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In Guatemala, Adventist public health campaign to impact local Mayan communities

Health seminars, workshops will promote nutrition, exercise and addiction-free lifestyle

In Guatemala, Adventist public health campaign to impact local Mayan communities

Obis Heredia, Adventist district pastor in Rio Blanco, speaks to government and community leaders last month about the church’s upcoming public health campaign. The program will impact residents of seven Mayan towns in West Guatemala beginning in July. [photo: Guatemala Union]

Seventh-day Adventists in West Guatemala recently launched the church’s first joint public health initiative with local government and community leaders to promote the Adventist lifestyle among seven Mayan communities in the region.

The idea came after community leaders told Adventist district pastor for Rio Blanco, Obis Heredia, that they were impressed by the low level of violence and alcoholism in Pueblo Viejo. Ninety percent of the town’s 1,200 residents are Adventists.

Heredia, who holds a master’s degree in public health, spoke to local leaders on the importance of encouraging healthy communities during a meeting in San Marcos late last month.

“Health is the task of all of us,” Heredia said. “In order for us to create a healthy lifestyle it is necessary for us to be empowered by a collective and individual commitment,” he said, adding that 50 percent of chronic degenerative diseases are “directly related” to lifestyle choices.

Local communities are more likely to embrace healthy living when their political leaders, churches, schools and other organizations commit to improving society, Heredia said.

“Everything is possible if we want to improve the quality of life,” Heredia said. “We can implement programs that can promote a balanced diet, where the consumption of natural foods, good healthy habits, regular exercise and a lifestyle free of addictions can help combat harmful influences affecting the community.”

Mayor of Rio Blanco Eugenio Lopez -- along with members of his municipal board, community development leaders, school district leaders and teachers from neighboring towns -- attended the launch to hear the church’s strategic plans to promote healthy living among the region’s 7,000 residents.

“As a political leader, I am committed to boosting the importance of healthy habits within my district,” Lopez said, adding that he is “thankful” to the Adventist Church for inspiring him and his family to improve their own lifestyles.

Community development leader for Pueblo Viejo, Antoliano Israel Maldonado, shared the advantages of having healthy residents and challenged fellow officials to strive to promote healthful living in their respective towns.

“It is necessary for us to promote good healthy habits to decrease the deaths provoked by a life of bad habits like alcohol, tobacco and [the] consumption of unhealthy foods,” Maldonado said. “Too many of our neighboring villages are being affected.”

School district leaders took the opportunity to commit to promoting healthy habits for children in the classrooms. Local government and community leaders signed a statement pledging to promote healthy lifestyles.

A local USAID representative was on board, too. The U.S. government agency, which provides humanitarian assistance in Guatemala and worldwide, commended the Adventist Church’s efforts and offered resources to add nutrition programs to the initiative.

Heredia said his team is currently processing a survey that will help the Adventist Church cater upcoming health seminars and workshops to residents of the towns of Las Manzanas, Durazno, Loma, Maclen, Pancho de Leon, Protrillos and Rio Hondo beginning in July.

David Beber, Health Ministries director for the church in Guatemala, says initiatives like this one will impact underprivileged communities.

“We are happy that this initiative comes as a result of the [local church’s] recent strategic initiative to ignite health professionals and health directors throughout Guatemala,” Beber said.

Church officials are expected to meet with local Pan-American Health Organization leaders to seek collaboration on similar projects throughout needy communities in Guatemala, he said.