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K-State Today

April 11, 2017

Physician who serves rural Guatemalan people available to speak to K-State groups

Submitted by Tiffany Roney

Dr. Francisco Mendez, a physician serving Mayan villages in rural Guatemala, will speak to various classes and groups at Kansas State University April 24-26. Mendez is available to speak on Guatemala and his work from the angles of history, anthropology, economics, health and other fields of study.

"Dr. Mendez will bring inspiring stories and rich learning opportunities to students from a variety of disciplines," said Linda Yarrow, instructor of food, nutrition, dietetics and health, who has helped organize Mendez's visit.

To request Mendez to speak at a class, organization or event during his visit, contact Yarrow at 785-210-7580 or lyarrow@k-state.edu.

Mendez works in Guatemala's Lake Atitlán region, where about 30 percent of adults cannot read or write and 50 percent of the children are chronically malnourished, he said. Mendez also works in a private practice in Guatemala two days each week to fund his rural clinic, and he is starting a public hospital in the rural area.

Mendez said he grew up during Guatemala's Civil War, when about 170,000 Mayans died or experienced government-approved disappearances. Because he is Mayan, Mendez was at risk, but the Catholic Church gave his family protection because he wanted to become a priest, he said. In high school, he decided to become a doctor instead, and the church continued protecting him because their region needed medical assistance, he said. Mendez studied medicine in Guatemala City and the U.S. before returning to his home village.

"It is important to me to serve my people," Mendez said. "There is nowhere else I would rather work."

Yarrow became acquainted with Mendez through his daughter, Karina Mendez, who was one of Yarrow's students and graduated from Kansas State University in December 2016.

In partnership with Dr. Mendez, nonprofit organizations in Guatemala, and faculty and administrators from Kansas State University, faculty from the food, nutrition, dietetics and health department, are launching the Year-Round Study Abroad Program in Guatemala Focusing on Health, Wellness and Social Education, which will provide K-State students with the opportunity to serve and learn in the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala.

"The program we are starting with Dr. Mendez is a natural fit for K-State as a land-grant university with a history of sharing our knowledge to help others," Yarrow said.

The program will start with students from the food, nutrition, dietetics and health department, and future plans are to include students from other departments in the College of Human Ecology, and potentially other departments campuswide. The program is tentatively scheduled to start in September 2018.