PASEO Program Adventure: Final Thoughts

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. 

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PASEO Program Adventure: Overview

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. 

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 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 was 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.)

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 2: Leaving Lima for Huanchaco

Seeing as my flight from Fort Lauderdale was delayed (I feel like you can no longer have expectations when using any type of transportation these days), I arrived in Lima, Peru shortly after midnight. By the way, if anyone is actually out there reading this, this post is a day behind- so as to live in the moment. (I figured writing that would be a good, understandable excuse. And if not, stop by tomorrow to see what I’m doing today.)

I was able to spend the morning with family friends from the city, as we shared breakfast together in Moraflores, overlooking a beautiful city and ocean view (top left photo). Since it is wintertime in Peru, the sun doesn’t shine as often in Lima, which explains the cold, overcast weather. 

My flight to Trujillo was scheduled for the early afternoon, so shortly after breakfast, I had to head over to the airport to make it to my final destination. The owner of the house we are staying in picked me and the other students up from the airport, and drove us to Huanchaco, which was a 15 minute drive, at most. 

We took a quick tour of the city, which is known to be a fisherman city with great seafood. (I’ll keep you posted about that). While the size of the city is small, it is seemingly filled with life, as you can hear Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, and many other classics playing from inside the restaurants by the water. At a time like this, I’d say it’s fitting to hear the words, “La vida es un carnaval.”

The other students (from across the country) and I had dinner at a restaurant called “My Friend,” which offers a variety of Peruvian dishes, as well as hamburgers and pizza for visiting Gringos. I ordered pollo a la plancha con arroz y papas (grilled chicken with rice and French fries) for only 16 soles (around five dollars). The cost for food in the area is pretty inexpensive, so here’s hoping I eat well before any Amazon/Whole Food buyouts and mergers make their way over here. 

Tomorrow starts our first class with a local psychologist in Trujillo- Psicología en Peru. Until then, hasta pronto!

Running For A Cause: Part 1

This upcoming Sunday, January 24th, I’ll be running in the Miami Half Marathon to raise money and awareness for Misioneros Del Camino—a home for orphaned, abandoned, and malnourished children in Guatemala. Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be writing about Misioneros Del Camino and sharing the incredible background story of one brave woman’s calling from above to make a difference, as well as various success stories of some of the many children who grew up at MDC.

Born and raised in Cuba, Leonor Portela moved to Miami where her husband served as an American Air Force pilot. At the age of twenty-six, Leonor’s husband was called for duty to during the Bay of Pigs, but unfortunately, his plane was shot down and crashed in the ocean. Years later, after hearing about the devastating 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, Leonor was moved to action and decided to assist in volunteer efforts abroad. She traveled to Guatemala to offer her assistance, and was shocked at the country’s destruction and the conditions that the children were living in. After returning to America, it took a few years before Leonor was able to find the financial help and support needed to return to Guatemala and follow through with a calling from above.

In 1986, Leonor sold her home and moved to Guatemala with $2,700 raised by her prayer group—where she opened a Home for children—currently known as Misioneros Del Camino. Leonor, also known as Mami Leo, started the Home with three children, and worked tirelessly to collect donations to bring in more children. One of the first children was a two-year year old girl with tuberculosis who weighed only 12 pounds. Doctors swore that she would have no more than two weeks to live, but she is currently living in the United States with a masters in social work. Another child taken in by Mami Leo had been dipped in scalding water by his parents, and had undergone other atrocious treatments by them as well. Mami Leo carried him in her arms for days, and during that time, he did not move or utter a sound. As she put him to bed on the fourth night of continuously caring for him and holding him, he broke his silence and asked, “Por que me quieres?” which translates to “Why do you love me?” He is currently attending law school and returns to the Home to help out whenever he can.

There are so many children living on the streets in Guatemala—many of whom are suffering from malnutrition and hunger. Mami Leo once exclaimed, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” Throughout the years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided educational, nutritional, and medical support for thousands of children.

In honor of the work Mami Leo has done, in continuing her legacy, and to help provide a bright future to the current generation of children at Misioneros Del Camino, I am running in this week’s Miami Marathon. If you would like to help contribute to this incredible cause so that we can help fulfill Mami Leo’s mission, please feel free to click on the below link. And if you would like to learn more about Misioneros Del Camino, please feel free to clink on the bottom link.

https://www.gofundme.com/5y82yn78
www.misionerosdelcamino.org 

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