course is taught in pictures and has a hands-on training model so the women can practice delivering babies correctly. Healthy habits, like handwashing and hygiene are emphasized, as well as the importance of good nutrition. The team has trained close to 600 midwives on how to handle complications of delivery, resuscitation techniques and how to recognize when to transport and when not to transport, a huge issue as most Guatemalans live in very remote villages.
Thompson emphasized that Faith in Practice, which is non-denominational, is effective because it “maintains a very Guatemalan flavor, working with the people in the villages and partnering with many Guatemalan volunteers, medical personnel and local leaders.” Thompson added, “These people who have so little, are so kind, welcoming, loving and patient. In fact, they will stand in line all day waiting to get seen, after having traveled to get to our medical team.”
Thompson and her husband Richard now travel to Guatemala as many as eight weeks of the year, leading teams of volunteers who all pay their own way. Thompson said, “The thing that drives my passion is that no woman anywhere should die from a preventable cancer and no woman anywhere should die in childbirth because of a lack of a trained birth attendant. If I can make a dent in that, then how can I not continue to go?
For more information on Faith in Practice, which has a four star rating on Charity Navigator, visit www.faithinpractice.org.
Guatemalan women learn about how to manage childbirth emergencies, as most births are attended by local untrained women. The babies are water-filled dolls, and women practice techniques. Once trained, they can take knowledge and skills back to their villages. Because there is no such thing as childcare in most of these rural areas, if a woman wants to attend class, she straps her baby on her back, or front, and carries the baby that way all day.