PASEO Program Adventure- Day 10: El Porvenir y Trujillo, Peru

If I could fast forward one day (in real time)… My phone fell out of my pocket today in a shared taxi cab, which explains why this post is picture-free. I’ll explain what happened in tomorrow’s post (which is today in real time). I just figured I’d let you know you’ll have to use your imagination for the next few days with regards to what I’m talking about. And for those of you who just look at the pictures and don’t read the post (which I imagine is most everyone), well, it doesn’t really matter since you wouldn’t have made it this far in the post anyways.

Today, we traveled to El Porvenir, where we met with a group of local women and family members. We will undoubtedly learn a great deal from those in the group, but the goal is to help teach these individuals relaxation techniques for them to utilize at any given moment. More importantly, these individuals will be able to teach these learned skills to others in the town, so that the cycle of knowledge can continue to be passed along.

Our evening was spent learning about Psychology in Peru, which focused on healthcare throughout the country. We watched various videos that showed the lack of resources and services that public hospitals are able to provide. People wait days in public hospitals before being able to be seen by the general doctors on site. Specialists are rare to come by, so you have to wait to see one of the few general doctors. When it comes to important procedures of surgeries, you may have to wait days before being seen, but being seen just means that you’re given an appointment to return months later. You’re also given a list of supplies that need to be purchased for your procedure or surgery—all of which you must pay for and supply yourself.

Hospitals receive government funding, but tend to find themselves on the side of corruption, as they have deals with local clinics. If someone needs an appointment, the hospital will likely send them to a private clinic. Regardless of whether or not it is an emergency, the individual will have to pay for his or her own transportation from the hospital to the clinic. Now add on the cost of whatever the private clinic will charge as well.

If you want to see someone for a mental health concern in the hospital, you’ll likely see a nurse because mental health professionals are just as scarce as good public healthcare. Imagine having a serious medical condition, all while having to wait days in a hospital (no exaggeration)—in a wheelchair (if you are lucky), on a chair (if you can find an available one), on the floor (if there is room), or outside on the street. Now imagine having said serious medical condition, alongside a mental illness. With or without a mental illness, you will likely come out of the hospital worse than when you went in.

While medical care is short-staffed and completely behind, you can only imagine what mental healthcare is like. For this reason, oftentimes the solution for those with mental illnesses is to go to the church, talk to a friend (if you’re fortunate enough to do so), turn to alcohol and/or drugs, or commit suicide.

It’s difficult and frustrating to discuss the corruption, mismanagement, and maltreatment that takes place for those without financial resources, which ultimately affects the lives of so many. How do you make a change from the bottom upwards, when real change needs to start from the top and work its way downwards? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer just yet, but we have to start somewhere. And seeing local individuals gather together to try and help those in their community is definitely a start in the right direction.

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 8: Trujillo, Peru

Seeing as we have the weekends free, some of the other students and I traveled to the Plaza de Armas of Trujillo in the afternoon. The main city square is home to a cathedral built in 1647. However, the cathedral was destroyed in 1759, and rebuilt shortly afterward. 

We made it just in time as the sun was beginning to set, which brought a special glow to the plaza. We concluded the afternoon by seeing Mujer Maravilla (Wonderwoman) completely in Spanish. It was definitely a unique experience, as evidenced by children running around the movie theatre, people answering phone calls, and a lady next to us helping her child with her homework (all throughout the movie). And after all this time, here I was thinking that my mom’s continuous questioning of “what just happened” during movies was irritating. I guess we have to face it that things can always be worse. But if these are the things we complain about in life, then we’re clearly not doing all that bad. 

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 7: Huanchaco, Trujillo, y El Porvenir, Peru

Today consisted of another set of observations in a different school located in El Porvenir. While speaking with the principal, she informed me that out of 936 students (just in the secondary school alone), there is only one psychology intern for them to confide in, should they need to speak with someone. The resources are limited, and no matter how hard the teachers try to build their students up, so many of their families continuously tear them down.

The principal mentioned that just last week, two students got into an argument, which led to one student punching the other in the face. When the school called the student’s parent, the parent came to the school and almost immediately hit her child in the face upon hearing what happened. Fortunately, school administrators were able to intervene, but only for the time being. Unfortunately, what happens when the student returns home is considered a different story. 

With regards to continued education, many times, parents will tell their students that after secondary school, they can no longer continue their education because they need to start working and bringing in an income for the family. In other cases, the children aren’t even given that option, and will drop out of school so that they can work instead. 

