Datasets and merging and Stata, oh my!

Here’s an update about my second week in Guatemala!

Here at PopCouncil Guatemala, there are quite a few quantitative datasets that haven’t been processed yet including information about girls’ school enrollment, marital status, parity, and other demographic information. I have been getting knee-deep in these data over the past couple of weeks, involving a lot of trial and error and Googling Stata commands in order to merge, clean, and explore all of it. Once I get past these steps and have the data in a more usable form, I will be able to do some analyses and write up a report giving a better understanding of how to best target the Council’s programming in order to have the greatest impact on as many vulnerable, indigenous girls as possible.

Yesterday I was able to attend 2 discussions at a local university (above) with my preceptor and some co-workers. As much as I love working with data, it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that these numbers represent actual people – these events were very helpful in putting things into perspective. The first one was a screening of the movie Ixcanul, which depicts a fictional story about a young indigenous girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock and her family’s struggles around this event. The movie, although not a documentary, touches on real issues in indigenous communities in Guatemala including arranged/child marriage, machismo, and structural barriers in the health care system such as a lack of medical professionals who speak local languages. There was a Q&A session with the producer, a representative from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and my preceptor. There were several indigenous men and women in the audience, and hearing their viewpoints after watching the film was great!

The second event was a panel with members of a transdisciplinary project called the Maya and Contemporary Conceptions of Cancer (MACOCC). The goal of the research was to gain a better understanding of how cancer is understood and treated in traditional Mayan medicine and identify commonalities between this perspective and the Western biomedical perspective. The panel included two anthropologists, a Mayan doctor, and two oncologists. It was a perfect complement to the discussions we heard earlier in the day about the exclusion of Mayan people – who still comprise 40% of Guatemala’s total population – from the country’s public health and medicine systems. I was moved by how genuinely the “Western-trained” doctors believed in the importance of creating a bridge between the two paradigms of health in order to create an inclusive, united front against major health problems like cancer.

I could go on about these two amazing opportunities, but I’ll leave you with a (translated) quote that struck me during this second discussion: “Western medicine is very good at dealing with illnesses. But what we don’t do very well, that Mayan doctors are experts in: dealing with sick people.” I’m excited to keep humbly learning about and from professionals of all kinds in this culturally rich, unique country!

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