“The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.” -Maureen Dowd
I wanted to be sure to end on an important note before I officially conclude writing about my experiences in Peru. Throughout the past two months, I spent a lot of my time working in El Porvenir—an impoverished city in northern Peru. This past March, Peru experienced an awful huaico, or flash flood, attributed to the phenomenon of El Niño. As I mentioned in posts throughout the past few months, we heard firsthand accounts from locals who live in El Porvenir and other cities in northern Peru about how the huaico affected their daily lives, and I spoke with various faculty members and school administrators about students whose participation in school has decreased due to having lost their homes in the flood. As I wrote about earlier, one student in particular was trapped underwater as the flood tore apart his home.
Just days after this particular flood (because keep in mind, there are many), the Peruvian government stated that the death toll had reached 94, while estimates reported that 700,000 individuals were left homeless in 12 of the country’s 25 regions. Nearly six months later, there are still so many individuals affected by the flooding whose lives have been changed ever since. When driving into El Porvenir, one can spot the zona de las damnificadas (pictured below), or the area of the victims. In this designated area, temporary housing (tents) have been set up alongside the street for families who lost their homes in the flood.
While living in a country filled with resources and opportunities for all (ideally), it can be easy to forget just how fortunate we are. I wanted to dedicate this post to those who have seemingly been forgotten, and to those who have been impacted by the devastating natural disaster that changed the lives of so many. From the children who cannot focus in school because they continuously re-live the scene of being trapped underwater to the parents who lost the homes they spent years saving up to afford, and everyone in between.
This post won’t help any of the affected individuals currently living en la zona de las damnificadas. This post also won’t change the stigma associated with mental health in Latin America, and more specifically, Peru (which is another concern). This post won’t help individuals realize the importance of seeking out mental health care, and it won’t make any difference whatsoever in changing the way the public hospital systems work when caring for individuals without resources. This post won’t increase the number of resources in Peru regarding mental health care like there being 1 psychiatrist per every 300,000 people within the country.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, statistics show that nearly 5 million people (11.8%) in Peru suffer from some type of mental illness. 700,000 out of 1 million Peruvians suffer from depression, while 200,000 out of 1 million Peruvians suffer from some type of anxiety disorder. Less than 4 percent of these individuals receive services in specialized centers. Why, you may still ask? Fifty percent of such individuals believe they can overcome their mental illness on their own. Thirty percent don’t believe in treatment, and thirty percent don’t know where to go to receive services. So no, this post won’t help increase the number of individuals who receive services in specialized centers, and it most definitely will not decrease or eliminate the sense of shame that so many people associate with mental illness within the country.
Realistically speaking, my words and my blog post can’t accomplish any of that. But what we can do is this: we can work together to appreciate what we have. As soon as we can learn to find gratitude and accept the term in its entirety, we can seek out ways to help those around us. There are so many people in need of help and assistance everywhere you turn, but when we become engulfed in our own lives, we often turn a blind eye to situations around us, and understandably so. But if we don’t help those in need, who will?
It has to start with us. As for finding a solution to problems throughout the world, well, I haven’t gotten that far yet, and frankly, I doubt that I ever will. But if we can each find a way to work together and use the resources at our disposal to try and make the slightest difference—whether in somebody else’s life, in the community, in a different country, or on a global scale, that slight difference will hopefully make a lasting impact that will better the lives of those in need. Yes, I understand that this is much easier said than done, and it’s just a bunch of words written on a page that probably won’t be read by many. But we have to start somewhere with something. And I guess this is that starting point.
As I conclude writing about my experiences in Peru and the incredible opportunity that I have been given, I kindly ask that we work together to not forget those who have seemingly been forgotten. Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” If you ask me, I think that’s the perfect starting point for all of us.
Throughout the past two months, I’ve been living in Huanchaco, Peru, and even though my trip is officially over, I wanted to dedicate a post to the town I called home this past summer.
“Huanchaco is a surfing and fishing village about 30 minutes north of Trujillo- the capital of the region, La Libertad, and the third biggest city in Peru. Huanchaco is best known for having waves that are surfable year-round and for it’s traditional ancient fishing methods using reed fishing boats called Caballitos de Totora. These boats data back 3,000 years and numerous festivals throughout the year celebrate this fishing culture.
