In Guatemala, indigenous families face extreme poverty and harsh living conditions. Women and children are the most vulnerable, lacking access to basic education and health services, and struggling against traditional prejudices that diminish their quality of life. In 2000, PCI, in partnership with a local association of midwives, created the Casa Materna in the rural, western highlands of Guatemala to reduce maternal and infant mortality. Since its inception, the Casa has literally saved the lives of hundreds of mothers and their babies as well as strengthened and empowered countless Guatemalan communities.

The Casa provides critically needed clinical reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health services. Women with high-risk pregnancies are referred to the Casa inpatient facility for care and monitoring during the final weeks of their pregnancies, and are then transferred to the neighboring district hospital for delivery. In addition, the Casa supports community education and networks of women’s support groups.

The Casa Materna has evolved within a society where subjugation, isolation, violence and mortality are often considered the norm. It is unique in that its clinical care transcends the physical in order to also meet basic emotional and spiritual needs.

Hortensia Garcia was only 22 years old and pregnant for the fifth time when she first came to the Casa Materna. Sadly, none of her first four pregnancies had a positive outcome. When she was seven months pregnant with her fifth child, Hortensia met a PCI outreach worker who visited her village to conduct a training on maternal and child health and services available at the Casa Materna.

As a result, Hortensia, along with her husband, visited the Casa Materna, where she decided to stay as an in-patient until her baby was born. There she received daily attention from a gynecologist and staff members. One day when her husband was visiting, they had the opportunity to hear the baby’s heartbeat. This experience made them so happy: they began to feel that things were under control with this pregnancy and that this baby would make it.

Hortensia delivered a healthy baby girl, who now receives regular check-ups. Hortensia has also earned her family’s and the community’s respect and appreciation. Before her daughter was born, Hortensia was the subject of stigma because her pregnancies did not last to term. Now, she is an advocate for the Casa Materna, bringing neighbors and friends in for medical attention and counseling.

“The burden of the death of a mother represents a dramatic stress in a family and the community in which they live. It is not just one life that is lost. We need to do more to help families and communities prevent these deaths.”

– Pascale Wagner, PCI Country Director, Guatemala