PASEO Program Adventure—Day 17: El Porvenir y Trujillo, Peru

This morning (Monday—yes, still behind), I completed my final observation at another school in El Porvenir. It was definitely an interesting experience because the school I observed is a Catholic school (considered more private than the others), as opposed to a national school (or public school, which is what every other school I’ve observed so far is considered). Since students from the secondary school were on a field trip to local historic sites for the day, I was only able to observe students in primary school.

Upon speaking with a local social worker, I was informed that there is a lot of crime among the students, including extortion and theft. When I spoke to the director of the school, she mentioned that a lot of the children have difficulties at home that influence their behaviors, including lack of parental support and/or parents having to work long hours, leaving their children unsupervised upon returning from school. This recurring theme seemingly continues to make its way into every school that I observe. There are so many challenges that these children face both inside and outside of school, but especially once they leave school grounds each day. The risk factors are substantial, and we have to focus on fostering more protective factors in order to provide these children with substantial support so they can have the futures they deserve.

In the afternoon, we had our weekly meeting with a group of local women and family members in El Porvenir that I briefly discussed last week. 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, one of the other students and I were in charge of working with the group members’ children—some of whom have physical disabilities and/or difficulties with motor skills and/or verbal communication deficits. We had each child write their names and draw something that corresponds with each letter of their name. The creativity and abilities in these children are truly incredible.

After our group, we went back to Trujillo for our Psicología en Peru course. Tonight, we focused on statistics within the country, all of Latin America, as well as throughout the world. When we look at a global scale, depression happens to be the most common mental illness. However, in Latin America, only five percent of the adult population reportedly suffer from Depression. According to the NIH, “In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.” If so many people in the United States alone have experienced depression, why is the percentage so low in Latin America? It’s because so many people do not seek or receive mental health services. This number is merely what is reported.

Among so many other challenges, stigma is the biggest problem pertaining to bringing attention to mental illness in Latin America, and especially Peru due to discrimination against mental health. If you seek any type of help or treatment, you’re considered “weak” or “crazy.” You’ll likely be asked, “Are you weak? You’re not strong enough to deal with this?” Alongside stigma, shame and misconceptions about having a mental illness come into play as well.

Even if we were to put stigma aside, psychoeducation is another challenge. If someone does in fact have a mental illness, many times, they’ll go to the local clinic with the belief that it’s a physical illness as opposed to a mental illness. In a perfect world, hypothetically speaking, of course, let’s say that someone does in fact go to the hospital for an issue pertaining to their mental health. As I mentioned the other week, you would have to wait days in the hospital before getting an appointment, and when you finally do get one, your appointment would only last a few minutes, and would consist of being asked a few “yes” or “no” questions to determine if you have depression.

There isn’t enough time to converse with the patient, so the odds of someone actually getting the help he or she needs and deserves are slim to none. But first, you’d have to overcome the stigma and shame in order to even make it to this point. And you’d have to hope that your family wouldn’t abandon you due to shame as well. Now if you want to talk about services, there is about 1 psychiatrist per every 300,000 people in Peru. If we were to look at another country, let’s say Colombia for example, there, you would find 2.1 psychiatrists per ever 10,000 people. Pretty significant difference, right?

The following statistics have been taken from Según el Instituto Nacional de Salud Mental (INSM) (2014): 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. (Yes, the percentages overlap.)

This is why education is so important. We must spread the word about mental health because until we can do so, millions of people will not receive the necessary services they require.

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End of the Year Appreciation

With today being December 31st, it is no secret that people nationwide are making last minute attempts at creating New Years Resolutions and fine-tuning their goals for the upcoming year. What I find interesting (even though I’m guilty of it as well) is that so many of us wait until January 1st to begin to follow through with ways we believe will better us. If our resolutions don’t work, or if we simply cannot stick to the plan we set out for ourselves, well, there’s always next January 1st for us to try again.

If we could move past the concept of New Year’s Resolutions, we could work on continuously trying to better ourselves. Moreover, we’ll have an entire year to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, rather than just waiting for a “re-do” twelve months from now. What is important for us to remember during these upcoming weeks of “resolutioning” (a new verb that’s quite fitting for this time of year) is that one minor setback is not a failure; we must not allow ourselves to get discouraged if things do not go according to plan. There is always tomorrow to wake up refreshed and begin from where we last left off. If we can view New Year’s Resolutions as the Year’s Resolutions, maybe we won’t be so harsh on ourselves. And maybe we’ll realize that our goals can be fought for at any given moment of any given day—not just for the first few days in January.

