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. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 47 and 48: Huaraz, Trujillo, Huanchaco, y El Porvenir, Peru

On Wednesday morning, we had breakfast at our hostel (consisting of eggs, toast, butter, jam, freshly squeezed papaya juice, and coffee) for 4 soles (about a dollar and some change). After breakfast, we headed over to the bus station, and returned to Trujillo on an 8-hour bus ride. Once we made it to Huanchaco, we celebrated returning to sea level and being able to breathe again with a trip to the gym, followed by dinner. Because once you return from vacation, what else is there to do aside from eat?

On Thursday, our morning observations at local schools were cancelled since we had a workshop for the Líderes Escolares planned in the afternoon. As mentioned in an earlier post, we have been hosting workshops with groups of student leaders from three different schools in each group, with the focus of changes in adolescence and psychoeducation regarding anger, aggression, sadness, and depression. 

Following this first workshop, we’ll host a final workshop with each group with the focus of empowering the student leaders to share everything they learned with their peers, and also how to spot signs of anger, sadness, depression, and suicide, in addition to how they can refer students to necessary resources, should someone be in need of help.

Today’s workshop was another initial workshop with a new group of Líderes Escolares. There is so much to be learned from the younger generations, and any opportunity to work alongside student leaders and individuals wanting to make a difference in their community is bound to be an enlightening and incredible experience. And today’s workshop was exactly that.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 46: Huaraz, Peru

On Tuesday morning, we hopped on another bus, ready for another exciting adventure (without oxygen). As we drove into El Parque Nacional Huascarán, our first stop was to see Pumapampa (agua gasificada), followed by Puyas de Raymondi, the largest species of bromeliad, and Laguna 7 Colores—a beautiful lagoon consisting of various colors. After making stops to see each of the aforementioned sites, we continued driving until we made it to our final destination.

When the bus dropped us off at our final stop, we were at a higher altitude level than the 15,000 feet mark we reached yesterday at Laguna 69. Just stepping off the bus was enough to leave you (by you I mean me) out of breath. We walked into the site of Pastoruri, and had one of two options. We could pay 7.50 (nearly $2) to ride a horse up the path and then continue walking for 15 minutes, or we would walk the full path for 45 minutes. Because the altitude was so high and given the opportunity, we decided to ride horses up the path.

Once our horses dropped us off close to the top of the path, we had one of two options yet again. You could either pay an employee of the site to carry you on their back while they walk up the path, or you can walk the path yourself. We walked on our own, very slowly. Within 15 minutes, we made it to Nevada Pastoruri and Laguna Congelada. Even though it was freezing (as we surrounded by glaciers), and even though we were 16,000 feet above sea level gasping for any breath we could take, the view (pictured below) was absolutely incredible.

As our time on the tour was coming to an end, and more importantly, as we began to turn blue and have icicles forming on our bodies, it was time to return to the bus. We walked down part of the path, and rode another horse down the remainder of the path.

As the tour concluded, we stopped for dinner along the way, and returned to our hostel to rest for the evening prior to returning to Trujillo tomorrow morning on another eight-hour bus ride at 9:30am.

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 4: Huanchaco, Trujillo, y El Porvenir

This morning started with another run, which is still strange to write (and actually do). Every time I write the word run on my phone, autocorrect pops up to suggest “run to the bathroom.” I guess both my phone and I are learning new ways and locations to run. (Give me a break, it’s still early.) I’ve found that I have a love/hate relationship with running, yet I’ve continued to run each morning thus far. (Yes, I’m well aware that I’ve only been here for two mornings.) 

There’s something liberating about being able to run towards something, whether you take that literally or figuratively. Just like trying to attain any goal, making it to the end point tends to be exciting, rewarding, and even motivating. 

However, in our fast paced lives, we don’t usually take the time to enjoy the journey itself. We tend to focus on reaching one goal and moving directly towards the next one. Our achieve all you can/goal-oriented society is one to take pride in, but when will the journey itself start to count? 

Lucky for me, my panting and possibly even wailing during and after the run helped me try to soak in the view and take some time to appreciate my surroundings. Aside from believing I would collapse at any moment, the journey was an exciting one (but of course not as exciting as finishing the run). But I hope that this experience abroad will help me learn to appreciate life’s journey instead of solely focusing on end-goals and accomplishments rather than the process itself. I think this is something so many of us can benefit from, but for whatever reason, we find ourselves doing otherwise. But what do I know? I’m still just trying to catch my breath. 

