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. 

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 56: Trujillo Alto, Huanchaco, y Lima, Peru

On Friday morning, we hosted another workshop with a different group of Líderes Escolares. Similar to what I mentioned in yesterday’s post, today’s workshop focused on mental health, including psychoeducation regarding the difference between sadness and depression, the difference between stress and anxiety, how to spot signs of suicidality, and resources that the students can use in the case that a peer is experiencing any of the aforementioned topics.

The students who participated in today’s workshop were younger than most of the other students we worked with thus far, but their interest and participation in such serious topics was great to see. Following the workshop, one of the students stood up and thanked us for the work we have been doing in Peru, and for the information and support we have provided the Líderes Escolares with. You can never know if you are making a difference in the surrounding community, and even though we still don’t know whether or not we have been and are making a difference, it was truly rewarding to hear such young students thanking us for working with them. After working with such inspiring, young leaders, one can’t help but feel a great sense of hope for the future.

After our workshop, some of the social workers we have been working with took us out for a delicious lunch, consisting of ceviche mixto and chicharron de pescado. As soon as we finished lunch, I had to get back to Huanchaco for my last Spanish grammar class.

Once our class ended, another student and I ran over to facilitate our last group with adolescent males that I spoke about throughout the past few weeks. Today’s group focused on support systems and evaluating the different types of support we each have in our lives (including practical support, social support, emotional support, and advice-based support). This activity helps you realize the types of support you may or may not have, which is useful in thinking about who one’s main confidants may be. We then focused on TIPP, which I wrote about on Monday.

During times of crises, TIPP is a useful tool that one can utilize to take a step back from the crisis to de-escalate the situation. TIPP can be used when one is about to engage in dangerous behaviors during a crisis, when an individual needs to make an important decision, but is too overwhelmed to think/make a decision, the individual is not processing information effectively, the individual is emotionally overwhelmed, and/or the individual isn’t able to use his/her abilities. TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation—all of which are techniques one can utilize during a time of crisis. As we finished the session, we celebrated our time together and the group members’ participation throughout the past few weeks with a chocolate cake.

Following the group, we ran over to the beach to watch the sunset one last time, before having to leave Huanchaco later that evening. After enjoying the sunset, some of the other students and I went for dinner, and returned back to our house to pack, before leaving for the airport. Since I won’t be returning to the States until Tuesday, I took a cab to San Isidro (where I will be staying for the next few days) once I arrived in Lima at around midnight. 

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 55: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

On Thursday afternoon, we had our second workshop with Líderes Escolares from three different schools. Today’s workshop focused on mental health, including psychoeducation regarding the difference between sadness and depression, the difference between stress and anxiety, how to spot signs of suicidality, and resources that the students can use in the case that a peer is experiencing any of the aforementioned topics. It was truly incredible to see so many adolescents participate in todays workshop, especially given the intensity of the topics we discussed.

Many of the adolescents mentioned knowing someone with a mental illness and/or knowing someone who has contemplated or attempted suicide. As I mentioned before, seeing so many young individuals take the initiative to learn about mental health in general and ways to help others as leaders in their schools has been, and continues to be refreshing and inspiring.

Following the workshop, we made sure to enjoy the sunset once again, before having a Cena Familiar at a local pizza restaurant with everyone from the program, seeing as it was my last night in the program, as well as the last night of a few other students as well. On our way back to the house, we stopped for picarones (the delicious fried dessert that one could only dream of.) After dinner, we played cards to officially end our last night in Huanchaco.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Days 53 and 54: Huanchaco, Peru

On Tuesday, our workshop with one of the groups of Líderes Escolares was cancelled, due to a huelga (strike) on behalf of teachers from various schools in Trujillo. Simply enough, the day was spent catching up on homework and preparing for two other workshops scheduled for later this week (which included procrastinating and going for a walk outside), followed by an adventurous dinner with some of the other students. And of course, since it’s my last week, I made sure to take in the sunset once again.

We began Wednesday morning with our Spanish for the Mental Health Setting class. After class, I had my final evaluations and supervision for the program, which consisted of an oral proficiency exam as well as reading a sample case study and deciding how I would work with the client and provide psychoeducation regarding TEPT (trastorno de estrés postraumático, or PTSD in English), as well as psychoeducation and techniques for relaxation. After the evaluation and supervision, we went out for a light dinner and spent the evening listening to music at a bar by the beach, and then sitting by the beach, as we took in the beautiful sights of the city.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 52: Huanchaco y El Porvenir, Peru

This morning (Monday) began with our Terapia Conductual Dialéctica course, which focused on Distress Tolerance, TIPP, and Emotional Regulation. During times of crises, TIPP is a useful tool that one can utilize to take a step back from the crisis to de-escalate the situation. TIPP can be used when one is about to engage in dangerous behaviors during a crisis, when an individual needs to make an important decision, but is too overwhelmed to think/make a decision, the individual is not processing information effectively, the individual is emotionally overwhelmed, and/or the individual isn’t able to use his/her abilities.

TIPP stands for Temperature, Intense Exercise, Paced Breathing, and Paired Muscle Relaxation. With regards to temperature, the individual can put cold water or a bag of ice on his or her face, while bending over and maintaining respiration (holding his/her breath). The individual can also put his/her face in a bowl of cold water for 30-60 seconds, or put an icepack on his/her face while bending over, and maintaining respiration (holding his/her breath). This action helps reduce emotional and physiological arousal. The action of Temperature can also be used when the individual isn’t able to sleep due to anxiety and/or while experiencing dissociation during therapy.

