PASEO Program Adventure—Day 31: Huanchaco y El Porvenir, Peru

This morning (last Monday), we started the second half of our program with a class on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT, or Terapia Contactual Dialéctica in Spanish). DBT believes that people are doing the best they can, but that we can always do better. And if you really think about it, we can do better in any given aspect of our lives- especially in areas we are trying to work on. Trough acceptance, mindfulness, and distress tolerance, the aim is to attain emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.

A big tenant of DBT is Mindfulness, which centers on paying attention in the present moment without any judgments. While at first glance, we may think this is a simple concept, imagine how quick we are to judge different situations we face on a daily basis. The trick here is to put these judgments aside and observe the present moment we are living in and experiencing, both willingly and willfully.

We learned about three different types of minds, so to speak that are important to understand- really in any area of life if you find yourself communicating with others. Some people think with a rational mind (often times parents), others think with an emotional mind (often times adolescents), and others think with a wise mind. None of these are bad or worse than any other, but it’s important to understand that we each make decisions differently. Not everybody thinks alike, and in general, if we can try to understand this concept, we may find that we can work together more easily to come to agreements and find solutions.

After class, we had our weekly meeting with a group of local women and family members in El Porvenir that I spoke about in prior posts. Each week, two students from the program are responsible for teaching the group members relaxation and emotional regulation techniques for them to utilize at any given moment and teach others in their community. This week’s topic focused on effective communication, because often times, this is a skill that each of us can improve upon.

Think about it. How many times do you get home and have your parent/child/significant other “nag” you about something you did or didn’t do? And how many times do we do the same to those around us? While we may like to think that accusations, assumptions, and commands are part of effective communication, unfortunately they aren’t.

In the group, we discussed ways to empower the participants to express themselves more openly, because often times they may not have the opportunity to do so.

Effective communication is as simple as: 1. Describe the situation, 2. Express how the situation makes you feel, 3. Recognize the good intentions or feelings of the other person, 4. Ask/Make the request of what you would like the other person to do.

If we can feel validated for our effort or intentions as opposed to feeling guilty for possibly making a mistake or forgetting something, we’ll likely try that much harder and work with the other person to get the job done as opposed to arguing back and shutting down.

Even though these steps sound beyond simple, it takes practice to build effective communication, but it’s a worthwhile skill that can take us very far in any kind of relationship.

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 29 and 30: Lima y Huanchaco, Peru

On Saturday morning, I flew to Lima for the day to see my dad who came to visit. I landed at 9:30 in the morning, and we left on a city bus tour an hour later. Our first stop on the bus tour was the Museo Oro,  del Perú y Armas Del Mundo. 

In 1960’s, Miguel Mujica Gallo took his private collection of historic artifacts and created a foundation that manages the Museo Oro, del Perú y Armas Del Mundo. The artifacts on display were truly incredible, and it’s definitely a site worth visiting. The rest of the bus tour was spent driving by different historic landmarks and important buildings throughout the city. After a hard day’s work of sightseeing, it was only appropriate to treat ourselves to some ceviche for lunch. 

I returned to Huanchaco on Sunday morning and spent the day walking around the city by the beach with some of the other students on the trip, before officially starting the second half of our program. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 28: El Porvenir, Peru

Seeing as this (past) weekend marks the end of the first half of our trip, last night, we hosted a potluck for all of the students and professors from the program. After the potluck, we all went out to the local salsa club (which keep in mind, doesn’t open until midnight). We stayed out until 3:00am, and were somehow able to make it to another workshop at 8:00am in El Porvenir. 

As we walked into the room where the workshop was going to take place, we were surprised to see more than 40 attendees eagerly awaiting our arrival. Teachers from local public schools, members of La Fiscalía, and professors and administrators from Universidad Nacional de Trujillo were all in attendance. Prior workshops had 11 attendees at most, so this was truly a surprise, and it was motivating to see so many individuals participate and take an interest in improving the overall wellbeing of their students. 

