Hope Makes One Live

While blog readers across the country and bored Facebook scrollers have had a few months vacation of not having to read my posts, I figured today of all days is an important day to temporarily halt the hiatus and offer up a few words.

The past few months have been an incredible whirlwind, to say the least, and I’m so fortunate for the experiences I have been able to have. Moving back to Peru to gain more clinical experience and returning to Guatemala to serve the beautiful people of Sumpango were without a doubt among the highlights, but tonight’s focus is on Haiti.

Last month, I was lucky enough to have worked alongside an incredible group of mental health professionals in Croix des Bouquets with Global Trauma Research—an organization whose meaningful and impactful work goes beyond limits. While in Haiti, we had the opportunity to work with medical providers, teachers, lawyers, and both religious and community leaders—all of whom had one goal: learn more about mental health and find ways to provide sustainable mental health care in their community.

While I’ll go into details about the trip later on, I want to bring to light the fact that Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake on this day eight years ago that devastated the lives of so many. One and a half million people were displaced, between 200,000-300,000 people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were left injured. While we read about natural disasters that take place across the globe on a frequent basis, it’s important to note the horrendous tragedy that struck this truly beautiful country as we remember those who were lost eight years ago. 

On this day of remembering the tragedy that struck the people of Haiti eight years ago, we must also be cognizant of the fact that the people of Haiti have been mistreated, exploited, and neglected (putting it lightly), not only by their own government, but by many across the globe as well. However unjust the treatment towards Haiti has been, the people of Haiti have an inspiring, unwavering strength, and (amongst many other attractions,) that, in and of itself makes this country a beautiful one.

While I have yet to learn Haitian Creole, I did learn the saying “Lespwa fè viv,” or “Hope makes one live.” Through all the adversity and challenges they have faced, the Haitian people have persevered time and time again. I saw firsthand how the people of Haiti continue to push forward with hope for a brighter tomorrow, and having worked alongside such inspiring leaders in the community while abroad, I truly believe that this brighter tomorrow is most definitely a possibility.

Global Trauma Research offered the following words of support and encouragement on this eighth anniversary of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010: http://mailchi.mp/a50121b84e76/gtr-fall-17-newsletter-317931
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PASEO Program Adventure- Day 11: Alto Trujillo, Peru

This morning started with a class focusing on Spanish for the mental health setting. After class, I traveled to Alto Trujillo to complete another observation for a different school. In order to get to the school, we had to take two different busses and a shared taxi cab. As I exited the taxi cab, my cell phone must have fallen out of my pocket. However, I didn’t realize that it was missing until the cab drove off. By now, someone must have either picked up my phone and switched the sim card so they could use it, or the person must have sold it by now. Either way, I was kind of hoping that whoever took my phone would continue writing blog posts for me so I would be off the hook, but that has yet to happen. For this reason, I still don’t have a photo for today’s post, and you’re still stuck with me.

Upon doing the evaluation for a primary school classroom, a psychology intern for the school approached me and started talking about difficulties she has come across while working with some of the children. As many of the teachers from other schools already explained, she mentioned that it’s difficult to generally expect children to act any way other than aggressive when that is the type of environment they are growing up in. The school system can be perfect and teachers can be a great sense of support for these children, but the difficulty lies in what type of environment the children are returning home to each and every day.

What is also upsetting is that since so many parents mistreat their children, neglect their children, or are working around the clock to provide for their families, the behaviors of so many children don’t meet what most schools would consider to be “ideal expectations” of how a child should act. For this reason, typical disciplinarian methods don’t always work. Unfortunately, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the school’s disciplinarian (I believe every school here has one—or at least every public school) takes extreme methods to discipline the children when they “act out.” This intern told me that this particular school’s disciplinarian uses a garden hose to hit the children when they misbehave.

Again, so much of the necessary change needs to comes from the top down and from within the household, but unfortunately, this is much easier said than done. As frustrating as it is, I don’t have the solution or answer on how to go about making this change, but it’s something we need to be aware of. We never know what somebody may be going through or experiencing behind closed doors, so we cannot be quick to make our own conclusions or assumptions. Empathy can go a long way, and while it’s not the answer to a systemic problem that so desperately needs to change, I guess it’s something we will have to start with for now.