The town of Huanchaco has about 5000 inhabitants, and is home to several shanty towns that are largely populated by migrants from the highlands. Many of these migrants came to the coastal region due to extensive flooding caused by the natural phenomenon El Niño in 1997/1998. In addition to the influx of migrants over the past twenty years, Huanchaco has also had a small but significant increase in the number of European expats living in the area. This population change is largely related to the increasing presence of international NGOs and international schools in the Trujillo area, as well as to the pleasant climate and laid-back lifestyle” (paseoprogram.com).
The peaceful and serene atmosphere in Huanchaco is truly unique and refreshing, and the locals are incredibly kind and welcoming. While it can be difficult adjusting to a new location in a different country, and while it can often be strange and uncomfortable calling another place your home, things are different in this town. In Huanchaco, home is exactly the word one would use to describe the sensation you experience while staying here.
Aside from being able to live in such a wonderful town, throughout this experience, I was fortunate enough to have made such great friends who truly enhanced the feeling of being home. Living and working in Peru alongside incredible individuals in such a beautiful country has been the experience of a lifetime, and one that I hope will take place again in the near future. (Stay tuned for more on that later).
In the meantime (of course, until tomorrow), I’ll end on this note. It can absolutely be nerve-racking and even terrifying to pick up and move to a different country to pursue a new adventure. We don’t all need to make such drastic changes, but at least being open to new possibilities and adventures is truly important. A challenge that we can all work towards overcoming is not allowing our fears to overpower our desires to pursue new experiences. We never know what awaits us on the other side if we don’t take a leap of faith once in a while and try something new and exciting.
“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.” -Dalai Lama
On Monday morning, I was picked up at 9:30am again for another tour with Viator. We started the morning visiting a local market in Villa El Salvador, a district of Lima that is considered to be one of the city’s shanty towns. The tour guide and I picked up some breakfast food, as we were invited by a local community leader to have breakfast at her home.
Once we purchased bread, meat, cheese, and palta (avocado), we made our way further into Villa El Salvador, specifically to Bello Horizonte. Our host had a warm, delicious quinoa drink prepared for us upon our arrival, and we spent the morning discussing local “scary” stories or childhood fables, as well as difficulties that this individual faces when advocating for members of her community and ways to improve her community as a whole.
Viator provides Villa El Salvador with funding that helps support community projects, in addition to completing community service within the town, as well as other towns without sufficient resources. We walked around the district and continued talking about some of the dire needs that the community faces. In some of the pictures below, you will notice yellow stairs that lead to most of the houses within the town. Years ago, locals had to walk up sharp rocks (that often ended up cutting through their shoes) in order to get to their houses, as their were no stairs or set paths.
Many women fell on their way up the rocks, and sadly enough, many of these women were pregnant and ended up losing their babies. When a local political candidate stopped by the town a few years ago, he asked what the locals needed most. They responded by saying a better way to get to their homes. Once elected, the official made sure that stairs (known as the famous “yellow stairs”) were provided throughout the town. While the situation has improved significantly from what it once was, there are still areas in the town without stairs, leaving many locals continuing to walk up dangerous, sharp rocks. The town continues to have needs that are not being met, especially ever since the devastating huayco ( mflood) hit Peru in March, which has left many other cities in need of government resources as well.
After the tour concluded, I stopped by Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, a beautiful park named in honor of President John F. Kennedy. From there, I walked over to El Mercado Indios, a local artisan market. Keeping in mind my flight tonight was scheduled to leave at midnight, I had plenty of time to make my way through the city. Following El Mercado Indios, I took a tour of Huaca Pucllana—impressive ancient ruins from the Wari culture, which was built around 500 A.D.
After the tour, I returned to Barrancos to take in the artistic sites, and then returned to my hotel, where I enjoyed dinner before finally making my way over to the airport for my (delayed) flight. Touring the different districts of Lima these past few days was truly enjoyable, especially since each district offers something unique and exciting. However, regardless of where you go, the locals continue to remain humble, kind, warm, and extremely welcoming, which is always incredible to experience.
