Guadalupe R. Blevins, founder of the Highland Support Project and AlterNatives in Carytown, presented an overview on the necessity to prevent modern health issues in Indigenous women in Guatemala during a Global Women’s Health Lecture held March 22 at the VCU School of Nursing.
The Highland Support project is a non-profit organization that works with indigenous communities in Guatemala to address critical social, environmental and economic issues. Blevins grew up in Guatemala in a family that was committed to serving the community. Shortly after the civil war in Guatemala, Blevins moved to the United States where she soon married. She was constantly thinking about the people who were still suffering in her country.
“After the war, health and living conditions among communities grew worse. I couldn’t sit back and do nothing while my people suffered in poverty,” Blevins said.
With the help of her mother-in-law, Blevins acquired donations of medicine to send back to the people in Guatemala. Her mother-in-law then hired a team to handle all of the constant medical donations. Blevins soon realized that the women and children in the community were never going to get better no matter how much medicine they received, due to poor living conditions. She decided to create a group, the Highland Support Project, solely motivated to improve the living conditions of the community in order to promote better health.
The Highland Support Project works on various projects throughout the year to help improve the health of these impoverished communities. The open pit fire stoves that the women cook on were the main causes of respiratory infections and bad health among the women and children. The mothers cook everything from scratch while carrying the baby on their backs; in turn the babies are also breathing in the harmful smoke.
“Cooking on an open pit fire is equivalent to smoking 350 cigarettes,” Blevins said. In one of its most important projects, the Highland Support Project builds stoves to help improve the health of entire families in the community. Other projects include advocacy to educate women in the community on how to eat better to counteract diabetes, construction of a sewage system to stop the spread of skin disease and the installation of greenhouses around the local community to grow more healthy foods. The Highland Support Project is also trying to get ideas and solutions from the community on how to better living conditions.
“We realized that at times ideas from outsiders are not always the best solutions for a secluded community,” she said. “We must empower the community to help the community.”

Rachel Triplett,Service Project Coordinator for the Highland Support Project, Guadalupe Blevins, Founder of the Highland Support Project (also Founder of AlterNatives in Carytown) Jo Robins, Ph.D., R.N., ANP-BC, AHN-C, CHTP, Assistant Professor Family and Community Health Nursing (left to right)
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