We discussed some of the many barriers that the educators face, as well as risk factors that so many students face, which can often hinder their completion of attaining an education. However, we discussed protective factors to be mindful of, and ways to foster a greater level of support between the students and teachers. Before concluding, we discussed ways to engage in self-care, and worked with the teachers to create a plan moving forward so they can begin to implement changes they would like to make in the classroom. 

Each of the public schools have a program called Líderes Escolares, where students with leadership qualities are named School Leaders. These leaders get together every  week or two and work alongside one another to help improve their school communities. After the workshop, we were fortunate enough to see a show hosted by the Líderes Escolares, in which students from each school performed a song or dance. 

Throughout the first half of the program, we worked alongside teachers and faculty members to see how we can improve classroom behaviors as well as teacher relationships with students (with the goal of helping students feel more support so that they can achieve their educational goals). This was the perfect transition to end the first half of the program, because starting next week, we will be working more closely with the student leaders, with the goal of empowering them to help their peers stay in school, avoid drug usage and gang affiliation, and help them make an even greater difference in their schools. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 26 and 27: Huanchaco, Peru

I decided to combine Wednesday and Thursday’s posts together since both days were mainly spent focusing on classes- Spanish Grammar and Motivational Interviewing in Spanish. 

Seeing as the first half of the trip ends this upcoming weekend (last weekend), I figured now would be a good time to mention that while I was supposed to originally leave after four weeks (this past Saturday), I decided to stay an extra month to complete the second half of the program. There’s still a lot of work to be done here (both personally and physically). Our site responsibilities will be changing next week (which I’ll discuss in upcoming posts), and we’ll be taking new classes, still with the same focus of learning Spanish for the mental health setting. 

Besides, when the food here is as good as it is with meals costing less than 5 dollars, laundry (washing, drying, and folding) costing less than 7 dollars, a monthly gym membership with a personal trainer costing less than 30 dollars, great friends (which is priceless, and surprisingly free), and both the beach and an incredible bakery less than a block away from where I’m living, I’d say life is pretty good. So here’s to another month of exciting adventures, new experiences, and more reading material for you to enjoy the next time you go to the bathroom. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 25: El Porvenir, Peru

This morning (Tuesday), we began the day with our Spanish for Mental Health class. Shortly after class, we traveled to El Porvenir to host another workshop for teachers and school administrators at one of the city’s local public schools. 

We start each workshop with the same question: What made you decide to become a teacher? Often times, (if you haven’t already realized) when you work in a field with little recognition when so many societal barriers are stacked against you, it’s easy to forget what motivated you to get into that particular field. It’s interesting to hear how each individual found their way to become a teacher- whether it was by choice or because everyone in their family before them was a teacher too. Regardless of how they ended up in this profession, each individual described the same goal, and that is wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students. 

The teachers discussed the hardships of maintaining their students’ attention in the classroom, mainly due to the fact that so many of them have to work night shifts in order to help bring in some extra money for their families. It’s difficult to know that majority of these students face a variety of obstacles outside of the classroom- most of which are outside of our control. However, what helps offer the slightest sliver of peace is the fact that there are so many selfless teachers willing and able to support these children in any way possible. It is our hope that these workshops will help those in the educational field better understand some of the difficulties that their students are facing so that an even greater amount of support can be fostered between the students and teachers. 

 

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 22 and 23: Cajamarca Peru

This past weekend, we traveled to Cajamarca, located in the northern part of Peru. We left by bus at 10:30pm Friday night and arrived at around 4:30am Saturday morning. Cajamarca is nearly 9,000 feet above sea level, so it was nice to actually have an excuse to be out of breath for once.

Upon arriving to Cajamarca, we drove directly to the Plaza de Armas—the city center, and arranged for an organized tour later on in the day. As we walked around, we were able to watch the sunrise, and grab a quick breakfast in the local market.