With that being said, one goal that I set for myself this past year was to continue blogging, since I had taken an extended break before the year began. Just this year alone, individuals from all around the world stopped by my site to read what I had to say. To me, there would be nothing more rewarding than knowing that one person (not including my mother) occasionally glances through my site. However, to find out that more than 2,000 visitors from sixty-nine different countries read my thoughts, experiences, and stories throughout the year is beyond overwhelming.

Just this year alone, my blog has had more visitors than the last three years combined. To my fellow bloggers, readers, and friends from 2015, I extend my sincerest appreciation and gratitude for your support. (In the tag section of this post, I’ve included the country of each visitor throughout this past year as a special way of saying thank you since it’s much easier than hand-written notes).

May 2016 be a year to remember, and may all of our resolutions come to fruition, regardless of any potential setbacks we may experience along the way. Happy New Year to all of you, and thank you, once again.

92279520-emp.-appreciation

Enjoying Lisbon, Portugal

As mentioned in a previous post, after our trip to Colombia, my sister and I traveled to Israel for a week to visit some of our family members who live there. On the way, we had plans to stop in Spain for a few days, and it just so happens that we were able to find a flight from Miami that stopped in Lisbon, Portugal for a few hours before continuing to Spain.

We arrived in Lisbon at around 5:00am, and had nearly ten hours to explore the city before having to return to the airport. After passing customs and dropping our suitcases off in a locker room, we hopped on the city bus that took us to the city center, nearly thirty minutes away from the airport. By the time we arrived to Praça de Comércio, also known as the city center, it was around 6:30am. Almost every store and restaurant were closed, and the only people on the streets besides us were store owners getting ready to open, people who were making their way back home after a long night, and street cleaners. We had what seemed like the entire city to ourselves, so naturally, we walked around and explored.

In preparing for the trip, I found a walking tour itinerary, so we followed the directions and began our tour. After walking through the city center, we made our way to the first stop, Igreja de Madalena which dates back to 1783, although it has a history that dates back centuries before. “This Church was founded in the 12th century, ordered by the first Portuguese king, D. Afonso Henriques in the 12th century, yet it has suffered many transformations over the centuries, namely in 1363 when it was quite destroyed by a big fire; in 1512 with other architectonic alterations; in 1600 was partially destroyed by a small cyclone; and with the big earthquake of 1755 was almost totally destroyed and rebuilt afterwards, maintaining some ancient elements, as well as several Lisboa’s buildings that wererebuilt after the big catastrophe” (www.getportugal.com).

From here, we walked down the street until we came across Igreja de San António, also from the 1700’s which was built atop what is said to be the saint’s birthplace. After walking around the church, we found Sé de Lisboa, which is Lisbon’s cathedral. Here, in Lisbon’s oldest building dating back to 1150, is where Saint Anthony was baptized and where the casket with the remains of St. Vincent, the official patron saint of Lisbon are located. (http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/cathedral.html).

We were fortunate enough that by the time we made it to each particular site, the doors were just being opened for entrance. Our morning was off to an incredible start, as we were able to see so many beautiful sights, but this was only the beginning!

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

After our trip to Colombia, my sister and I traveled to Israel for a few days to visit family. However, before arriving at our final destination, we made a few stops along the way. I’ll post more about our travel adventures later on this week, but today’s Snapshot Challenge is a picture I took in Praça do Comércio, also known as the main square in Lisbon, Portugal. The area was beautiful, the weather was incredible, and we couldn’t have asked for a better sight to kick off our journey to Portugal, Spain, and Israel.

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Day 2 In Cartagena, Colombia: Enjoying Our Last Night In The City

After our afternoon excursion of mud-bathing in Volcán de Lodo El Totumo came to an end, it was time for us to return to our hotel and enjoy our final evening in Cartagena. During the drive back to Hotel Carribe, we came across multiple motor taxis. We were told that you can spot a motor taxi if you see a motorcyclist with two helmets—one on his head and one in his hand.

