Guatemala / OT Without Borders

So what is this field school anyway?

In very general terms, we are here to try to understand barriers to social justice in Guatemala by learning about all the different aspects of Guatemala (its history, the social, political, economic, agricultural factors, gender norms, violence and peace issues, family structures, culture, and any/all aspects associated with public health that are relevant to Guatemala) while experiencing the context firsthand. Some of us are anthropology students, some of us are occupational therapy students, but there’s also a global health student (who is also a doctor) and a biomedical engineer. There are a few undergrads and a few grad students. There are 12 of us students total, 3 professors/coordinators/project leaders, 3 smaller group projects and a partridge in a pear tree. We are using a lens of anthropology (ethnographies, field notes, participant observations) as well as applying OT concepts to study how occupations are affected here, and how occupations themselves might be used as interventions on a population level.

One project group is studying/researching the surgical referral process here in Guatemala, another is studying/researching educational transitions, and my group is studying/researching pediatric nutrition. Each group is working on different research questions and visiting different places relevant to their area. Each week we have a couple classes altogether on the overarching contextual issues in Guatemala, as well as time with our focused research groups to discuss more focused readings, research processes, and fieldwork. Then each Friday usually our whole group goes on a field trip to visit a tier within the Guatemalan healthcare system or something related. Sprinkle in a few afternoons of Spanish class, and there is the field school! Plus homework, readings, and doing interviews in the field, and some local excursions on the weekends for fun:)

My pediatric nutrition group has been volunteering about 3 mornings each week at Obras Sociales de Hermano Pedro hospital with the babies, learning about feeding and development issues related to undernutrition. Aside from that, our group decided we wanted to research the perceptions and basic knowledge of nutritional supplements in the community. So we came up with some questions to ask people around town, translated them to Spanish, then gave the interviews to shop workers, people in the market or park, pharmacy workers, parents of patients (babies in the hospital) and nurses at the hospital. We’re in the process of compiling our data now for analysis and coming up with a presentation for the whole group a week from tomorrow on the last day of the field school about what we’ve been learning and doing, the results from out pilot study and how it all fits together in this place called Guatemala that we’ve been learning so much about. We’re hoping to be able to leave some recommendations for the organizations we’ve been volunteering with when we leave. Phew!

* I haven’t taken a lot of photos of fieldwork out of respect for patients at the hospital and other health centers we visited. 

It’s been such a great learning experience for me – it’s a good mix of hands-on clinical experience at the hospital with also a good overview of how the larger issues in Guatemala are at interplay in that vein. It’s a bit overwhelming at times because it just seems like there are so many problems, it’s hard to know how to even begin to attack them. And many efforts at doing so have not succeeded, making it further overwhelming.

I often have heard from a few Guatemalans that the problems here will not change….it’s just the way it is…who said that life is fair?…and the like. Human rights workers are in danger of their lives at times here. The police are corrupt and don’t provide any semblance of security to the people. It’s a country of impunity where murderers (femicide is also a big concern) and other criminals most often go free. Machismo is still very much a part of the culture.

People should be able to live their lives the way they want, pursue the occupations they want, and lead meaningful lives without being barred by the political and social structures of violence and corruption. It’s disheartening and I hope that things will improve as people continue chipping away at the problems


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