While the principal explained that the school does have successful alumni who they are very proud of, there aren’t many. The mentality is typically to continue working where the parents work upon graduating (if the students complete secondary school), and in this particular city, this usually involves selling goods in the local market or making shoes. 

Just a few months ago, Peru experienced a devastating flood, which destroyed many houses and local buildings. One of the teachers spoke to me about a student of hers who was knocked down during the flood and nearly drowned. He hasn’t been able to focus on his school work ever since, and understandably so. Many of the students’ houses were destroyed in the flood as well, which led to them having to stay at the school in the days following the flood. As of this moment, most, if not all of them still do not have a home. 

The resources are scarce and lots of the familial situations aren’t conducive to fostering a child’s development in a safe and loving environment. But the students continue to smile, laugh, and find a way to continue to persevere. For many of these students, school is the only place where they are given the opportunity to do so. 

After a long day of observations and class (which I’ll discuss in a later post), I went to a local restaurant for dinner with a few of the students on my trip. Papa a la Huancaína (boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce.) and tallarín saltado con pollo was the perfect way to end the night.

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 6: Huanchaco y El Porvenir, Peru

This morning began with a class on Motivational Interviewing in Spanish. Motivational Interviewing is a style of counseling that focuses on trying to motivate clients to achieve change on their own terms. It makes sense when you think about it. If someone tells or forces you to change an existing habit, odds are, you likely won’t change. But if can attain some sort of intrinsic motivation to make a change, the outcome will be much more significant. (Keep that in mind the next time you tell a loved one they need to change an existing behavior.) 

The afternoon was spent in El Porvenir at a different school doing more observations. Many of the kids come from families whose parents are in gangs and/or commit serious crimes. Other kids come from families who have neglected them, which often times affects their behaviors in the classroom. Some of the teachers believe that this is the biggest barrier in the classroom setting, which is difficult, to say the least, because how do you make such a large systemic change in such a short amount of time? Then again, I’m sure plenty of people across the globe are asking the same question.  

One positive note is that any time a student wants to speak in front of the class, he or she has to stand up, which helps foster public speaking skills and a greater level of confidence (as uncomfortable as it is). And anytime an adult walks into the classroom, all of the students stand up to show their respect. Students are also expected to participate in school events such as plays and historical reinactments throughout the school year, which helps them learn to work alongside one another. Something that was also nice to see was a small garden, created and cared for by some of the students. Anytime you plant a seed of any kind, it’s only a matter of time before it blossoms into something worthwhile. 

While there is definitely work to be done, it’s refreshing to see small acts of kindness at a young age that will hopefully add up to help these children find a different path in life than the path that many of their family members have taken. 

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 5: Huanchaco, Peru

Today happened to be one of the calmer days in my schedule, so I’ll keep today’s post short, so as not to bore any reader more than usual. Today’s class focused on Spanish grammar, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, so I’ll save that for another day. 

Upon waking up in the morning, I went to the local gym and purchased a month-long membership. I don’t know if there’s something in the food that’s promoting fitness, or the hard toilet paper that causes this motivation to be more active, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this train of thought. Self-care is an important facet of life that so many of us tend to overlook during our day-to-day hectic, jam-packed, stressful lives. (The list of adjectives could go on, but seeing as this is life and nearly everyone can relate, I think you get the point.)

If we don’t look out and care for ourselves, how can we expect to do so for others? If we are continuously running on empty each and every day, how can we realistically expect to give the most of ourselves to those around us? Think about it this way. If your child, parent, grandparent, significant other, or close friend spoke about feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, what would likely be your initial response? Probably something along the lines of, “You need to take some time for yourself to relax and do the things that you enjoy.” Tell me this. Why is this any different for us?

Why is it that more often than not, we are able to be a helping hand to those around us who are experiencing difficulties, yet we can’t find the means to give ourselves the same level of care and support? Granted, just about everything in life is easier said than done, but it’s truly interesting if we really take the time to think about it. If we can give such great advice to those around us, why can’t we do the same for ourselves? 

You’ll have to excuse the fact that this post is seemingly all over the place, but after testing out this new gym (which includes a personal trainer everyday), I feel sore in places I didn’t even know exist. Maybe that will explain the lack of organization and cohesiveness in today’s post, but there is a message (or at least I think there is). 

