PASEO Program Adventure—Days 34 and 35: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

On Thursday (of last week), we returned to three different schools to observe whether or not any changes had been made in the classroom following the workshops we provided throughout the past few weeks. While some classrooms continued to have difficulties gaining the attention of students, other classrooms were thriving with participation, motivation, and passion on behalf of the teachers. It’s truly incredible to see such a small difference taking place, and we can only hope that these students will feel a greater level of support in the classroom setting, since so many of them lack the support they need and deserve in their households.

On Friday, we had our Spanish Grammar course, followed by a new experience that myself and one of the other students are just beginning. Today, we began a group for adolescent males at a site that provides meals to children of women (many of whom experienced domestic violence), as well as a safe space where they can play, do homework, do crafts, or just have socialize with friends and community members. Since there are no male workers or volunteers on site, myself and another male from our program began a group for adolescent males, which will focus on providing psychoeducation regarding healthy interpersonal relationships, feelings of anger, aggression, and how to manage them in a healthy manner, as well as effective communication skills.

While there is a great need to focus on possible trauma and situations that these children and adolescents have experienced, unfortunately, due to timing, it wouldn’t be fair to begin therapy and return to the States shortly after. Therefore, we can only hope that these groups will provide these teenagers with a greater level of support, as well as beneficial information about the aforementioned topics. 

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 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 24: El Porvenir y Trujillo, Peru

This afternoon (Monday), 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 focused on psychoeducation regarding anger and ways that anger can manifest and build up if not properly released.

Due to gender roles and societal expectations, in many cases, women are not “supposed” to experience any other feelings aside from sadness (because of course men can only be angry and women can only be sad). For this reason, it’s so important to discuss and normalize feelings of anger because without doing so, it would likely continue to remain an unspoken topic that women “should not” discuss. Throughout the next week, we’ll place more of a focus on how to release such feelings in a positive and healthy manner, now that these feelings have been normalized and accepted.

After the group, we drove into Trujillo for our Psychology in Peru class. During the class, we each participated in Biodanza, “a system of self-development that uses music, movement and positive feelings to deepen self-awareness. Biodanza seeks to promote the ability to make a holistic link to oneself and one’s emotions and to express them.” Biodanza, originating from the Greek word bio (life) and danza (dance in Spanish), translates to the dance of life. The purpose of Biodanza is to focus on human integration, organic renewal, affective re-education and relearning of the original functions of life. Its methodology is to induce integrative experiences through music, singing, movement, and situations of group encounter.

Biodanza has five main tenants including: 1) Vitality: Increased joy of life, vital momentum (energy available for action), motor integration, neurovegetative balance. 2) Sexuality: Awakening the source of desire, increased pleasure, connection with sexual identity, and decreased sexual repression. 3) Creativity: Ability to express, innovate, and construct. 4) Activity: Ability to make connections with other people through love, friendship, altruism, and empathy. 5) Transcendence: Connection with nature and feeling of belonging to the universe.

Participating in Biodanza was truly an eye-opening and enlightening experience. Seeing as not everyone may be able to verbally express themselves the way they may like, being able to express oneself through natural and fluid movements in a safe and accepting group environment may be a beneficial alternative—especially when “talk” therapy is considered taboo in many cultures.

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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PASEO Program Adventure—Days 19 and 20: Huanchaco, Peru

To spare you from boredom, I decided to combine days 19 and 20 into one post, since both days were fairly uneventful (or at least for you probably, anyways). On Wednesday, we had an intensive Spanish grammar course, where we reviewed various Spanish tenses and conjugations. There’s nothing to boost your confidence of believing you know another language like reviewing various conjugations and verb tenses. (That was a joke. I can think of 100 other things to boost one’s confidence with regards to knowing another language as opposed to what we did). But of course, it’s good practice, and it’s necessary to know and relearn, so I’ll leave my complaints at that.

Yesterday, we started the day with our Motivational Interviewing course in Spanish, which was also interesting and beneficial, but I’ll talk more about this in a later post. Since yesterday was Teacher’s Day in Peru, our first workshop with local teachers had to be postponed. What a concept—actually celebrating and appreciating those who help impact the future generation. Yesterday was a day spent catching up on homework, procrastinating from writing blog posts, and dedicating the evening to eating delicious papas rellenas once again.

While I’ll write about today’s adventure on Monday, I figured I’d keep you posted about what’s going on in real time. We’re currently getting ready to leave for Cajamarca, a city in Peru’s northern highlands. We’ll be hopping on a bus, which should take somewhere between 6-8 hours, so that should be an exciting new adventure. You’ll also have an exciting adventure this weekend, as I won’t have Internet access to post any updates, so here’s hoping we both enjoy our weekends off from one another.

Sorry—I’m rushing to leave, so I don’t have time to edit the sarcasm, but I do hope you enjoy your weekend! I figured a nice statement would make up for everything you read prior to that. 🙂

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 18: Huanchaco, Peru

We began today (two days ago, July 4th) with a course on Spanish for the mental health setting. Since my schedule changed, Tuesdays are a bit slower for me, so I spent the day catching up on homework, going to the gym, and going for a run. We decided to get in as much exercise as possible before feasting out on burgers in honor of July 4th.

Not every country has the same rights and privileges as we do, and while things could always be better (just like anything in life), we must not forget to take pride in where we come from when we are blessed with so many privileges. But of course, we should never settle. We can and should always do more to make our society better for everyone—especially underserved and marginalized populations. Since today (two days ago) is a holiday, I’ll let you celebrate by keeping this post short. Cheers, to independence.

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.