One thing I learned during our very first GoPhil trip was that Guatemala is a country steeped in tradition, and also superstition. For many people, having a child with a disability is understood to be a bad omen, or even a curse. As such, children and adults with disabilities are oftentimes hidden away from society. Families also do not have the knowledge or financial means to assist with their child’s special needs. Discrimination which exists towards people with disabilities worsens when those people – oftentimes children – are indigenous, and worsens even more when they are disabled, indigenous women.
Centro Maya has been working to promote the rights of people with special needs in Guatemala for over three decades. Providing basic services for the progress and development of citizens with disabilities is technically a responsibility of the Guatemalan government; in reality, these services unfortunately remain nonexistent, particularly in rural, indigenous areas. Centro Maya not only steps in to provide these integral services around Lake Atitlan and surrounding areas, but advocates politically for disability rights and more widespread, government services.
In doing research to better understand the scope of persons with disabilities in Guatemala, I recently came across an article from 2005 which discussed the work of Centro Maya, but one thing really stood out as it relates to a father’s thoughts on his disabled daughter: “Look, you shouldn’t have breastfed the girl when she was little, that way she would have died. Now you must take care of her, it’s not my fault that the girl was born that way.”
The true scale of Centro Maya’s work is indescribable, really, but you feel it vibrating through you as soon as you step through the door. It is a place of angels, of magic, of hope. It is always a moving experience for travelers, especially with Viviana giving the tour. We visit the occupational therapy, rehabilitation and speech therapy rooms and meet the amazing staff who help this place run day in and day out. Their smiles are contagious and they are full of love and knowledge.