Our first stop on the tour was Cumbemayo, which translates to “thin river.” Cumbemayo, “built by an advanced pre-Inca society around 1500 B.C.E, is thought to be one of the oldest man-made structures in South America. It lies in the Archaeological Complex of Cumbemayo, a place where the highest hydraulic technology of ancient Peruvian communities and the impact of time upon nature are wonderfully combined.”

After stopping at Cumbemayo, we had some time off for lunch before resuming our tour at Ventanillas de Otuzco. This burial site is home to remains of more than one thousand years—all in the shape of windows, or ventanillas.

On Sunday, we stopped at the “Baños del Inca,” where it is said that Atahualpa (the King of Cuzco who also conquered the Inca empire) enjoyed his baths. Baños del Inca is said to receive nearly 4,000 visitors each day, and if you want a personal bath, it costs the equivalent of only $2. These natural hot mineral springs reach around around 70ºC (158ºF), and supposedly contain minerals including sodium, potassium, lithium, strontium, calcium, iron, magnesium and silica. According to many, “the thermal waters possess therapeutic properties for treatment of bone and nervous system disorders; as well as bronchial and rheumatic sufferings.” While I’ll be the first to admit that showering can often be a chore, for the right price and with the right minerals, it’s definitely an experience worth trying. (The Baths, not just showering in general. That’s still a chore.)

We left Cajamarca Sunday night at 10:30pm, and arrived back in Trujillo on Monday morning at 4:30am. While we didn’t get to spend much time in Cajamarca, it’s truly a beautiful city with an incredibly vast history.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 21: El Porvenir, Huanchaco, y Cajamarca Peru

This morning (Friday—yes, we’re still playing catch-up), we traveled to El Porvenir to present our first workshop to teachers in one of the local national (public) schools. For the past two-and-a-half weeks, another student and I have been conducting observations in 12 national schools throughout El Porvenir and Trujillo Alto. The purpose of these observations was to note how students behave in the classroom setting, how teachers respond to student behaviors, and overall student/student and student/teacher interactions. Seeing as the specific program the other student and I are working with is geared towards preventing students from getting involved in the legal system, the overall goal is to help the teachers develop and foster a more supportive learning environment for these students.

Keeping in mind that many of these students do not have strong familial support, have limited resources at home, have parents who have to work around the clock to provide for the family (and are therefore left with limited parental supervision), have parents who want them to start working after primary school because an immediate income is more important than continued education, have parents who are involved in gangs/in jail, and/or are involved in gangs themselves, there are many outside factors that come into play that prove difficult for teachers to make an overall difference in the lives of these students.

As we interacted with the teachers throughout the workshop, we discussed various individual, social, familial, school-wide, and communal risk factors that many of these students face including teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, joining gangs, and dropping out of school. Seeing as these were primary concerns addressed during the observations we conducted, we were then able to hear about the experiences these teachers have had with their students in each of the aforementioned categories. We discussed supportive factors too though, because as difficult as it may be to navigate around so many risk factors, there are always supportive factors that can counteract any and all risk factors. For many of these students, these teachers are exactly that.

When you spend years working in a profession where more often than not you feel exhausted, pushed to the limit, under-appreciated, and feel like the odds of success for your students are stacked against them due to so many outside influences, it gets difficult (to say the least) to persevere and keep trying to impact the lives of our future generation. The teachers we met with continue to do this, and as they described their motivation to join the field of education and their desire to continue working in this field, it truly sparked a beacon of light and hope in what has seemingly felt like a dark tunnel—especially when looking at the overall resources provided to these schools for educational purposes and the countless barriers that so many of these children continuously face on a daily basis.

After the workshop, we returned back to Huanchaco for our Global Mental Health class, which I’ll discuss in a later post. The rest of the day was spent getting a head-start on homework, and of course eating pollo saltado before traveling to Cajamarca, Peru for the weekend.

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