PASEO Program Adventure: Final Thoughts

I wanted to be sure to end on an important note before I officially conclude writing about my experiences in Peru. Throughout the past two months, I spent a lot of my time working in El Porvenir—an impoverished city in northern Peru. This past March, Peru experienced an awful huaico, or flash flood, attributed to the phenomenon of El Niño. As I mentioned in posts throughout the past few months, we heard firsthand accounts from locals who live in El Porvenir and other cities in northern Peru about how the huaico affected their daily lives, and I spoke with various faculty members and school administrators about students whose participation in school has decreased due to having lost their homes in the flood. As I wrote about earlier, one student in particular was trapped underwater as the flood tore apart his home.

Just days after this particular flood (because keep in mind, there are many), the Peruvian government stated that the death toll had reached 94, while estimates reported that 700,000 individuals were left homeless in 12 of the country’s 25 regions. Nearly six months later, there are still so many individuals affected by the flooding whose lives have been changed ever since. When driving into El Porvenir, one can spot the zona de las damnificadas (pictured below), or the area of the victims. In this designated area, temporary housing (tents) have been set up alongside the street for families who lost their homes in the flood.

While living in a country filled with resources and opportunities for all (ideally), it can be easy to forget just how fortunate we are. I wanted to dedicate this post to those who have seemingly been forgotten, and to those who have been impacted by the devastating natural disaster that changed the lives of so many. From the children who cannot focus in school because they continuously re-live the scene of being trapped underwater to the parents who lost the homes they spent years saving up to afford, and everyone in between.

This post won’t help any of the affected individuals currently living en la zona de las damnificadas. This post also won’t change the stigma associated with mental health in Latin America, and more specifically, Peru (which is another concern). This post won’t help individuals realize the importance of seeking out mental health care, and it won’t make any difference whatsoever in changing the way the public hospital systems work when caring for individuals without resources. This post won’t increase the number of resources in Peru regarding mental health care like there being 1 psychiatrist per every 300,000 people within the country.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, statistics show that 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. So no, this post won’t help increase the number of individuals who receive services in specialized centers, and it most definitely will not decrease or eliminate the sense of shame that so many people associate with mental illness within the country. 

Realistically speaking, my words and my blog post can’t accomplish any of that. But what we can do is this: we can work together to appreciate what we have. As soon as we can learn to find gratitude and accept the term in its entirety, we can seek out ways to help those around us. There are so many people in need of help and assistance everywhere you turn, but when we become engulfed in our own lives, we often turn a blind eye to situations around us, and understandably so. But if we don’t help those in need, who will? 

It has to start with us. As for finding a solution to problems throughout the world, well, I haven’t gotten that far yet, and frankly, I doubt that I ever will. But if we can each find a way to work together and use the resources at our disposal to try and make the slightest difference—whether in somebody else’s life, in the community, in a different country, or on a global scale, that slight difference will hopefully make a lasting impact that will better the lives of those in need. Yes, I understand that this is much easier said than done, and it’s just a bunch of words written on a page that probably won’t be read by many. But we have to start somewhere with something. And I guess this is that starting point.

As I conclude writing about my experiences in Peru and the incredible opportunity that I have been given, I kindly ask that we work together to not forget those who have seemingly been forgotten. Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” If you ask me, I think that’s the perfect starting point for all of us. 

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 59: Lima, Peru

On Monday morning, I was picked up at 9:30am again for another tour with Viator. We started the morning visiting a local market in Villa El Salvador, a district of Lima that is considered to be one of the city’s shanty towns. The tour guide and I picked up some breakfast food, as we were invited by a local community leader to have breakfast at her home.

Once we purchased bread, meat, cheese, and palta (avocado), we made our way further into Villa El Salvador, specifically to Bello Horizonte. Our host had a warm, delicious quinoa drink prepared for us upon our arrival, and we spent the morning discussing local “scary” stories or childhood fables, as well as difficulties that this individual faces when advocating for members of her community and ways to improve her community as a whole.

Viator provides Villa El Salvador with funding that helps support community projects, in addition to completing community service within the town, as well as other towns without sufficient resources. We walked around the district and continued talking about some of the dire needs that the community faces. In some of the pictures below, you will notice yellow stairs that lead to most of the houses within the town. Years ago, locals had to walk up sharp rocks (that often ended up cutting through their shoes) in order to get to their houses, as their were no stairs or set paths.

Many women fell on their way up the rocks, and sadly enough, many of these women were pregnant and ended up losing their babies. When a local political candidate stopped by the town a few years ago, he asked what the locals needed most. They responded by saying a better way to get to their homes. Once elected, the official made sure that stairs (known as the famous “yellow stairs”) were provided throughout the town. While the situation has improved significantly from what it once was, there are still areas in the town without stairs, leaving many locals continuing to walk up dangerous, sharp rocks. The town continues to have needs that are not being met, especially ever since the devastating huayco ( mflood) hit Peru in March, which has left many other cities in need of government resources as well.