An individual would take a motor taxi if he or she doesn’t want to wait in traffic, or if he or she is in a rush. There are roughly one hundred accidents each day involving motor taxis, and it doesn’t help that they don’t have licenses to drive others or even insurance. The issue at hand is that the first rule in the constitution states that all individuals have the right to a job. Therefore, if the government were to ban motor taxis, so many individuals would be out of a job. This would lead to protests, strikes, and the blocking of streets. So, while motor taxis are not legal, they are socially accepted in Cartagena.

Similar to Bogotá, Cartagena has zones that classify residents according to socioeconomic standings. However, unlike Bogotá, the zones in Cartagena are dispersed and not in order. So, for example, a poor neighborhood can be located next to a very wealthy one, whereas in Bogotá, the nearby neighborhoods slowly progress into wealthier or poorer neighborhoods.

After arriving to the hotel, we decided to take a walk along the beach and enjoy a nice dinner before having to pack our things and get ready for an early morning flight. As sad as it was to leave Colombia, we had a great trip, and I hope I can say I’ll be back soon!

Day 2 In Cartagena, Colombia: Mud-Bathing at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo

We had an hour or so of down time in between seeing Casa Azul and an afternoon excursion. For our afternoon excursion, we drove to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, which is a mud volcano located in Santa Catalina, Bolívar, in the northern part of the country. The mud volcano is forty-five feet high, so it’s a small hill to walk up upon arriving. However, the volcano is 6,000 deep, but the catch is that the mud is three times more dense than one’s body density, so even though the volcano is so deep, you float in the mud.

Volcán de Lodo El Totumo has been around for between fifty to sixty years. Some individuals were claiming that the mud had healing powers, and since there was so much violence in the area, the government gave the land to locals and had the locals test the mud to see what was in it. Results showed that the mud contains sulfur and various other minerals, and it is said that the mud has helped people with different types of cancer, people with acne, and that it helps soften skin too. And if you’re concerned about the cleanliness of the volcano (as we were), there is constant circulation inside the volcano, so the mud used by a few individuals changes every few minutes with the circulation.

Companies wanted to buy the land and build hotels and restaurants in the area to increase tourism and bring in more money, but the community said no because it’s their land and they take great pride in it. The land in the area is all very natural, and only locals or relatives of locals are allowed to work here.

When we arrived to Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we were quite skeptical about what we got ourselves into. We climbed up a small hill with steep steps and a wooden railing on the side that we held onto for dear life. Once we got to the top of the volcano, we looked down and couldn’t believe our eyes. We had to climb down a small, and also steep ladder into the volcano, where we drenched ourselves with mud. From there, a local who works at the volcano took us and moved us to the corner. While in the corner, we were passed off to another individual who works here, and received a mud massage, alongside fifteen other individuals who can fit into this mud bath at the same time. After our five-minute massage, we were passed off to a different corner of the mud bath, where we had ten to fifteen minutes to float and relax, while continuing to cover ourselves with mud.

Once we got out and climbed down the hill, we were told to walk to the lake behind the volcano. When we got to the lake, local women held our hands and walked us into the lake. From there, we were instructed to remove our bathing suit (while under the water), as the local women scrubbed the mud out of our clothing. They also helped get the mud out of our hair and from behind our ears. Once we redressed under the water, and returned to the bus to leave, I noticed just how clean my bathing suit now was, and was extremely impressed with the abilities of these women!

To say that this was quite the experience is an understatement, but it just goes to show, you can’t judge a book by its cover. Although we were iffy about getting into the mud volcano at Volcán de Lodo El Totumo, we ended up having a blast, and knowing that we were able to help support a local, hard-working community and participate in something they take much pride in, was great, too. Besides, we came out with a fun story to share with others!

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

Yesterday, I wrote about Boca Azul in Cartagena, Colombia. Boca Azul is supported by Foundation Casa Italia, and it is a school in La Boquilla that serves more than 300 of the poorest children who are in the need of the most help. The children who attend Boca Azul are between the ages of 1 to 14 years old and receive a full-time education, school support, one meal per day (which makes this the only place in the city for children to receive a free meal), first aid and medical attention, and after school activities. While taking a tour of Boca Azul, some of the students put on a show for us, and as you can see based on the picture below, they performed traditional dances of the area. The students pictured below are some of the most hardworking students in the school with the highest grades, and as a reward, they are able to learn the traditional dances. They took so much pride in their performance, and as you can imagine, it was a beautiful sight to see.

The Children of Boca Azul

The Children of Boca Azul