By Geoffrey Johnson

In 2014, after she ended her nine-year tenure as executive director of a community health clinic in Savannah, Georgia, Miriam Rittmeyer needed a little time to recharge her batteries. She exhibited her colorful oil paintings inspired by her native Guatemala, crafted jewelry and scarves, and continued her mastery of the charango, a lutelike Andean instrument.

After a two-year hiatus, this reinvigorated Renaissance woman — who holds an MD, a master’s degree in public health, and a doctorate in nutrition and epidemiology — launched a new venture. Rittmeyer, a member of the Rotary Club of Skidaway Island, Savannah, Georgia, co-founded Phalarope, a nonprofit that designs, manages, and evaluates health care and community development programs, including maternal and child health care for Indigenous populations in Central America.

Rittmeyer described Phalarope’s Manchichi Midwife Health Monitoring Program at “World Polio Day 2022 and Beyond: A Healthier Future for Mothers and Children,” an October symposium sponsored by Rotary International and the World Health Organization in Geneva. The intense 12-month midwife training regimen, aimed at reducing maternal mortality, is adapted to local culture and language for Indigenous midwives.

After demonstrating its effectiveness in 20 rural Guatemalan communities, the program is expanding to six rural sites in Panama, with help from a $96,000 Rotary Foundation global grant. “These Indigenous communities want to be included in the solution, and that direct involvement of local populations allows for a sustainable model to assist in our public health efforts,” Rittmeyer says. “Inclusivity and investment in communities are core principles of Rotary and Phalarope. And with this model, we believe change is possible.”

This story originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Rotary magazine.