After the tour concluded, I stopped by Parque Kennedy in Miraflores, a beautiful park named in honor of President John F. Kennedy. From there, I walked over to El Mercado Indios, a local artisan market. Keeping in mind my flight tonight was scheduled to leave at midnight, I had plenty of time to make my way through the city. Following El Mercado Indios, I took a tour of Huaca Pucllana—impressive ancient ruins from the Wari culture, which was built around 500 A.D.

After the tour, I returned to Barrancos to take in the artistic sites, and then returned to my hotel, where I enjoyed dinner before finally making my way over to the airport for my (delayed) flight. Touring the different districts of Lima these past few days was truly enjoyable, especially since each district offers something unique and exciting. However, regardless of where you go, the locals continue to remain humble, kind, warm, and extremely welcoming, which is always incredible to experience. 

As I get ready to make my way to the airport now (even though by the time I publish this, it will likely be a few days from now), my experience in Peru is one that I will definitely cherish for years to come. But over the next few days, I’ll be sure to write about my “closing remarks” and highlights of the trip. So for now, it’s not goodbye. It’s more of I need to make my flight, so I’ll pick back up with where I left off tomorrow.

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PASEO Program Adventure- Day 7: Huanchaco, Trujillo, y El Porvenir, Peru

Today consisted of another set of observations in a different school located in El Porvenir. While speaking with the principal, she informed me that out of 936 students (just in the secondary school alone), there is only one psychology intern for them to confide in, should they need to speak with someone. The resources are limited, and no matter how hard the teachers try to build their students up, so many of their families continuously tear them down.

The principal mentioned that just last week, two students got into an argument, which led to one student punching the other in the face. When the school called the student’s parent, the parent came to the school and almost immediately hit her child in the face upon hearing what happened. Fortunately, school administrators were able to intervene, but only for the time being. Unfortunately, what happens when the student returns home is considered a different story. 

With regards to continued education, many times, parents will tell their students that after secondary school, they can no longer continue their education because they need to start working and bringing in an income for the family. In other cases, the children aren’t even given that option, and will drop out of school so that they can work instead. 

While the principal explained that the school does have successful alumni who they are very proud of, there aren’t many. The mentality is typically to continue working where the parents work upon graduating (if the students complete secondary school), and in this particular city, this usually involves selling goods in the local market or making shoes. 

Just a few months ago, Peru experienced a devastating flood, which destroyed many houses and local buildings. One of the teachers spoke to me about a student of hers who was knocked down during the flood and nearly drowned. He hasn’t been able to focus on his school work ever since, and understandably so. Many of the students’ houses were destroyed in the flood as well, which led to them having to stay at the school in the days following the flood. As of this moment, most, if not all of them still do not have a home. 

The resources are scarce and lots of the familial situations aren’t conducive to fostering a child’s development in a safe and loving environment. But the students continue to smile, laugh, and find a way to continue to persevere. For many of these students, school is the only place where they are given the opportunity to do so. 

After a long day of observations and class (which I’ll discuss in a later post), I went to a local restaurant for dinner with a few of the students on my trip. Papa a la Huancaína (boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce.) and tallarín saltado con pollo was the perfect way to end the night.

A Day To Remember

It was September 11th, 2001 and I was in my first grade home-room class at school. For some reason our teacher was moving about frantically as another teacher came into our classroom and whispered something in her ear. We were told that school was going to be let early and that our parents, who were already notified, would be picking us up shortly. When asked what the reason was, we were told it was because of a flood that was about to hit our area.

Just the other day on the radio, they had mentioned that South Florida was experiencing a drought, so a flood didn’t exactly make much sense. But we believed our teacher, and began packing up our pencil cases and school supplies from our cubbies because we didn’t want anything to get destroyed by the flood. My mother picked me up from school shortly after, and explained the true story—there was no flood. Rather, our country had been attacked by terrorists. Upon arriving home, my mother and I turned on the television just as the second tower of the World Trade Center had been hit. We were left in awe.

My father was flying to Washington D.C. that morning and my grandparents were flying to Florida from New York. We hadn’t heard from anyone, and we, as well as the rest of country were left in a state of panic and disbelief. Luckily, my father’s flight ended up being cancelled and grandparents’ flight had an emergency landing, but not everyone was that lucky.

September 11th, 2001 was a tragic day in history for our country, but it was also one that taught us a few valuable lessons. We cannot take our loved ones for granted because we never know what will happen at any given moment. We must show appreciation for those who risk their lives to protect us on a daily basis because these are true heroes that help make our country as great as it is. And furthermore, our country is about as resilient as they come.

September 11th showed us how in a time of despair, American citizens came together and united as one. Fourteen years later, we are still a united country, and we are still just as resilient. May we never forget September 11th, 2001. May we never forget to say “I love you” and appreciate our loved ones. May we never forget those who lost their lives, and those who risked their lives helping others. And may we never how lucky we are to live in such an incredible country.

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