According to mindfulnessmuse.com, “In order to get ourselves to a place of being capable of processing information, we must find a way to essentially ‘reset’ the nervous system. Fortunately, all mammals have something called the ‘mammalian diving reflex’ that forces the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in, which functions to relax us and calm us down.

Dr. Linehan explained that this reflex is activated by icy cold water (i.e., not freezing) on the face. In particular, the icy cold water must hit the parts of the face just below the eyes and above the cheekbones for the dive reflex to be activated.”

In regards to Itense Exercise, doing some form of intense exercise for 30-60 seconds can change one’s mood and lessen one’s negative mood, and increase positive affect. This can include running in place, jumping jacks, and/or running up/down a flight of stairs. Our emotions have the ability and tendency to make us ready for action (as in flight or flight), so an intense exercise can make regulate our body to a less emotional status.

Paced Breathing refers to inhaling and exhaling slowly (five or six breaths each minute with a four second inhalation and eight second exhalation). Paced breathing—in addition to the other actions can help us lower our level of emotional arousal and make the switch from utilizing our sympathetic nervous system (which is ready for flight or flight) to our parasympathetic nervous system (our more relaxed state).

Finally, with Paired Muscle Relaxation, the strategy is to tighten your muscles, noting the sensation of tension in your muscles (and you can work on specific muscle groups, one at a time). As you loosen your muscles, you can say the work “relax” aloud, noting the sensation of how your muscles feel. The goal with Paired Muscle Relaxation is to increase one’s awareness of tension and relaxation, and functions as one of the various abilities to overcome a crisis.

While these abilities, or strategies are meant to help during a moment of crisis, they are not by any means a solution to one’s crisis. These abilities/strategies should be paired with other strategies (i.e. confiding in somebody immediately after or seeking help by a professional).

When working with emotional regulation, one of the actions is to act in a manner contrary to the emotion that is currently affecting your behavior. First, you must identify the actions that are affected by your emotions, do the opposite action, and do so completely and fully, without holding back. Simply stated, you’ll want to do the opposite action of what you’re feeling (i.e. if you’re feeling lonely and went to isolate yourself, you would instead spend time surrounded by others). Instead of surprising what we’re feeling, we would simply use our emotions to guide opposite behaviors in order to make a change in how we’re feeling.

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 the difference between sadness and depression, as well as the importance of self-care—something that so many of us forget to do on a daily basis.

In order to emphasize the importance of self-care, each participant was taught the acronym CUIDARSE (caring for oneself):

C: Cariño (affection, especially for ourselves, no matter how difficult it may be)

U: Una cosa cada día (one thing per day—engaging in one activity that we enjoy doing on a daily basis)

I: Imitar al bebé (imitate a baby—while babies may not always be able to verbally communicate, they are still able to get their wants and needs met, which is exactly what each of us need to do as well. It is important for everyone to express exactly what they need, just as a baby does)

D: Descansar/dormir (rest/sleep—adequate rest is crucial for everyone)

A: Alimentarse bien (nourish/feed oneself well—proper nourishment is also very important)

R: Relajarse (relax—making time for ourselves to de-stress and calm down each and every day)

S: Socializar/Salir a pasear (socialize/go out for a walk—making time to be around others and taking time to enjoy the outdoors while de-stressing from our daily, hectic lives)

E: Ejercicio (exercise—20-30 minutes each day)

Imagine that you have a bottle of water and give a little bit to each person around you. There would be nothing left for you once you get thirsty. We can’t care for others if we can’t care for ourselves first. We tend to find ourselves telling those around us to care for themselves, but it shouldn’t be any different for us. It is just as important for us to follow the acronym CUIDARSE, and do exactly as it says—take care of ourselves. 

Following the group, some of the other students and I went out for dinner, and made sure to enjoy the sunset during our last week here.

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 50 and 51: Conache y Huanchaco, Peru

Saturday was spent catching up on homework and getting a head start on projects due this upcoming week since Friday will be my last day in the program. In the evening, we had our Spanish for the Mental Health Setting class. After class, some of the other students and I went to dinner, before getting ready to go out in the city for our last official weekend in town. 

On Sunday morning, a van picked us up at 7:30am and took us to La Laguna de Conache, located near Trujillo for some sandboarding. If you can imagine snowboarding down a mountain with snow, sandboarding is almost the same, except on a mountain with sand. Sandboarding was truly a blast- even if we left the house at 7:30am after returning from a night out at nearly 4:00am. 

After having spent a few hours riding down the sand, we returned to Huanchaco for lunch, and walked around the local artisan market. We spent the rest of the day taking it easy, and made sure to sit by the beach to enjoy the beautiful sunset before going out for dinner and returning home to finish our homework. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 49: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

On Friday morning, one of the other students and I hosted an initial workshop with another group of Líderes Escolares. This was the first workshop where we presented by ourselves in Spanish (without one of our professor’s accompanying us). It was definitely nerve-wracking at first, but this was exactly the experience we needed in order to increase our level of confidence in regards to our public speaking abilities—especially in Spanish.

Similar to the other two workshops with Líderes Escolares that we’ve hosted so far, we spoke about changes in adolescence, as well as psychoeducation regarding anger, aggression, sadness, and depression. As I stated before, it’s refreshing and worthwhile to see young adolescents eager to make a difference and help those around them. These leaders will truly be the change in the world that we wish to see.

After our workshop, we returned to Huanchaco for our Spanish grammar class. Right after class, another student and I led a group for adolescent males at one of the other sites we’ve been working at. This week, the group focused on effective communication, as well as different types of communication (i.e. passive communication, aggressive communication, and assertiveness). While many of these adolescents have struggled with anger, teaching effective communication (after last week’s session on anger/aggression) will hopefully be a beneficial tool that these adolescents can utilize on a daily basis.

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