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: 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. 

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

Once in a lifetime—if you should be so lucky—you’ll come across someone who will instantaneously become your best friend. He will be there for you each and every second of each and every day—no questions asked. He’ll wait around at home for you, he’ll wag his tail and jump up and down when you walk in the door, he’ll bark in the early hours of the morning to make sure you’re awake, he’ll get in your way and obstruct your path until he leads you to the area of the house where the bones are, and he’ll do so many other things that bring light to your day. But above all, he’ll always provide you with unconditional love.

Nearly three weeks ago, I lost a family member and my best friend of nearly 14 years. I’ve been wanting to post something in his honor, but it’s difficult to put together words to describe someone who has given me so much. Our house feels so much emptier without our special friend, and life in general seems a lot less colorful. It isn’t easy trying to adjust to such a significant loss, but fortunately, I have been blessed with countless memories that I will cherish for years to come.

Thank you Caine for showing us all what it’s like to truly be loved, and what it’s like to have the best friend anyone can ever ask for. This week’s Snapshot Challenge is dedicated to you because the love you provided me with is truly beautiful. I’ll miss you more than you can imagine.

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Remembering Those Lost In The Holocaust

Seeing as yesterday was International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 71st anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz, it is only fitting that we take some time to remember those whose lives were so tragically taken away, all too soon. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to listen to Michael Marder, a Holocaust survivor, share his personal story yesterday afternoon. This incredible man was able to survive nine different concentration camps, but unfortunately, no one in his immediate family had such luck.

Hearing Michael Marder tell his story reminded me of just how important it is to continue to share such stories so that we never forget about the atrocities that took place not too long ago. And with that, I’d like to introduce you to part of the Gottheim family. The woman in the photo is my great aunt (my grandmother’s mother’s sister), and pictured alongside her is her husband and three children. Unfortunately, they were never given the opportunity to tell their names, so all I have is a last name to go off of.

The Gottheims lived in Poland, but upon hearing of a potential German invasion, they made the necessary plans to make the trip to America by boat. When they arrived to the docks, each member of the family was inspected to make sure that they were in good enough condition to travel. However, as it turns out, one of the children had an ear infection and wasn’t allowed to board the ship. The father told the mother to take the other two children to America, and he would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The mother refused, and instead suggested that the father take the other two children to America, and she would follow shortly after, once the child recuperated. The father also refused, and the general consensus was to wait it out together, and make the trip as a family, once the child got better.

Unfortunately for the Gottheims, the German invasion came sooner than they had expected, and the family was murdered in their home before they were able to escape to America.

11 million people were killed during the Holocaust, 1.1 million of whom were children. 6 million of these individuals were Jewish, and others who were targeted and murdered include persons with disabilities, people from the LGBTQ community, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma, Slavs, political opponents, and plenty others. So many of these people died without their stories being told, which means to us, they will sadly forever be nameless and faceless. Like the Gottheims, millions of lives were cut short, and who knows what kind of greatness these people could have gone on to achieve?

One would think that we have since learned from the Holocaust, but it was not the first act of genocide to take place in the world, and unfortunately, it was not the last. If we do not remember the atrocities that were carried out just a few decades ago, we will be bound to have history repeat itself. We must never forget the Holocaust, and we must always speak up whenever we see any one person or any group of people being targeted by others. We owe this to the Gottheims, to all of the people who perished during the Holocaust, and to the survivors like Michael Marder who have dedicated their lives to spreading the word about the inhumane treatment they endured.

Martin Neimöller, a well-known pastor once exclaimed:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

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Rest In Peace Mami Leo

On Saturday, I wrote about an important figure, not only in my life, but in the lives of countless people across the world. Leonor Portela, also known as Mami Leo saved thousands of lives in Guatemala after moving there to start a home for abandoned, neglected, malnourished, and abused children. With only $2,000 to her name, she picked up and left her life in America to start a new life in Guatemala, a country in which she had no connection to whatsoever before moving there. On Sunday evening at 7:12 p.m. Guatemalan time, Mami Leo passed away peacefully, surrounded by so many of the children whom she loved so dearly. I’ve included a link in this post that shows a brief video of some of the incredible work that Mami Leo has done. Keep in mind, the video only talks about the neurological center that she started to help children with neurological disorders; it doesn’t even mention the orphanage that she also started on her own!

Mami Leo was truly an incredible woman who was relentless in putting the lives of children in need before her own. She worked tirelessly to provide so many children with a home to call their own. But more importantly, she gave them love which is something that so many of them were missing for so long before arriving at the home. Thanks to Mami Leo’s love and devotion, I can honestly say the world has become a better place. I am so fortunate to have had her be a part of my life and I can only hope to be even just half of the person she was. I will forever be grateful for the example she set for each of us and I hope that our continuation of her work will forever make her proud.

http://youtu.be/h0mi8kCMyZ0

A family friend recently shared this quote with me and it has provided me with great comfort. I hope it can be helpful to someone else in their time of need too.

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just round the corner. All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again! ”
-Henry Scott Holland