PASEO Program Adventure—Day 21: El Porvenir, Huanchaco, y Cajamarca Peru

This morning (Friday—yes, we’re still playing catch-up), we traveled to El Porvenir to present our first workshop to teachers in one of the local national (public) schools. For the past two-and-a-half weeks, another student and I have been conducting observations in 12 national schools throughout El Porvenir and Trujillo Alto. The purpose of these observations was to note how students behave in the classroom setting, how teachers respond to student behaviors, and overall student/student and student/teacher interactions. Seeing as the specific program the other student and I are working with is geared towards preventing students from getting involved in the legal system, the overall goal is to help the teachers develop and foster a more supportive learning environment for these students.

Keeping in mind that many of these students do not have strong familial support, have limited resources at home, have parents who have to work around the clock to provide for the family (and are therefore left with limited parental supervision), have parents who want them to start working after primary school because an immediate income is more important than continued education, have parents who are involved in gangs/in jail, and/or are involved in gangs themselves, there are many outside factors that come into play that prove difficult for teachers to make an overall difference in the lives of these students.

As we interacted with the teachers throughout the workshop, we discussed various individual, social, familial, school-wide, and communal risk factors that many of these students face including teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, joining gangs, and dropping out of school. Seeing as these were primary concerns addressed during the observations we conducted, we were then able to hear about the experiences these teachers have had with their students in each of the aforementioned categories. We discussed supportive factors too though, because as difficult as it may be to navigate around so many risk factors, there are always supportive factors that can counteract any and all risk factors. For many of these students, these teachers are exactly that.

When you spend years working in a profession where more often than not you feel exhausted, pushed to the limit, under-appreciated, and feel like the odds of success for your students are stacked against them due to so many outside influences, it gets difficult (to say the least) to persevere and keep trying to impact the lives of our future generation. The teachers we met with continue to do this, and as they described their motivation to join the field of education and their desire to continue working in this field, it truly sparked a beacon of light and hope in what has seemingly felt like a dark tunnel—especially when looking at the overall resources provided to these schools for educational purposes and the countless barriers that so many of these children continuously face on a daily basis.

After the workshop, we returned back to Huanchaco for our Global Mental Health class, which I’ll discuss in a later post. The rest of the day was spent getting a head-start on homework, and of course eating pollo saltado before traveling to Cajamarca, Peru for the weekend.

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PASEO Program Adventure: Day 3 in Huanchaco y Trujillo

Today was officially the start of my new adventure. Upon waking up in the morning, it took me a few seconds to remember where I was. But after the initial shock of forgetting I just traveled abroad settled down, I quickly realized that I was in Huanchaco, Peru- a place I will eventually come to call my home. 

In my short time here, I’ve come to appreciate one of life’s treasures that I believe so many of us take advantage of back in the States. Yes, I’m talking about Charmin Ultra Soft. I’ll just leave it at that and let that resonate for some time. I’ve also come to find out that maybe more people are actually reading this than just my mother and possibly my grandmother too. That adds a whole new level of pressure, seeing as I’ll have to write more than just what I’m eating and how I’m keeping safe every second of every day.

To really push myself into this new adventure ordeal, I went for a run this morning alongside the beach. (I know- I’m just as surprised writing that as you probably are reading this). Not only is Huanchaco known as a fisherman city and for its seafood, but it is also known as a surfing town as well, since the waves appear to always be in full flight. In fact, we can even hear the sound of the waves crashing down from the house we’re staying in. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in life, and I guess sacrificing Charmin for an oceanside view will have to do. 

This afternoon, I had a pre-evaluation to assess my current knowledge of the Spanish language. I read aloud a case study and was asked to answer questions solely in Spanish regarding how I could help normalize a teenage pregnancy, how to explain depression to a teenager, and an example of a technique I would use to help a teenager calm down from nerves at any given moment during a session. My responses were recorded and will be heard by four of our professors as well as the owner of our house who is not in the counseling field and who does not speak English. The purpose is to assess each student’s needs and to see if a local would understand our explanations and techniques. This will set the foundation of our learning goals throughout the upcoming weeks. 

I had lunch at a local restaurant, where I paid 10 soles (less than four dollars) for a tamale, pollo saltado con arroz y papas, and a sweet drink made from a local fruit. I wanted to take pictures, but my hunger got the best of me. 

Our evening was spent in Trujillo (what you are looking at in the pictures), where we had our first class- Psicología en Perú with a local psychologist. I’ll have to provide more concrete details once the PowerPoints are shared with us, but we learned about mental health care in Peru, and how while even though there are laws that entail for mental health care to be accessible for all, this most certainly is not the case. For someone seeking mental health care in a hospital setting, the psychologist only has 10-20 minutes with that individual to provide an initial intake. 

The initial intake covers basic information about the person, as well as a brief assessment, in which only one question really matters. Have you thought about or attempted suicide within the last three months? If the individual answers yes to that, and apparently only that, only then will he or she return for services. However, services entail follow-ups consisting of taking other assessments each session. And you only have 10-20 minutes total for your session, if even that. Imagine any time you describe a difficult day you had at work to a loved one, or the last time you complained about a coworker or someone who cut you off on your way home. Now imagine trying to get all of that out in 20 minutes at most. And now imagine trying to discuss symptoms and issues you are experiencing pertaining to your mental health in about 10 minutes.

There are 20 inpatient agencies and 21 community agencies (focusing on medical and mental health together) throughout the country that are meant to serve the millions of individuals living here. One newspaper article showed a lady who attempted suicide three different times, but was unable to be hospitalized due to a lack of beds in the agencies. Imagine that for just a moment. 

With regards to substance abuse, the main modality of treatment here appears to be through the church. If you can put your faith into a higher power, and a higher power alone, your addiction will be “fixed.” Social workers can be found giving brief prevention-based education in the schools to that it can be said that the material has been “covered.” And if you want to talk about an individual with a severe and persistent mental illness, let’s say schizophrenia, for example, such an individual would be asked to go in for medication once a week. He or she would then be expected to continue to go in for more medication on a weekly basis. And that is your mental health care, in a condensed version. As a side note, there are great providers trying to make a difference here, just like in other countries as well. But this is the general sense of how mental health functions throughout the country.  

If I’m not mistaken, the amount of money that would be required to get Peru to where it should be with regards to mental health care is 800 million soles (less than 245 million dollars). The actual amount being spent on mental health care by the government is roughly 69 million soles (a little over 2 million dollars). The wealthy people in Peru live (viven), while those without money survive (sobreviven). Having started this post talking about a quality of toilet paper, I can’t help but think how fascinating it is what so many of us take for granted.

(P.S.- if any of the information I wrote is incorrect, I will be sure to update it and blame it on jet lag.)