“The minute you settle for less than you deserve, you get even less than you settled for.” -Maureen Dowd
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.
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.
Today happened to be one of the calmer days in my schedule, so I’ll keep today’s post short, so as not to bore any reader more than usual. Today’s class focused on Spanish grammar, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, so I’ll save that for another day.
Upon waking up in the morning, I went to the local gym and purchased a month-long membership. I don’t know if there’s something in the food that’s promoting fitness, or the hard toilet paper that causes this motivation to be more active, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this train of thought. Self-care is an important facet of life that so many of us tend to overlook during our day-to-day hectic, jam-packed, stressful lives. (The list of adjectives could go on, but seeing as this is life and nearly everyone can relate, I think you get the point.)
If we don’t look out and care for ourselves, how can we expect to do so for others? If we are continuously running on empty each and every day, how can we realistically expect to give the most of ourselves to those around us? Think about it this way. If your child, parent, grandparent, significant other, or close friend spoke about feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, what would likely be your initial response? Probably something along the lines of, “You need to take some time for yourself to relax and do the things that you enjoy.” Tell me this. Why is this any different for us?
Why is it that more often than not, we are able to be a helping hand to those around us who are experiencing difficulties, yet we can’t find the means to give ourselves the same level of care and support? Granted, just about everything in life is easier said than done, but it’s truly interesting if we really take the time to think about it. If we can give such great advice to those around us, why can’t we do the same for ourselves?
You’ll have to excuse the fact that this post is seemingly all over the place, but after testing out this new gym (which includes a personal trainer everyday), I feel sore in places I didn’t even know exist. Maybe that will explain the lack of organization and cohesiveness in today’s post, but there is a message (or at least I think there is).
Think about advice you would give to a loved one. We each deserve that same level of care, support, and love in our lives as well. And somewhere along the way, it has to start with self-care and treating ourselves as well as we would tell loved ones to treat themselves. We need to make time for ourselves so that we don’t run on empty. Because as harsh as it may seem, no matter how hard we may try, we can’t be of any help to anyone else if we don’t help ourselves first. And with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of a dog sunbathing by the beach because even he knows the importance of self-care.
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” -Buddha
Yesterday, my brother, sister, and I participated in the Miami Half Marathon for the second year in a row. We wanted to run in an attempt to raise money and awareness for Misioneros Del Camino—a cause that is very important to us all. After months of training, the big day had finally arrived! And go figure, it just so happened to be the coldest day of the year here in South Florida (which we were very thankful for).
We woke up at 4:00 in the morning to get some last minute carbs and protein in for breakfast, and made our way over to the American Airlines Arena, where the race was set to begin at 6:00am. When we arrived, we walked over to our assigned corral, and were in the company of 25,000 runners from over 80 countries!
Running throughout South Beach, Downtown Miami, and Brickell was invigorating, and the sights were incredible! What I enjoyed most about the event was the amount of individuals on the sidelines and all throughout the streets who cheered us on. Complete strangers spent their entire morning motivating us to keep on running. It was absolutely beautiful, and it made the event even more memorable. And running alongside thousands of individuals from all over the world, and working together to reach a common goal by pushing one another forward was incredible. After 12 full weeks of training and 173.06 miles completed, we crossed the finish line and were finally ready to rest!
This experience was definitely one to remember, and seeing how many loved ones came together to help support our cause has left me speechless. We were able to raise over $2,700 these past few weeks, which will help provide four children special education and daily therapies for an entire year—all for free at Misioneros Del Camino! Thanks to everyone’s help, we have been able to positively affect the lives of numerous children, and we will be able to help give them hope for a brighter future; one which they deserve! I could not be any more grateful or appreciative, and for that, I thank you all.
As mentioned in my prior posts, 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.
In 2006, a beautiful dream of Mami Leo’s had finally come true; a neurological center was established on site, providing special education, care, and numerous therapies to children with various neurological and developmental disorders such as autism, Down syndrome, intellectual disability, cerebral palsy, learning disorders, attention deficit disorders, and many more. With a great team of certified therapists and psychologists, each year, hundreds of children are able to obtain the necessary treatments that they wouldn’t be able to receive anywhere else. Some of the various therapies include speech, physical, occupational, sensorial, and psychological therapy.
Imagine having a child in need of special care, but not having the funds to give your child the best possible care. On top of that, imagine having to work every day to provide for the rest of your family, all while living in a location with limited resources for your child in need. Misioneros Del Camino offers neurological care to children in need at no cost whatsoever. In addition to the necessary services, the neurological center on site provides the children with meals throughout the day, and offers transportation to pick up the child (and an accompanying parent) all for free. This significantly decreases any burden the family may have previously experienced, all while giving such children the necessary skills to be more independent and be put on a path to receive the bright future they each deserve.
One such child who has benefited immensely from the various therapies he receives at the Neurological Center is Alejandro. Alejandro arrived at the home nearly fifteen years ago at the age of six months old with a presenting history of cerebral palsy and delayed cognitive development. Throughout the years, he has been receiving daily therapies at the Neurological Center, and has shown tremendous progress. His physical, emotional, and neurological development have improved significantly and he is very involved with all of the activities taking place throughout the home. When Alejandro was first evaluated years ago, the staff at Misioneros Del Camino was told that he would never be able to walk or stand on his own. However, since receiving numerous daily therapies at the Neurological Center, he has been able to walk, run, eat, dress, and bathe all on his own. Alejandro loves all types of outdoor activities, especially playing ball! Thanks to the incredible work being done at Misioneros Del Camino, children like Alejandro can receive the medical care they need, while enjoying their childhood to the fullest.
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.
After canoeing in La Boquilla, we took a tour of a local school, Boca Azul, which is supported by Foundation Casa Italia. Boca Azul is a school that serves more than 300 children in La Boquilla, and they serve 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. Keep in mind, this is an area where most children in similar situations would not receive any sort of education or medical attention, so Boca Azul is an incredible organization helping children who would otherwise have no hope for a brighter future.
Boca Azul was founded by Guiseppe Mazzoni, a long-standing Official and General in the Italian Airforce and his wife Rosy Soprano. Having moved from Italy, Rosy explains, “It was more than absolute poverty and malnutrition. The absence of any family support for these children abandoned in the street and ignored by all really opened our eyes. We had to do something.” Rosy and Guiseppe created a cultural center known as the Foundation Casa Italia in the city that promotes Italian culture, with hopes of increasing locals’ knowledge of Italy and its culture. Through their foundation, they have been able to start Boca Azul, which is the only school in the area that teaches Spanish, Italian, and English for free.
The children in Boca Azul spoke and sang to us in Spanish, Italian, and English, and some of them even put on a show for us! It was truly an incredible opportunity to see such a great school and to meet Rosy and Guiseppe. They are such selfless individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping provide these children with childhoods and futures that they deserve.
To learn more about Boca Azul, you can visit their website at: http://www.casaitaliaong.org/it/indexEN.html