Our targeted patient population hails from isolated rural communities with limited access to high quality healthcare. This population is arguably the most vulnerable population in Guatemala. Many do not speak Spanish, the country's "official" language, rather speak one of the many Mayan languages -most commonly K'iché.
Very much by design, 2 out of every 3 patients that register at our center are not from our town. Greater than half of our patients are K'iché speakers. Thus, the ability of our healthcare team to communicate effectively in K'iché is of paramount importance. This linguistic capacity is intimately connected to themes of healthcare access and solidarity discussed in prior posts.
When attempts are made to access healthcare- whether that be via government clinics and hospitals or private facilities- the indigenous, K'iché speaking, population of rural Guatemala often has a frustrating experience. The experience can be akin to one who travels to a foreign land where the traveler's language is not spoken, becomes ill, seeks care from a medical professional, and runs head-on into a language barrier. Our patient population lives this unenviable experience without leaving their own country.
At times translators may serve as an intermediary. However, these "translators" are invariably not formally trained medical translators. Rather, they are family members who are better able to speak and understand Spanish than the patient. As one can imagine, this can prove problematic. The telephone game that you may recall from childhood can be quite amusing, but not in the context of trying to communicate important medical information.
To combat this barrier to receiving healthcare, we are very intentional in populating our local team with K'iché speakers. Team members such as myself who are not as skilled in K'iché are striving to improve as well via independent study (One excellent resource is an online course developed by University of Texas at Austin and Vanderbilt University). There is still much room for growth in this area, but we will continue to make the necessary efforts. We recognize that:
LANGUAGE = ACCESS
Photo courtesy of Eric Parsons