Fundación Tradiciones Mayas increases access to traditional Maya medicine and healing through collaborating with the public healthcare system, integrating traditional medicine with the Western method.


Fundación Tradiciones Mayas began as a foundation that empowered Maya women in Guatemala, using traditional heritage and art and working on a fair trade model. As the Foundation has grown, they have invested in social outreach and aid to bring more opportunities to indigenous women and their families through community programmes.

Medicine is an important part of Maya culture. In rural communities, traditional medicine is much more affordable and accessible. However, the Ajq’omanela, the traditional Maya healers, have been excluded from the public health sphere in Guatemala. This has led to an increase in the number of people suffering.

The World Health Organisation has said that Guatemala faces a number of key challenges, including: ‘the need to reduce inequalities and encourage greater participation by decision makers, thus empowering the population to exercise its right to health’ and ‘the need to develop an integrated approach to the political, economic and social determinants of health …. guaranteeing health equity and the right to health.’

The healthcare system in Guatemala was created in the civil war which ran from 1954 until the mid 80s.  Healthcare became the responsibility of the democratic government once the war was over, but the health of the country is still reliant upon the help of NGOs as spending is very low per capita.

© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas
© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas
© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas

Why this matters

While the Guatemala health system promises everyone in the country free access, the reality is that in some rural communities it can be very difficult to go and see a doctor, with limited resources and issues with access.

The Maya suffer hardest of all in the population due to language barriers, extreme poverty, living conditions and diet. Mayans can live 10 or 15 years less than other Guatemalans. With 91% of Mayans struggling to have even basic needs met, access to healthcare and family planning can become a huge issue in Maya families. Chronic malnutrition and maternal mortality severely affect the indigenous population. Doctors in Guatemala predominantly speak Spanish, meaning that those that speak traditional Maya languages can’t communicate effectively with their physicians.

Guatemala has recently been experiencing extreme drought due to the El Niño phenomenon. Nearly half of all Guatemalan children are malnourished – the fourth-highest rate in the world.

We are very glad that Maya Traditions supports local midwives to further their knowledge around family planning

Evelyn Roquel, Family Planning Promoter, WINGS

Traditional Maya health practices, working in harmony with Western medicine, could help to improve the public health of the entire nation of Guatemala, helping to give access to healthcare to all, whether native or non-indigenous population.

Onaway supported Fundación Tradiciones Mayas in its Community Health Project, boosting the Foundation’s attempts to preserve and promote traditional Maya medicines and knowledge, and integrate this with the public health network.

© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas

The outcome

Fundación Tradiciones Mayas helped to set up spaces in communities in Sololá, a rural part of Guatemala, for Mayan medicine, including spreading knowledge, doing treatments and using medicinal plants. Five clinics were set up in the area, including four in local health centres, bringing together the public health services and traditional medicine. Workshops were held in rural areas introducing people to Maya medicine and medical plants, with manuals on medicinal plants distributed to 200 clinics and students.

The Foundation has also partnered with WINGS, an organisation focused on reproductive rights to help train midwives on sexual health and family planning, alleviating some of the pressure on families in the country.

While the primary mission of the Community Health Program was to preserve and promote traditional Maya medicine and the use of medicinal plants through collaborating with a local association of Ajq’omanela, with malnutrition being such a problem in the country, the Foundation has chosen to focus and train their healers more in the area of nutrition so they can advocate this need in their communities.

© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas
© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas
© Fundación Tradiciones Mayas

project partners

WINGS Guatemala

WINGS provides quality reproductive health education and services to underserved, primarily rural Guatemalan youth, women and men.


Maya Traditions Foundation

Maya Traditions Foundation leverages traditional Maya heritage and art, connecting female artisans with national and international markets committed to the Fair Trade Principles.