As I get ready to make my way to the airport now (even though by the time I publish this, it will likely be a few days from now), my experience in Peru is one that I will definitely cherish for years to come. But over the next few days, I’ll be sure to write about my “closing remarks” and highlights of the trip. So for now, it’s not goodbye. It’s more of I need to make my flight, so I’ll pick back up with where I left off tomorrow.
On Sunday morning, I booked another tour through Viator, which focused on learning more about Peruvian cuisine. We stopped at a different local market, and learned more about the vibrant, delicious fruits and vegetables native to the different parts of Peru—la costa (the coast), la selva (the rainforest), y la sierra (the highlands). One specific fun fact (that I actually remember) is that Peru is known to have a wide variety of potatoes—more than 3,800 to be exact, and more than 55 types of corn. Incredible, right?
Once we learned a little more about foods native to Peru, a local chef met up with us in the market. We had the opportunity to choose a menu that we would be cooking for lunch, and decided on ceviche as our entrada and lomo saltado for our main meal. Ceviche is made of small size pieces of fish marinated raw in fresh aromatic lime juice, tender onions, and boiled sweet potatoes, mixed with or without Andean hot chilis. Lomo saltado on the other hand is beef tenderloin slices, sauteed with onions, tomatoes, aji (hot peppers), and more spices. It is served with French fries and rice. Once we had all of the ingredients chosen, we drove over to a local outdoor kitchen, where we began our cooking course.
We started with cutting up vegetables and preparing the fish for our ceviche. We took a quick break to enjoy chicha morada, a refreshing drink (made from purple corn), as well as cancha (toasted corn nuts) and chifles (fried platanos) with ají. We then sampled local fruits, native to Peru including lucuma, granadilla, tuna (two types—green and purple), aguaymanto, and pepino dulce.
Once we finished snacking, we got back to work and completed our ceviche. While it may take hours or an overnight process to cook fish in lemon or lime juice anywhere else, the lime juice in Peru is so strong and acidic that it only takes three minutes mixing the juice with the fish in order for the outside of the fish to cook. Since ceviche can often be spicy, sweet potatoes are usually added in order for there to be a sweet taste included in the dish as well.
Once we enjoyed our ceviche, we got back to work once again and completed our lomo saltado. Learning more about such reputable Peruvian cuisine was a great experience, and being able to taste the results was just as enjoyable.
This morning (Saturday), I booked a tour through Viator called Lima Colors and Flavors. The tour guide picked me up from my hotel at 9:30am, and once we picked up the other tourists, we drove to the district of Chorrillos, which is a local town that prides themselves on fishing. Here, the fishermen can be found fishing at 4:00am, 11:00am, and between 2:00-3:00pm. Their wives can often be found tending their stands in the fish market. Based on the times that the fishermen are out fishing, it is recommended to eat ceviche in the early afternoon and not for dinner, since the fish is freshest earlier on in the daytime.
Once we finished walking around the fish market and the port, we continued our tour in the Chorrillos neighborhood, and walked around the local markets. We sampled a wide variety of fruits native to Peru including lucuma, granadilla, tuna, aguaymanto, chirimoya, pepino dulce, pitahaya, tumbó, and platano de isla. The colors of the fruits were vibrant, and the fresh taste of each one was absolutely delicious.
Following our walk around the local markets, we stopped for lunch in a cevichería, where we ordered chicha morada to drink (made from purple corn, cinnamon, cloves, a little sugar, and pineapple), and triples which included arroz chaufa, chicharron de pescado, y ceviche. The food was great, and it was just what we needed to continue our walking tour.
After lunch, we drove to the district of Barranco, and saw the Bajada de los Baños (a pathway to the ocean), as well as the romantic Bridge of Sighs, which is known to be a romantic site. It is also said that if you walk across the bridge while holding your breath, you are entitled to a wish. As we walked around the district, we came across beautiful art painted by talented local painters. In 2015, Barranco organized a competition named “Las Paredes Hablan” (The Walls Speak). About one hundred people entered the competition, and the ten finalists were each given public wall space to paint their artwork. Some of the incredible art work can be seen pictured below.
As nighttime approached, I stopped by Larcomar, an impressive outdoor shopping center located by the ocean in The district of Miraflores. There is a free art museum that features paintings and photography from local Peruvian artists, so I made sure to check that out, before enjoying dinner (ají de gallina) and walking around the center.
