When the doctor walks in, Andrea recites all of the vital sign measurements she took minutes earlier. Blood pressure, temperature, respiration rate—she’s pleased to report that the patient and the baby are stable. Standing in a health center in Santiago Atitlán, she has come a long way since joining Starfish in 2010. Back then, she was a promising student who had experienced many difficulties during her childhood. Now, she’s teaching a group of young children at her church, working at a public health center, and only has two semesters left of her nursing degree at university. Her parents never had the chance to go to school, yet Andrea is determined to see how far she can go in her studies, career, and leadership.
“My journey with Starfish can be described by two stories: a before and an after. Before I participated in the program, I faced a lot of barriers: economic, cultural, familial. There seemed to be endless reasons that would have prevented me from continuing my education. For example, two of my brothers were alcoholics. One of my brothers used to be violent, so I would hide when I came home from school and do my homework underneath the bed. The second didn’t physically hurt us, but it was still a very difficult situation. My experiences with my brothers made my childhood very traumatic.
When I joined Starfish, we had mentorship sessions that helped me a lot. I learned about women’s rights, expressing emotions, and the importance of high self-esteem. It helped me process and overcome the trauma I had experienced, and I developed a new perspective. I was able to look beyond my circumstances and discover the value of developing myself as a young woman. I was motivated by all the new things I was learning and set new personal goals. Of course I still faced many obstacles, but I began searching for ways to overcome them. Because of that, I graduated from middle school and started high school. In high school, I studied in the town of Sololá. I learned many things while studying medicine there, and going to school outside my community made me more independent.
After I graduated in 2014, Starfish connected me to the opportunity of an internship at a health center in Santiago. There I started strengthening my medical knowledge through practice. When I started working at the health center, I was in the vaccination section. After that, I moved to the pharmacy, providing medications to patients. It seemed like an easy job, but I quickly learned that identifying the right medication and understanding doctors’ writing was more complicated than I thought. After that I went to emergency, and now I’m working in the labor and delivery department. Next year, I’ll also be supporting in administration.
About a year after I started working at the health center, I also began studying nursing at university. I feel very fortunate for the opportunity to be in university. I see peers who have families, and they have very intense responsibilities. In comparison, I am constantly gaining new knowledge as I study, meet new people, and improve my skills at the health center. When I leave work, I feel very satisfied after helping patients. The work is very tiring, but I have my own time afterwards to rest, have fun, play sports, or do my homework. It’s very different than my peers.
One of my goals for the future is to contribute to my community. When I was growing up and we got sick, we didn’t have access to good medical treatment, nor could we afford it. Now, people come to my house to ask me for advice when their children are sick. My community trusts me, and it feels good to share what I know. It motivates me to keep striving forward and continuing to learn. My most ambitious dream is to open my own hospital and provide treatment for those who need it and job opportunities for young women like me who have faced many challenges and overcame them.
I know that with my knowledge and my voice, I am a leader. I can use what I know not only to benefit myself and my family, but also to support my community. I can go far beyond the obstacles that I faced, and if I can do it, I know that it’s possible for the people in my community—they just need support.”