Natün works within the Maya communities of Sololá, Guatemala, combining Native wisdom with Western methodologies in order to bring sustainable improvements to the local people's quality of life.

Keep reading to find out how Onaway’s recent partnership with Natün is helping to provide Maya midwives with vital training and equipment which will allow them to make the most of their traditional knowledge.

BACKGROUND

Formerly known as Mayan Families, Natün is an inspiring organisation working within Indigenous Maya communities in the area of Lake Atitlán in Sololá, Guatemala to foster sustainable improvements in education, nutrition, healthcare and economic development.

Natün focuses on integrating local Indigenous wisdom and resources into their programmes in effective and culturally respectful ways which allow the community to feel supported, understood and, ultimately, to become more self-sufficient. For this reason, almost all of the 60 members of staff are local Maya people, who can bring their unique insights to guide the development and implementation of Natün’s programmes within their own communities.

With Maya people accounting for over half of the Guatemalan population, Onaway hopes that this new partnership with Natün will help to address some of the injustices preventing this vibrant and resilient community from truly thriving.

“In Kaqchikel, Natün means to unite or come together, to align behind a common cause. And that is the work and the future of the organization, to unite for community, to grow and learn and to become our best together.”

Erin Mooney, Executive Director

CHALLENGES

Guatemala’s Indigenous Maya population has been oppressed, marginalised and persecuted ever since their lands were colonised by the Spanish in the 1500s. In addition to this ongoing genocide, Maya people find their rights are still frequently violated through actions such as land theft, labour exploitation and political exclusion. Although on paper the treatment of Indigenous peoples has improved in the past 500 years, the remnants of this discrimination are still having a profound impact on people’s daily lives. 

Systemic discrimination and prejudice has led to Maya communities being disproportionately under-resourced, causing many personal and social problems. During Guatemala’s 36-year civil war, many people escaped to remote areas with a lack of essential public services, particularly those catering to Indigenous languages and customs. This has resulted in widespread poverty, with an average income of only £1 per day among those in need of Natün’s support. 66% of children in the Lake Atitlán area suffer from chronic malnutrition, reflecting Guatemala’s reputation as one of the most malnourished countries in the world.

ONAWAY PARTNERSHIP

In light of this, Onaway is proud to be partnering with Natün for the first time on a project seeking to provide Maya midwives with access to vital training and equipment. Local midwives recognise that, despite their extensive and invaluable knowledge of traditional medicine and midwifery skills, additional training in emergency procedures during childbirth would support their growth and improve birth outcomes. For this reason, a group of Maya midwives has requested training that, while introducing standard Western medical techniques and theories, also respects their Indigenous traditions and expertise in this area.

With Onaway’s help, Natün will be able to deliver two training modules to 20 midwives across 11 communities in Sololá, as well as providing essential sterile medical equipment which they are currently lacking such as thermometers, scissors and paediatric scales. With 50% of Indigenous women choosing to give birth outside of hospital, this is invaluable knowledge which will hopefully spread among the wider community as Maya midwives put their increased confidence and new skills into practice.

Since the project started, nine midwives have so far been provided with protective equipment and birth care kits and trained in their proper use. They have also been supported in growing 20 different medicinal herbs in gardens created at their own homes and the group has discussed and shared knowledge about their many practical uses. A further 42 midwives from across the region have participated in an interactive training session with a highly-qualified Kaqchikel OBGYN and reported that, having had their important questions and doubts addressed, they now feel more confident in dealing with difficult situations.

NUTRITION AND HEALTH

Natün runs a wide range of programmes working to tackle other issues faced by the Maya people in the areas of nutrition and health, education, and economic development. As the community’s poor health and malnutrition has a knock-on impact on productivity and increases expenses, this leads to further economic difficulties and social struggles for local families.

Fortunately, Natün helps to address the root source of the problem with programmes treating and preventing malnutrition from the first moment of life, working with pregnant women and babies for the first 1000 days after birth, as well as providing community outreach medical care for isolated communities. Their 6-month transitional support programme provides emergency food assistance, health checkups and help with long-term sustainable food and income generation.

This work continues in the community agriculture project, which helps local people to grow crops and native medicinal plants to sell and for personal use by following traditional Maya agroecological farming methods for better crop resilience and higher yields. As well as providing a source of income, the improvements in nutrition resulting from this programme will increase the community’s wellbeing and, in turn, productivity, demonstrating the circular nature of Natün’s projects. 

As with the midwifery project, these healthcare programmes combine international best-practices and data with the traditional wisdom and practices of Indigenous healers in order to provide the best care for the community. Local Maya women are regarded as the experts and are thus granted the responsibility of leading programmes by drawing on their wealth of sacred experience, knowledge and wisdom which has been passed down through the generations.

EDUCATION AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Natün has also created multiple programmes to provide quality, culturally-enriching education for the often disadvantaged and overlooked children of the Maya community. This vital support begins as early as 3 to 5 years old in the preschool nutrition centres where, in addition to receiving nutritious meals, children are given a bilingual education not offered in the public education system. In this way, children are able to develop the Spanish language skills they may need to succeed in later life, while being encouraged to nurture their connection to their Indigenous roots via classes taught in the Mayan language, Kaqchikel.

Running alongside this initiative are the community learning programme, providing one-on-one tutoring and mentoring to students who are struggling academically, and the scholarship programme, which is currently making a quality education accessible to over 800 students from preschool to university level thanks to the life-changing financial grants of generous donors.

Adults are also offered an education through the artisan and trade school programmes, providing training in traditional and technical skills such as carpentry, sewing, embroidery and entrepreneurship. Learning and honing these practical skills is allowing local people to become more economically self-sufficient in order to support their families and improve their overall quality of life, while continuing to work in alignment with their cultural roots. Natün sells the artisans’ creations in their shop in Panajachel while also helping to connect them with the wider market, including online shops such as Etsy, in order to expand their reach and ensure fair prices for their work.

IMPACTS AND FUTURE

The positive impacts of Natün’s approach are clear to see, with significant improvements in health and education and an increase in public awareness of the difficulties facing the 15,000+ individuals receiving direct assistance each year. Following the introduction of the education programmes, local children have seen a 16% improvement in their grades after just one year of preschool. 81% of scholarship students stayed in school during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to less than 50% nationwide, while 85% of students surpassed the national average of 73% who passed first grade.

Going forward, Natün hopes to continue to build on the promising results they have produced in Maya communities so far. The organisation plans to provide training to the remaining 60 midwives in Sololá who they were unable to work with directly in this initial project, while advocating for the recognition and inclusion of Indigenous healers in the public health system on both a local and national level.

The Onaway Trust is proud to be partnering with an organisation so devoted to their mission of helping this long-neglected community to achieve the respect and quality of life they deserve. To find out more about Natün, including how you can donate, please follow the link below.

project partners

Natün Guatemala

Natün works with Native Maya communities in the area of Lake Atitlán, Guatemala to bring sustainable improvements to education, nutrition, healthcare and economic development.

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