This morning, we had our second class- Español para salud mental, a course focusing specifically on Spanish for the mental health setting. Roughly sixty percent of Hispanics who go in for an initial counseling session will not return to continue services. As with many other cultures, so many Latin American countries have known roles for men and women, and unfortunately, no where does it say that one of those roles can be to focus on or believe in one’s mental health. 

Many people have their own thoughts and perceptions about counseling, and when you add a language barrier on top of it, why would someone seek out supportive help? Creating rapport with an individual and being able to describe what counseling entails- all in that person’s primary language is truly essential for retention of services, and for that individual to receive the help, support, and services that he or she deserves.  

One of, if not the most important rule in counseling is to meet the client where he or she is at. If we can’t do that, especially in an individual’s primary and native language that he or she feels most comfortable speaking in, what good will we do for that individual?

This afternoon, I started my first day of work at La Fiscalía, located in Trujillo, Peru. I had to take a bus in order to get there, but if the bus doesn’t arrive in time, you can take what is called a “combi,” or a mini bus. This sedan-like vehicle maneuvers all across the road as fast as possible, while making sure that it fits as many people as possible. Today, we were able to fit 20 people at once. I’m sure that’s no world record, but mini clown cars definitely have some competition. 

Upon arriving to La Fiscalía, my supervisor, another student, and I met with the director of the site and discussed what we would be doing in the upcoming weeks. La Fiscalía offers many services pertaining to juvenile rehabilitation through the court, as well as crime prevention in schools. In the upcoming weeks, another student and I will be working with 12 schools in various neighborhoods and neighboring cities, where we will be observing classroom behaviors, reactions/responses from professors, and ways in which positive and negative reinforcement as well as rewards and punishments are utilized. In three weeks, my supervisor, the other student, and I will host two workshops for professors from each school with our findings, recommendations, and opportunities to practice these skills throughout the workshop. The ultimate goal is to help the professors learn ways to reinforce appropriate behaviors (starting in the classroom), all while empowering and motivating their students. 

I completed my first evaluation today in the city of El Porvenir, and while I won’t get into specifics, I will say this: I was truly impressed to find that the professor whose classroom I observed has students clap for one another whenever someone volunteers and answers a question correctly in front of other classmates. And whenever a student responds with an incorrect response, the professor replies with, “Los errores se aprenden,” which is essentially the same as saying you learn from your mistakes. While this may seem minute in the scheme of things, slowly but surely, this is how you help build a child’s sense of self worth. 

When we focus on the end result, we miss out on the journey. And when we miss out on the journey- whether it be filled with mistakes or minor successes, we miss the opportunity to learn, grow, and enjoy the process.

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 1: Flying to Lima, Peru

For anyone who stuck around throughout my hiatus, you probably realize that it’s been a while since I last posted on here, aside from following through with my Simple Quote Sunday challenge. A lot can happen in such a short span of time, but I won’t bore you with minute details. I’ll save those for a rainy day. 

Having recently graduated from a three-year master’s program in clinical mental health counseling and vocational rehabilitation counseling, I’ve found myself stuck between choosing what the next step will entail- pursuing a doctorate degree or joining the workforce. Before making a final decision, I was fortunate enough to come across an exciting opportunity that truly sparked my interest (and helped me postpone my decision making for the time being). 

About a year ago, I was informed about PASEO (Psychology and Spanish Elective Opportunity)- a Spanish for Mental Health Immersion program that focuses on global mental health. This immersion-based language training program is designed to build Spanish skills for use in mental health settings. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the program last summer due to classes and internships, but things seem to have a way of working themselves out. Now that I’ve graduated, the timing couldn’t be better. Besides, I couldn’t think of a greater opportunity, given the fact that there is such a large Spanish speaking population in Miami, and an immense need for mental health services in so many underserved Spanish-speaking countries. 

So, for the next month, I will be living in Huanchaco, Peru, and working in Trujillo, Peru. I’ll be sure to provide information about both cities throughout the upcoming weeks. During this trip, I’ll be taking intensive Spanish classes- mainly focusing on use for the mental health setting. I will also be practicing under a licensed clinician at a site of my choosing. 

I decided to work for the court’s Juvenile Restorative Justice Program (Justicia Juvenil Restaurativa). Again, I’ll be sure to include more information about this program as my time in the program progresses. 

I’d like to think that we should always be open to new adventures, and I’m glad to say that the time has come for me to embark on my newest adventure. I look forward to sharing this exciting journey with you, each step of the way. Cheers to new adventures for all of us. And for now, it’s time to get to Lima!