Leticia Toj Umil de Méndez
Leticia is the Executive Director of Rxiin Tnamet, a local community health organization in Guatemala. An incredible leader who has been working in community health for 30 years. She was discriminated against both for being a woman and for being indigenous. Nevertheless, she remained determined to work to ensure communities’ improved access to health services. Due to the problems and dangers during the Civil War, Leticia moved to Quetzaltenango where she graduated as a professional nurse in 1984. The following year, she moved to Santiago Atitlan to be the chief nurse in the Hospital Santiaguito run by Project Concern International. Recognizing the great necessity of the community, she began a project, working with the community in education and prevention regarding maternal infant health. When Project Concern International had to leave Santiago for lack of funding, she was one of the founders of the new Health and Development Association Rxiin Tnamet and has held the position of executive director since then. Despite the many challenges and countless obstacles faced by trying to establish a women’s organization in rural Guatemala, under her leadership, Rxiin Tnamet has become the most important community health center for the women in Santiago Atitlan. Lety has been integral to the organization’s growth and development, always proud of her roots and culture yet also unafraid to resist tradition in support of women’s rights. She has armed a team of young leaders of indigenous descent to provide community services and has been a mentor to other nurses since she graduated (some of whom have gone to work in the Ministry of Health). Lety’s leadership has been recognized on several occasions and she has been invited to represent indigenous women of Guatemala and share her expertise at several international programs and conferences.
More information about Rxiin Tnamet:
In Guatemala, there are stark differences between the development indicators of indigenous and non-indigenous communities. Despite the great need for urgent action to improve the conditions of indigenous women who are especially marginalized members of society, there is a lack both of political will and budget to improve social services available to those communities and existing social services are many times inadequate due to their lack of cultural relevance. It was in this context that Lety first began working in community health and established Rxiin Tnamet. Rxiin Tnamet (“of the people”) was formed to improve women and children’s health and respond to the needs of women in the community, largely indigenous women, of Mayan, Tzutujil and K’iche’ origin. Rxiin Tnamet provides direct health services through two community health clinics. The clinics employ Mayan health professionals, all women, who are proud of their culture and can approach the problems of their community with care and sensitivity. Despite the culturally conservative traditions of the Tzutujil people, the clinic has worked to implement projects for the reproductive rights of women, youth, and teenagers and has mobilized to achieve greater political incidence to improve the lives of women in the aftermath of armed conflict. They provide services such as prenatal care, family planning, pediatrics, dental care, pharmacies, and laboratory services. The group runs a rural women’s community health education program with a women’s human rights perspective, as well as training NGOs on preventive health. The Association has conducted research on women’s reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and sexual education for young people, among other topics. Rxiin Tnamet has created a system of community health management for the largely illiterate, non-Spanish speaking population in 21 villages around Santiago Atitlán. Through community development initiatives, the organization provides funding and health management training to other community groups in the region.