Think about advice you would give to a loved one. We each deserve that same level of care, support, and love in our lives as well. And somewhere along the way, it has to start with self-care and treating ourselves as well as we would tell loved ones to treat themselves. We need to make time for ourselves so that we don’t run on empty. Because as harsh as it may seem, no matter how hard we may try, we can’t be of any help to anyone else if we don’t help ourselves first. And with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of a dog sunbathing by the beach because even he knows the importance of self-care. 

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 4: Huanchaco, Trujillo, y El Porvenir

This morning started with another run, which is still strange to write (and actually do). Every time I write the word run on my phone, autocorrect pops up to suggest “run to the bathroom.” I guess both my phone and I are learning new ways and locations to run. (Give me a break, it’s still early.) I’ve found that I have a love/hate relationship with running, yet I’ve continued to run each morning thus far. (Yes, I’m well aware that I’ve only been here for two mornings.) 

There’s something liberating about being able to run towards something, whether you take that literally or figuratively. Just like trying to attain any goal, making it to the end point tends to be exciting, rewarding, and even motivating. 

However, in our fast paced lives, we don’t usually take the time to enjoy the journey itself. We tend to focus on reaching one goal and moving directly towards the next one. Our achieve all you can/goal-oriented society is one to take pride in, but when will the journey itself start to count? 

Lucky for me, my panting and possibly even wailing during and after the run helped me try to soak in the view and take some time to appreciate my surroundings. Aside from believing I would collapse at any moment, the journey was an exciting one (but of course not as exciting as finishing the run). But I hope that this experience abroad will help me learn to appreciate life’s journey instead of solely focusing on end-goals and accomplishments rather than the process itself. I think this is something so many of us can benefit from, but for whatever reason, we find ourselves doing otherwise. But what do I know? I’m still just trying to catch my breath. 

This morning, we had our second class- Español para salud mental, a course focusing specifically on Spanish for the mental health setting. Roughly sixty percent of Hispanics who go in for an initial counseling session will not return to continue services. As with many other cultures, so many Latin American countries have known roles for men and women, and unfortunately, no where does it say that one of those roles can be to focus on or believe in one’s mental health. 

Many people have their own thoughts and perceptions about counseling, and when you add a language barrier on top of it, why would someone seek out supportive help? Creating rapport with an individual and being able to describe what counseling entails- all in that person’s primary language is truly essential for retention of services, and for that individual to receive the help, support, and services that he or she deserves.  

One of, if not the most important rule in counseling is to meet the client where he or she is at. If we can’t do that, especially in an individual’s primary and native language that he or she feels most comfortable speaking in, what good will we do for that individual?

This afternoon, I started my first day of work at La Fiscalía, located in Trujillo, Peru. I had to take a bus in order to get there, but if the bus doesn’t arrive in time, you can take what is called a “combi,” or a mini bus. This sedan-like vehicle maneuvers all across the road as fast as possible, while making sure that it fits as many people as possible. Today, we were able to fit 20 people at once. I’m sure that’s no world record, but mini clown cars definitely have some competition. 

Upon arriving to La Fiscalía, my supervisor, another student, and I met with the director of the site and discussed what we would be doing in the upcoming weeks. La Fiscalía offers many services pertaining to juvenile rehabilitation through the court, as well as crime prevention in schools. In the upcoming weeks, another student and I will be working with 12 schools in various neighborhoods and neighboring cities, where we will be observing classroom behaviors, reactions/responses from professors, and ways in which positive and negative reinforcement as well as rewards and punishments are utilized. In three weeks, my supervisor, the other student, and I will host two workshops for professors from each school with our findings, recommendations, and opportunities to practice these skills throughout the workshop. The ultimate goal is to help the professors learn ways to reinforce appropriate behaviors (starting in the classroom), all while empowering and motivating their students. 

I completed my first evaluation today in the city of El Porvenir, and while I won’t get into specifics, I will say this: I was truly impressed to find that the professor whose classroom I observed has students clap for one another whenever someone volunteers and answers a question correctly in front of other classmates. And whenever a student responds with an incorrect response, the professor replies with, “Los errores se aprenden,” which is essentially the same as saying you learn from your mistakes. While this may seem minute in the scheme of things, slowly but surely, this is how you help build a child’s sense of self worth. 

When we focus on the end result, we miss out on the journey. And when we miss out on the journey- whether it be filled with mistakes or minor successes, we miss the opportunity to learn, grow, and enjoy the process.