On Friday morning, we hosted another workshop with a different group of Líderes Escolares. Similar to what I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s workshop focused on mental health, including psychoeducation regarding the difference between sadness and depression, the difference between stress and anxiety, how to spot signs of suicidality, and resources that the students can use in the case that a peer is experiencing any of the aforementioned topics.
The students who participated in today’s workshop were younger than most of the other students we worked with thus far, but their interest and participation in such serious topics was great to see. Following the workshop, one of the students stood up and thanked us for the work we have been doing in Peru, and for the information and support we have provided the Líderes Escolares with. You can never know if you are making a difference in the surrounding community, and even though we still don’t know whether or not we have been and are making a difference, it was truly rewarding to hear such young students thanking us for working with them. After working with such inspiring, young leaders, one can’t help but feel a great sense of hope for the future.
After our workshop, some of the social workers we have been working with took us out for a delicious lunch, consisting of ceviche mixto and chicharron de pescado. As soon as we finished lunch, I had to get back to Huanchaco for my last Spanish grammar class.
Once our class ended, another student and I ran over to facilitate our last group with adolescent males that I spoke about throughout the past few weeks. Today’s group focused on support systems and evaluating the different types of support we each have in our lives (including practical support, social support, emotional support, and advice-based support). This activity helps you realize the types of support you may or may not have, which is useful in thinking about who one’s main confidants may be. We then focused on TIPP, which I wrote about on Monday.
During times of crises, TIPP is a useful tool that one can utilize to take a step back from the crisis to de-escalate the situation. TIPP can be used when one is about to engage in dangerous behaviors during a crisis, when an individual needs to make an important decision, but is too overwhelmed to think/make a decision, the individual is not processing information effectively, the individual is emotionally overwhelmed, and/or the individual isn’t able to use his/her abilities. TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation—all of which are techniques one can utilize during a time of crisis. As we finished the session, we celebrated our time together and the group members’ participation throughout the past few weeks with a chocolate cake.
Following the group, we ran over to the beach to watch the sunset one last time, before having to leave Huanchaco later that evening. After enjoying the sunset, some of the other students and I went for dinner, and returned back to our house to pack, before leaving for the airport. Since I won’t be returning to the States until Tuesday, I took a cab to San Isidro (where I will be staying for the next few days) once I arrived in Lima at around midnight.
On Thursday afternoon, we had our second workshop with Líderes Escolares from three different schools. Today’s workshop focused on mental health, including psychoeducation regarding the difference between sadness and depression, the difference between stress and anxiety, how to spot signs of suicidality, and resources that the students can use in the case that a peer is experiencing any of the aforementioned topics. It was truly incredible to see so many adolescents participate in todays workshop, especially given the intensity of the topics we discussed.
Many of the adolescents mentioned knowing someone with a mental illness and/or knowing someone who has contemplated or attempted suicide. As I mentioned before, seeing so many young individuals take the initiative to learn about mental health in general and ways to help others as leaders in their schools has been, and continues to be refreshing and inspiring.
Following the workshop, we made sure to enjoy the sunset once again, before having a Cena Familiar at a local pizza restaurant with everyone from the program, seeing as it was my last night in the program, as well as the last night of a few other students as well. On our way back to the house, we stopped for picarones (the delicious fried dessert that one could only dream of.) After dinner, we played cards to officially end our last night in Huanchaco.
On Tuesday, our workshop with one of the groups of Líderes Escolares was cancelled, due to a huelga (strike) on behalf of teachers from various schools in Trujillo. Simply enough, the day was spent catching up on homework and preparing for two other workshops scheduled for later this week (which included procrastinating and going for a walk outside), followed by an adventurous dinner with some of the other students. And of course, since it’s my last week, I made sure to take in the sunset once again.
We began Wednesday morning with our Spanish for the Mental Health Setting class. After class, I had my final evaluations and supervision for the program, which consisted of an oral proficiency exam as well as reading a sample case study and deciding how I would work with the client and provide psychoeducation regarding TEPT (trastorno de estrés postraumático, or PTSD in English), as well as psychoeducation and techniques for relaxation. After the evaluation and supervision, we went out for a light dinner and spent the evening listening to music at a bar by the beach, and then sitting by the beach, as we took in the beautiful sights of the city.