We connect vulnerable Guatemalan children and families with the resources and medical care they need to thrive.

Founded in 2013, the Mayan Health Initiative (MHI) is a registered 501(c)3 organization headquartered in Chicago, Illinois with local operations in the state of San Marcos in Guatemala. Through community-based grassroots efforts, we strengthen the capacity of our partners to provide quality medical care to the region’s most vulnerable patients.

Led by Co-founder and Executive Director, Dr. William Ahrens, former head of Emergency Pediatrics at the University of Illinois Medical Center, and governed by a US-based board of directors, MHI was founded in response to what the founders experienced during 20 years of volunteer work in the region. We support a team of six physical and speech therapists and four nurses, all of whom live in the communities they serve.

MHI currently provides funding and technical assistance for three core initiatives in Guatemala: Nutrition, Therapy Centers, and Medical Relief.

MHI works exclusively in the Western Highlands, or Altiplano, region.

Where we work

Guatemala’s Western Highlands face an extreme combination of systemic poverty, illiteracy, and inequality. The region’s health system is hampered by low-quality equipment, lack of staff, cost barriers, and geography. MHI supports programs that actively reach out to the poorest in rural areas, trains health workers in high-need disciplines, and recruits Guatemalan medical professionals to serve the region.


Guatemala is one of the world’s poorest countries, and the indigenous population we serve with is even more so: 76 percent live in poverty, and 27 percent live in extreme poverty. Any discussion of the health challenges among the population we serve must be viewed with the knowledge that the country is still recovering from a brutal 30-year civil war that raged from 1960 to 1996. More than 200,000 were killed or forcibly disappeared during this period and, of this number more than 83 percent were indigenous Maya. The result is an ethnic group largely pushed to the sidelines—both literally and politically. The indigenous have lower rates across the board in all measures of wellbeing.


More than 40 percent of Guatemalans are under age 15. This puts in stark relief one of its most pressing issues: acute malnutrition. Half of all children under five are chronically malnourished, the highest rate in the Western Hemisphere. In the Western Highlands, child malnutrition rises to nearly 70 percent. Guatemala also has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in Latin America with a maternal mortality rate of 190 deaths per 100,000 live births and an infant mortality rate of 43 deaths per 1,000 live births. It is estimated that less than half of births are attended to by a skilled medical worker.