GUAMAP - Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project
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Acupuncture Adventure in Guatemala by Susan Zimmer
October 01, 2006

     As a holistic practitioner, it is very gratifying to be able to teach our patients natural health ways to regain and maintain their health.  As the saying goes, “The mark of a true professional is one who prevents what they treat.”  It is especially rewarding and fulfilling to have been able to teach acupuncture to trained “health promoters”, many of whom are Mayan descendents, in the country of Guatemala.

     I was a member of a team of acupuncturists from North America promoting acupuncture in Central America, as a member of GUAMAP, Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project, a program that has provided acupuncture training and support in Guatemala since 1994.  At that time, Guatemalan refugees returned to a newly developed community and needed access to reliable, inexpensive, practical, sustainable health care.  Acupuncture certainly meets this requirement.  

     The Guatemalans requested training in acupuncture to treat acute and chronic health conditions, such as gastrointestinal, respiratory, neuromusculoskeletal, and post traumatic; also, malaria, migraines, women’s health, etc.

     The primary focus of instruction on this trip was women’s health. Each morning a team member started the morning session with Qigong exercises.  For several days, new material was taught and discussed.  Then we observed and assisted the students in treating over 150 patients of all ages at several all day clinics.  Many of the students and patients traveled willingly many kilometers by foot before being able to catch a bus, if they could afford one, with children in tow, to reach the clinics.

    Numerous conditions were presented and treated in the clinics, many pertaining to women’s health— menorrhagia, uterine prolapse, menopause, PMS, pregnancy, fibroids, ovarian cyst, as well as headaches, diabetes, edema, hyperthyroid goiter, arthritis, knee, foot, shoulder, neck, low back pain, sciatica, and children with asthma, malaria, and dengue fever. We assisted the students with point locations, NADA protocol, and stimulating acupoints with moxa and electric.

     Whenever possible, I presented other holistic health approaches including nutrition and exercise.  I taught some patients natural vision improvement exercises for complaints of eye strain, fatigue, poor vision.  Very few Guatemalans have access to eyeglasses, so this was an ideal environment to encourage natural vision.  (Bates, “Better Eyesight without Glasses”).  I demonstrated several eye exercises they could easily do while waiting to receive their acupuncture treatment and to continue daily.  Several patients with back pain also learned some spinal stretching exercises and proper body mechanics to avoid reinjury.
     One of the patients had a painful bunion.  On examination, I demonstrated how the bunion was mechanically reduceable by applying pressure on the plantar side of the metatarsals.  When the arch is increased, the laterally protruding big toe pulls inward towards normal positioning.  His shoes had no arch support at all.  I demonstrated some exercises to increase his arch, and also how to make a support for inside his shoe to promote arch restoration and bunion correction.

     We treated several women who suffered with chronic cough and respiratory illness, lung deficiency, due to pesticide exposure, after working in the fields.  Many women presented with qi and blood deficiency syndrome due to multiple, close pregnancies and subsequent lactations, with insufficient nutrition and rest.  All the patients were extremely appreciative of the treatments they received in the clinics.  Many stayed overnight with their family to also get a treatment the next day.

    We taught, ate, and slept in a large community center with a large dining room, large classroom complete with handmade desks, blackboard, and ceiling fans, and restrooms with showers (cold water only!).  Our sleeping quarters contained comfortable cots with mattresses.  Some of us brought mosquito nets to cover our cots.  But I only heard one mosquito at one time during all the nights we were there.  The dorm also had large windows which were completely screened to keep out the bugs   I also took extra garlic capsules regularly to ward off possible bug bites, homeopathic malaria nosode, and an anti-malarial Chinese herbal formula.

     We were well taken care of with 3 varied meals and 2 snacks of freshly baked bread daily.  The food was cooked over a large wood burning stove.  Breakfast often included  omelets with rice and black beans, (good blood builders).  One of our favorites was scrambled eggs with chopped green beans.  Lunch was the heartiest meal with chicken or beef, rice, potatoes, black beans, or salad..  Dinner included rice, black beans and sometimes a delicious roasted plantain in black bean sauce.  Our cook provided a variety of creative meals, which were all very satisfying.  And, of course, all meals included all you can eat freshly made, warm tortillas.

     There are no lawn mowers used to manicure the grounds.  Instead, a small herd of Santa Gertrudis cattle and 2 mares and a foal roaming free periodically enter the complex to keep the grass trimmed.  

     We started calling our school G.U.A., for Guatemala Universidad de Acupunctura.  We even had GUA T-shirts!  My teaching group consisted of 5 acupuncturists from Arizona, Virginia, and Canada. One member had actually previously served 2 years in the Peace Corps, in Guatemala.  Now, we were serving and teaching in a “Health Corps”, for peace through health.

     We were there in Guatemala for 10 filled days of teaching, encouraging, and sharing with 30 conscientious students of acupuncture, who now return to their various villages to also teach, encourage, and share and practice acupuncture throughout their country.  One evening the students asked us to participate with them in an ancient Mayan ceremony.  Interestingly, acupuncture was once a part of ancient Mayan civilization.  On our last day, we ventured to the town of Tikal to admire and climb some of the ancient (1500BCE) Mayan monuments.

     I am proud to have been able to participate in this acupuncture training program, probably the only one of this kind in the world.  I highly recommend this experience to other adventurous acupuncturists.  It is very rewarding to promote acupuncture around the world, especially when there is a teaching program to enable them to continue on and help their villages with acupuncture--a real example of sustainable health care.

      Last year this time, I volunteered with Acupuncturists Without Borders, to provide acupuncture treatments to the Katrina survivors in New Orleans.  This year, I was able to continue sharing the practice of acupuncture in the beautiful countryside of Guatemala.
Hope you can go, too.  More information available at

     Susan Zimmer, DC, RN, FASA

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