medico’s cooperation with the activists of the Guatemalan health and community organization ACCSS began during the fight against the military dictatorship in the 1980s. medico supported indigenous refugees who sought protection from the junta’s policy of extermination in camps in Mexico and, in so called ‘resistance villages’ in the forests of the northern border region. medico supported the refugees with medicines and training for health and dental care promoters. After the end of the civil war medico continued this support as they organized the refugees’ return. The aim was to transfer the experience of autonomy and emancipatory health concepts into the new, post war Guatemalan context and to develop them further.
This has proved successful in many aspects. One example is the health and training centre that ACCSS has built on the outskirts of the provincial town Playa Grande in the north of Guatemala, co-funded with a subsidy from to the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development. The single-floor building is full of air and light. The doors to the offices are kept open. There are rooms for training and professional development of health promoters; a workshop where young people can attend basic vocational courses; a recycling system that clears waste water into drinking water quality; and a tropical medicinal plant garden that is a riot of colour. But even more importantly, the centre is seen as an oasis or Noah’s ark for a different future mainly because of the way that all those involved interact with each other and with the project itself.
Among them are Santos Chen, Sebastián Bartolo, Viviano Matias and Juana Perez. The three men come from the hidden resistance villages and were already involved in community work as youth; while Juana joined later. Santos talks about how he once operated on a young girl with a tumour under her tongue. Her father had persuaded him to operate after failing to get help from the poorly equipped public healthcare system. Like the other promoters Santos has received further training in dental care, traditional herbal medicine and acupuncture. For many years he also learned much from experts from the city and from abroad.
Sebastián, who has completed a three-step dental training programme and a course in accounting, not only provides his fellow villagers with dental treatment but also looks after the cooperative’s accounts. ACCSS has trained around 100 dental promoters in this way in recent years. They are confident and hopeful that things are changing in Guatemala.