Balancing Guatemala

In Third World countries like Guatemala, health care can be hard to come by.

Enter the Tucson-based Guatemala Acupuncture and Medical Aid Project (GUAMAP), an organization that helps citizens of Guatemala by offering acupuncture and other aid.

On Saturday, July 17, GUAMAP will be holding a special dinner that includes local desert cuisine along with a reading by Tucson author Marge Pellegrino from her book Journey of Dreams. All proceeds will go toward acupuncture training in 24 communities of northern Guatemala.

Journey of Dreams has received multiple honors, including the 2009 Judy Goddard Award for young adult literature. GUAMAP member Laurie Melrood said she was honored by the fact that Pellegrino was reading at the dinner.

"She has been involved with assisting lesser communities overcome horrible tragedies for the last 15 years," Melrood said. "She focuses on helping refugees in Central America by teaching them how to express their pains through their writing. For many of the refugees, they have witnessed dark times throughout their lives, and Pellegrino tries to teach them that through writing, they can express all of the personal turmoil they hold inside."

GUAMAP mainly focuses on acupuncture, because it's a type of medical treatment that balances one's body, according to GUAMAP members. They have been aiding Guatemalans for more than 15 years, and have fought ailments such as malaria, respiratory problems and pain. GUAMAP also uses acupuncture to help individuals deal with post-traumatic stress disorder due to warfare, family deaths and the destruction of villages during a decades-long civil war that formally ended in 1996.

Melrood said many Guatemalans perform a lot of manual labor, which can lead to a person having unbalanced energy. By using acupuncture, the patient's body becomes balanced.

"We've been using acupuncture to treat malaria, which is very common in that area, and have been successful doing so," Melrood said. "It's the most common form of health care in the area, and we also have a training center in Guatemala."

GUAMAP takes volunteers from the U.S. and Canada to Guatemala. The acupuncturists who are involved with GUAMAP need special qualifications, such as two years of professional experience in teaching, the ability to speak Spanish, and proper certification.

Melrood said people at the dinner will receive more than just a tasty meal.

"We will update the people who attend the banquet on how medical assistance is progressing in the villages of Guatemala by showing a slide show—but the main focus of the night will be placed on the reading from Pellegrino," Melrood said.

As for that tasty meal: The vegetarian dinner will offer unique local dishes. The menu promises "handcrafted mesquite tortilla(s) filled with sweet potato, Honduran cashews, cilantro, and seasoning; Palo Verde bean, corn and black bean salad tossed with roasted nopalito and prickly pear vinaigrette; polenta adorned with cholla buds, chile de arbol and Chihuahua white cheese; prickly pear sorbet and acorn flour cookies," along with iced tea and coffee.

The event will be catered by GUAMAP members. Melrood said she has been gathering the food for quite some time.

"All of the food has been locally harvested by me and others assisting the event. I and others want to interest people in different types of local food that can be grown in their own backyard," Melrood said. "Harvesting your own food is a very tranquilizing experience, and I encourage each person to try it. It is a respectful process between you and nature."