PASEO Program Adventure: Day 3 in Huanchaco y Trujillo

Today was officially the start of my new adventure. Upon waking up in the morning, it took me a few seconds to remember where I was. But after the initial shock of forgetting I just traveled abroad settled down, I quickly realized that I was in Huanchaco, Peru- a place I will eventually come to call my home. 

In my short time here, I’ve come to appreciate one of life’s treasures that I believe so many of us take advantage of back in the States. Yes, I’m talking about Charmin Ultra Soft. I’ll just leave it at that and let that resonate for some time. I’ve also come to find out that maybe more people are actually reading this than just my mother and possibly my grandmother too. That adds a whole new level of pressure, seeing as I’ll have to write more than just what I’m eating and how I’m keeping safe every second of every day.

To really push myself into this new adventure ordeal, I went for a run this morning alongside the beach. (I know- I’m just as surprised writing that as you probably are reading this). Not only is Huanchaco known as a fisherman city and for its seafood, but it is also known as a surfing town as well, since the waves appear to always be in full flight. In fact, we can even hear the sound of the waves crashing down from the house we’re staying in. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in life, and I guess sacrificing Charmin for an oceanside view will have to do. 

This afternoon, I had a pre-evaluation to assess my current knowledge of the Spanish language. I read aloud a case study and asked to answer questions solely in Spanish regarding how I could help normalize a teenage pregnancy, how to explain depression to a teenager, and an example of a technique I would use to help a teenager calm down from nerves at any given moment during a session. My responses were recorded and will be heard by four of our professors as well as the owner of our house who is not in the counseling field and who does not speak English. The purpose is to assess each student’s needs and to see if a local would understand our explanations and techniques. This will set the foundation of our learning goals throughout the upcoming weeks. 

I had lunch at a local restaurant, where I paid 10 soles (less than four dollars) for a tamale, pollo saltado con arroz y papas, and a sweet drink made from a local fruit. I wanted to take pictures, but my hunger got the best of me. 

Our evening was spent in Trujillo (what you are looking at in the pictures), where we had our first class- Psicología en Perú with a local psychologist. I’ll have to provide more concrete details once the PowerPoints are shared with us, but we learned about mental health care in Peru, and how while even though there are laws that entail for mental health care to be accessible for all, this most certainly is not the case. For someone seeking mental health care in a hospital setting, the psychologist only has 10-20 minutes with that individual to provide an initial intake. 

The initial intake covers basic information about the person, as well as a brief assessment, in which only one question really matters. Have you thought about or attempted suicide within the last three months? If the individual answers yes to that, and apparently only that, only then will he or she return for services. However, services entail follow-ups consisting of taking other assessments each session. And you only have 10-20 minutes total for your session, if even that. Imagine any time you describe a difficult day you had at work to a loved one, or the last time you complained about a coworker or someone who cut you off on your way home. Now imagine trying to get all of that out in 20 minutes at most. And now imagine trying to discuss symptoms and issues you are experiencing pertaining to your mental health in about 10 minutes.

There are 20 inpatient agencies and 21 community agencies (focusing on medical and mental health together) throughout the country that are meant to serve the millions of individuals living here. One newspaper article showed a lady who attempted suicide three different times, but was unable to be hospitalized due to a lack of beds in the agencies. Imagine that for just a moment. 

With regards to substance abuse, the main modality of treatment here appears to be through the church. If you can put your faith into a higher power, and a higher power alone, your addiction will be “fixed.” Social workers can be found giving brief prevention-based education in the schools to that it can be said that the material has been “covered.” And if you want to talk about an individual with a severe and persistent mental illness, let’s say schizophrenia, for example, such an individual would be asked to go in for medication once a week. He or she would then be expected to continue to go in for more medication on a weekly basis. And that is your mental health care, in a condensed version. As a side note, there are great providers trying to make a difference here, just like in other countries as well. But this is the general sense of how mental health functions throughout the country.  

If I’m not mistaken, the amount of money that would be required to get Peru to where it should be with regards to mental health care is 800 million soles (less than 245 million dollars). The actual amount being spent on mental health care by the government is roughly 69 million soles (a little over 2 million dollars). The wealthy people in Peru live (viven), while those without money survive (sobreviven). Having started this post talking about a quality of toilet paper, I can’t help but think how fascinating it is what so many of us take for granted.

(P.S.- if any of the information I wrote is incorrect, I will be sure to update it and blame it on jet lag.)