The heartache experienced during that time still resonates with those who survived. A Cakchiquel Indian woman told her story: "When I was pregnant, my husband was kidnapped and slaughtered. I went to the hospital to deliver my baby. I was suffering so much. When I came home, other people were living there and told me I did not belong there. I have been forced to work with my machete and hoe as a man to find work to feed my children. We found the place where my husband was buried. He was obviously tortured after he was kidnapped. Everything that has happened has been like a shadow."
Another woman says, "We were between two fires - those against the law and the soldiers who were persecuting us."
During the aftermath of the war, there was also a Cakchiquel man living in poverty and witnessing the hardship war had left behind. At the age of 19, he went to military school and was on the road to becoming a military leader. But God had different plans for this man. When a friend invited him to church, he heard the Gospel and was transformed! He changed his plans and went to medical school, ready to reach out to his people, the Cakchiquel, and transform Guatemala. This man is Dr. Axel Suquen, who has since partnered with the Luke Society, which has allowed him to build the ministry of Asociaciуn VIDA, a medical/dental clinic staffed with men and women who share his vision.
This vision for change is not passive. Dr. Suquen and his staff seek out needy people by visiting rural communities in order to start health education programs. The programs focus on disease prevention, nutrition, hygiene, but most importantly, they introduce Jesus.
Dr. Suquen has discovered the most effective way to be introduced into a community is through the local pastor. Pastors encourage their congregations to attend health lectures given by VIDA staff. During the first meeting in a new community, the VIDA staff is usually met with skepticism. It is hard for them to believe that learning about hygiene can improve their quality of life. Dr. Suquen has realized that to make an impact on the people, he must be visible to them, consistent with them and treat them as valuable people.
The result of these community health meetings is not only the education of those who attend, but it is also training for natural leaders who want to further educate their communities. Those who attend the meetings and show leadership qualities are educated further in disease prevention and general hygiene.
Luis Ajquejay is a community health promoter. When he first attended the meetings, he was not only skeptical of their value, but had also recently left his family for another woman. "When I was in this situation, Asociaciуn VIDA came to our community to have a meeting with our leaders. In the meeting, VIDA invited our leaders to get special community health training, and I volunteered. In the meetings that followed, Axel began talking to us about God, and I knew it was the answer I had been looking for desperately."
Luis Ajquejay became a Christian and returned to his family. He also became a leader in his community and was trained in community health. His wife, Maria Luisa, says, "Through the training as a health promoter, we have a different life because of the knowledge he has. We know how to take better care of our children and our community, and we thank God for that knowledge."
"The goal of community health is to recover the human dignity of the people," Dr. Suquen explains. "Also to be able to detect the primary need among the people in order to give priority to that need. We feel we are just taking care of the failure of good health because, of course, if a person is getting sick, it is because there was not prevention against such sickness. The utmost importance is preventative health."
Scattered across the mountains of the region of Tecpan, where Asociaciуn VIDA works, small villages exist miles from each other. Each village has its own economy, and each person is essential to its survival. The communication between the villages is limited, yet they depend on each other for certain needs.
As a woman nears the end of her pregnancy, one of the villages’ most diligent workers comes to help: the traditional midwife. As long as women have been having babies in Guatemala, there has been a traditional midwife at her side. Many of the women have chosen the profession because their mothers were midwives. Some became midwives out of necessity. But most of them have received no formal training in proper midwifery.
Asociaciуn VIDA soon recognized the need to educate the midwives. It sponsors trips to midwife conferences for those who are natural leaders. Women who attend these conferences then share their experiences with the other midwives, through VIDA-sponsored workshops. VIDA has also provided the necessary equipment and techniques for the women to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
Dalila Par de Odoсez, who has been a midwife for 20 years, says, "We are a new generation of midwives, learning from the experiences of our elders and from Asociaciуn VIDA."
At first glance, it seems as though Dr. Suquen’s staff is defined by the nurses and staff within the clinic. However, those doing the work of Asociaciуn VIDA include pastors, community health leaders, midwives, school children and donors who keep the project going.
Dr. Suquen has a humble view of the entire project. "We are not interested in forming super-midwives, super-leaders and super-community health leaders. It’s not about that. It’s about having common people doing uncommon things in the proper way. The big difference is that we want them to be catalyzers of our ideas and our ideals and of course, our methods, in which we can work together in order to get better results working as a team and not as a person."
Dr. Suquen’s vision of changing Guatemala is becoming a reality. The same widow who spoke about the two fires also said, "Asociaciуn VIDA gives us what our government cannot give - a new life with knowledge. Through God’s mercy, we are starting to see hope for the future."
The other widow said, "Through VIDA, I have been able to have new dreams. I see more reality in my new life." This new life is centered on empowerment, health and spiritual vitality.