Misioneros Del Camino: A Legacy of Unconditional Love

There are thousands of children living on the streets in Guatemala. Hundreds of them will die of malnutrition and hunger. But as Mami Leo exclaimed in a previous Radio Marathon, “It’s not only saving a child, giving them food and shelter; anybody can do that. But to give love, to make them citizens that are proud of themselves and not ashamed of where they come from, and become good Christians, I think that’s the job.” For nearly thirty years, Mami Leo has saved, cared for, and provided interim care to thousands of children. During her time in Guatemala, she also provided educational, nutritional, and medical support to countless children in the country. And because of her persistence, medical mission trips have helped provide medical attention to thousands of other Guatemalan citizens in need. Mami Leo has truly made this world a better place, and it is up to us to continue her mission. 

Mami Leo was an incredible woman with a beautiful soul. She has taught us that with passion and unconditional love, anything is possible. For nearly thirty years, she has saved thousands of children from abuse, abandonment, neglect, and malnutrition. She has also provided help and care to children with neurological disorders who would have otherwise been cast aside by society. She impacted the lives of families throughout Guatemala by teaching them how to provide proper nutrition to their children, but above all, she spread love to every person she ever came across. Her love is what is helping break the cycle of abuse, abandonment, neglect, and malnutrition across the country. Her love has given countless children a brighter future. And her love is what will keep us working to fulfill her legacy. And as she once put it, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Together, we can help continue to fulfill her dream.

Mami Leo’s Legacy Will Always Live On

This past week was a very difficult one because the world lost an incredible human being on Sunday, March 8th. Whenever the medical mission team I volunteer with would go to Guatemala and stay at the orphanage Mami Leo founded nearly thirty years ago, she would remind us to not forget about the children upon our return to the states. Our group stayed at the home for only one week, twice a year, and that’s it. For the other 355 days in the year, Leonor Portela, who was more affectionately known as Mami Leo was at the home with the children by herself. Through the hurricanes, earthquakes, mudslides, and the days with no electricity, Mami Leo was there protecting her children. It takes a special person to dedicate her life just to provide a life for others, and that’s exactly what Mami Leo did.

I flew out to Guatemala City early Wednesday morning and arrived just in time for a beautiful mass held in her honor. The entire church was packed and there was not an empty seat in the building. Looking around the room and seeing just how many people Mami Leo has impacted throughout her life was an incredible sight, and knowing that this wasn’t even close to the amount of people she saved and inspired was even more incredible. The funeral procession commenced once the mass concluded, and it was just as difficult as you can imagine. When the funeral concluded, we drove to the orphanage in Sumpango, Sacatepequez where we all gathered around and talked, sharing stories of Mami Leo with one another.

We lined a bunch of tables next to one another and sat down for dinner in a long rectangular set-up. I sat by the center table, and as I looked to my left and right, a sense of peace overcame me. It was truly a beautiful sight; the table was filled with children of all ages who had been saved by Mami Leo (some of whom are pictured below). Even young adults who no longer live in the home came back to spend time with Memo Leo before her passing, and celebrate her life following this terrible loss. In looking around and taking in the surrounding environment, I realized the true impact of Mami Leo’s life work. Some of the people sitting at the table were among the first few children Mami Leo took in years ago, and they were sitting here with children of their own whom you can tell are provided with unconditional love and support.

The love that Mami Leo gave to her children has been carried on to their own children, and Mami Leo has successfully helped them break the chain of abuse, neglect, and abandonment in Guatemala. They are well-integrated members of society, many in Guatemala, and some in the United States. And what is just as special is the fact that they all still treasure where they come from, the beautiful home Mami Leo took them into, Misioneros Del Camino.

So while we mourn a tragic loss of what I truly believe is a one of a kind saint, we also rejoice in knowing that Mami Leo’s legacy isn’t going anywhere. We can all come together to help fulfill her mission and dream of providing love and support to such children in need, and more importantly, we will never forget Mami Leo, her work, or the thousands of children whom she is survived by. And as she once said, plain and simply, “If you don’t dream, you’ll never make it.” Descansa en paz Mami Leo.