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. 

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 38: Huanchaco, Peru

This morning (Monday), we had our class on DBT (Terapia Conductual Dialéctica), which focused on chain analysis—an integral part of this type of therapy. Chain analysis looks at the ineffective behavior an individual has conducted, in addition to the precipitating event that led to the behavior. From there, vulnerabilities surrounding the behavior and event are explored, as well as consequences stemming from the behavior, and links in between (such as actions, bodily sensations, cognitions, events, and feelings). While it’s definitely not easy being cognizant of each link when analyzing a behavior or triggering event, practicing this type of thinking and analysis regarding our actions truly helps us be more mindful of our behaviors and ways in which we can improve and react to situations differently in the future.

We also learned about validation, and the importance behind this seemingly simply concept. More often than not, we tend to respond to dilemas that others are facing by trying to fix their problems or simplify the situation. Has anyone ever told you that what you’re experiencing isn’t really all that difficult, or that you’ve overcome similar (or harder) situations before, so you’ll figure out a way to do the same once again? While the latter statement may in fact be true, it’s not exactly the response we’re always looking for. In fact, for some, this type of “validation” may lead to experiencing self-doubt in how the individual reacts to and handles trying situations.

So how do we validate what an individual is going through? Instead of trying to solve or minimize their problem, we just need to be attentive and truly listen to what they are saying. While it’s much easier to jump in and interrupt with our perceived “wisdom,” active listening will go even further and make an even greater impact. 

We were left with a quote in our class that truly resonated. It translates to something along the lines of: “Sometimes we simply need someone to be with us, not to solve our problems or anything in particular—just to make us feel that we have their support and that we are important to them.” That right there is the simplest form of validation. More often than not, all we really need is somebody to listen to us. And in that moment alone, when we have that person’s undivided attention and support, we can feel validated and supported in whatever it is that we may be experiencing.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 36: El Porvenir, Peru

Today (last Saturday), we hosted our first workshop with three groups of Líderes Escolares from three different schools in El Porvenir. As previously mentioned, los Líderes Escolares are a group of student leaders in each grade (chosen by various teachers and faculty members) from each school that receive workshops and leadership training events, with the goal of motivating and inspiring their peers—all while gaining the knowledge and support to make a difference in their schools and community.

We will be hosting two workshops with each group (with student leaders from three schools in each group), with the focus of changes in adolescence and psychoeducation regarding anger, aggression, sadness, and depression. Following the first workshop, we’ll host a final workshop with each group with the focus of empowering the student leaders to share everything they learned with their peers, and also how to spot signs of anger, sadness, depression, and suicide, in addition to how they can refer students to necessary resources, should someone be in need of help. It was a blast being able to work alongside the Líderes Escolares this morning, especially because when you see such a drive amongst young individuals, it brings about a refreshing sense of hope and change for the future.

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 32 and 33: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

Today (last Tuesday), was the first day of returning to some of the schools we observed and hosted workshops at to see how the teachers have been implementing what they learned in the workshops. I was (honestly) surprised to see a drastic change in teaching methods utilized by some of the teachers, and the involvement on behalf of the students was pretty incredible too. It just goes to show that change can be made at any level as long as the motivation to accept and implement change is there.

On Wednesday, we had our Spanish for the Mental Health course, followed by supervision for our field experience. I’ll leave this post short and sweet, so as to not bore you, and more so because I honestly can’t remember what else I did during these days. So with that, enjoy your evening, as I try remembering what else I did and continue catching up on the remainder of last week. 

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—Day 16: Huanchaco, Peru

Today (Sunday—yes, I know I’m behind) was a day designated to catching up on homework. This week, we’ll begin our presentations for teachers in the public school system in El Porvenir, Trujillo, and Trujillo Alto (which I’ll discuss later this week), but there’s a lot of preparations to be done. For today’s post however, I wanted to backtrack to something I wrote about in my prior post. I mentioned a song from Thalía titled, “A quien le importa,” or something along the lines of “To whom is it important to?”

For whatever reason, so many of us find importance in what others think or say about us as we grow up. We find that our sense of confidence, or lack thereof is developed and fostered based on the opinions and beliefs of those around us. When you speak with elder adults in the later stages, many of them will likely tell you the opposite, and explain that they could care less what others think of them because at this stage in life, they should be free to express themselves however they please.

Why is it that we have to wait until we reach an older age to finally learn to live for ourselves and not based on what others think of us? What is stopping us from doing so earlier so that we can truly get the most out of what we want from life? How would our lives differ if we went back in time and only focused on our opinions, as opposed to those of others?

Could you imagine how awful it would be if we could ignore everybody else for just a moment and truly enjoy every aspect of ourselves? What a concept it would be if we could care less what others think and treat ourselves as kindly as we treat those around us. Sounds terrible and pretty scary, right?

It’s such an easy concept, but one that for some reason is much harder said than done. So what is it that’s stopping us? Yes, we can obviously find fault in these learned behaviors by blaming society, the media, and whoever else is behind our dependency to place such a large emphasis on what others think. But at the end of the day, we are the only ones who stop ourselves from breaking this cycle. We are the only ones who can push ourselves to believe in ourselves. We have more power than we tend to believe, but like any change that we want to see, it has to start with us.