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 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 36: El Porvenir, Peru

Today (last Saturday), we hosted our first workshop with three groups of Líderes Escolares from three different schools in El Porvenir. As previously mentioned, los Líderes Escolares are a group of student leaders in each grade (chosen by various teachers and faculty members) from each school that receive workshops and leadership training events, with the goal of motivating and inspiring their peers—all while gaining the knowledge and support to make a difference in their schools and community.

We will be hosting two workshops with each group (with student leaders from three schools in each group), with the focus of changes in adolescence and psychoeducation regarding anger, aggression, sadness, and depression. Following the 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. It was a blast being able to work alongside the Líderes Escolares this morning, especially because when you see such a drive amongst young individuals, it brings about a refreshing sense of hope and change for the future.

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 32 and 33: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

Today (last Tuesday), was the first day of returning to some of the schools we observed and hosted workshops at to see how the teachers have been implementing what they learned in the workshops. I was (honestly) surprised to see a drastic change in teaching methods utilized by some of the teachers, and the involvement on behalf of the students was pretty incredible too. It just goes to show that change can be made at any level as long as the motivation to accept and implement change is there.

On Wednesday, we had our Spanish for the Mental Health course, followed by supervision for our field experience. I’ll leave this post short and sweet, so as to not bore you, and more so because I honestly can’t remember what else I did during these days. So with that, enjoy your evening, as I try remembering what else I did and continue catching up on the remainder of last week. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 28: El Porvenir, Peru

Seeing as this (past) weekend marks the end of the first half of our trip, last night, we hosted a potluck for all of the students and professors from the program. After the potluck, we all went out to the local salsa club (which keep in mind, doesn’t open until midnight). We stayed out until 3:00am, and were somehow able to make it to another workshop at 8:00am in El Porvenir. 

As we walked into the room where the workshop was going to take place, we were surprised to see more than 40 attendees eagerly awaiting our arrival. Teachers from local public schools, members of La Fiscalía, and professors and administrators from Universidad Nacional de Trujillo were all in attendance. Prior workshops had 11 attendees at most, so this was truly a surprise, and it was motivating to see so many individuals participate and take an interest in improving the overall wellbeing of their students. 

We discussed some of the many barriers that the educators face, as well as risk factors that so many students face, which can often hinder their completion of attaining an education. However, we discussed protective factors to be mindful of, and ways to foster a greater level of support between the students and teachers. Before concluding, we discussed ways to engage in self-care, and worked with the teachers to create a plan moving forward so they can begin to implement changes they would like to make in the classroom. 

Each of the public schools have a program called Líderes Escolares, where students with leadership qualities are named School Leaders. These leaders get together every  week or two and work alongside one another to help improve their school communities. After the workshop, we were fortunate enough to see a show hosted by the Líderes Escolares, in which students from each school performed a song or dance. 

Throughout the first half of the program, we worked alongside teachers and faculty members to see how we can improve classroom behaviors as well as teacher relationships with students (with the goal of helping students feel more support so that they can achieve their educational goals). This was the perfect transition to end the first half of the program, because starting next week, we will be working more closely with the student leaders, with the goal of empowering them to help their peers stay in school, avoid drug usage and gang affiliation, and help them make an even greater difference in their schools. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 17: El Porvenir y Trujillo, Peru

This morning (Monday—yes, still behind), I completed my final observation at another school in El Porvenir. It was definitely an interesting experience because the school I observed is a Catholic school (considered more private than the others), as opposed to a national school (or public school, which is what every other school I’ve observed so far is considered). Since students from the secondary school were on a field trip to local historic sites for the day, I was only able to observe students in primary school.

Upon speaking with a local social worker, I was informed that there is a lot of crime among the students, including extortion and theft. When I spoke to the director of the school, she mentioned that a lot of the children have difficulties at home that influence their behaviors, including lack of parental support and/or parents having to work long hours, leaving their children unsupervised upon returning from school. This recurring theme seemingly continues to make its way into every school that I observe. There are so many challenges that these children face both inside and outside of school, but especially once they leave school grounds each day. The risk factors are substantial, and we have to focus on fostering more protective factors in order to provide these children with substantial support so they can have the futures they deserve.

In the afternoon, we had our weekly meeting with a group of local women and family members in El Porvenir that I briefly discussed last week. 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, one of the other students and I were in charge of working with the group members’ children—some of whom have physical disabilities and/or difficulties with motor skills and/or verbal communication deficits. We had each child write their names and draw something that corresponds with each letter of their name. The creativity and abilities in these children are truly incredible.

After our group, we went back to Trujillo for our Psicología en Peru course. Tonight, we focused on statistics within the country, all of Latin America, as well as throughout the world. When we look at a global scale, depression happens to be the most common mental illness. However, in Latin America, only five percent of the adult population reportedly suffer from Depression. According to the NIH, “In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million adults aged 18 or older in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.” If so many people in the United States alone have experienced depression, why is the percentage so low in Latin America? It’s because so many people do not seek or receive mental health services. This number is merely what is reported.

Among so many other challenges, stigma is the biggest problem pertaining to bringing attention to mental illness in Latin America, and especially Peru due to discrimination against mental health. If you seek any type of help or treatment, you’re considered “weak” or “crazy.” You’ll likely be asked, “Are you weak? You’re not strong enough to deal with this?” Alongside stigma, shame and misconceptions about having a mental illness come into play as well.

Even if we were to put stigma aside, psychoeducation is another challenge. If someone does in fact have a mental illness, many times, they’ll go to the local clinic with the belief that it’s a physical illness as opposed to a mental illness. In a perfect world, hypothetically speaking, of course, let’s say that someone does in fact go to the hospital for an issue pertaining to their mental health. As I mentioned the other week, you would have to wait days in the hospital before getting an appointment, and when you finally do get one, your appointment would only last a few minutes, and would consist of being asked a few “yes” or “no” questions to determine if you have depression.

There isn’t enough time to converse with the patient, so the odds of someone actually getting the help he or she needs and deserves are slim to none. But first, you’d have to overcome the stigma and shame in order to even make it to this point. And you’d have to hope that your family wouldn’t abandon you due to shame as well. Now if you want to talk about services, there is about 1 psychiatrist per every 300,000 people in Peru. If we were to look at another country, let’s say Colombia for example, there, you would find 2.1 psychiatrists per ever 10,000 people. Pretty significant difference, right?

The following statistics have been taken from Según el Instituto Nacional de Salud Mental (INSM) (2014): 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. (Yes, the percentages overlap.)

This is why education is so important. We must spread the word about mental health because until we can do so, millions of people will not receive the necessary services they require.

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.

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 7: Huanchaco, Trujillo, y El Porvenir, Peru

Today consisted of another set of observations in a different school located in El Porvenir. While speaking with the principal, she informed me that out of 936 students (just in the secondary school alone), there is only one psychology intern for them to confide in, should they need to speak with someone. The resources are limited, and no matter how hard the teachers try to build their students up, so many of their families continuously tear them down.

The principal mentioned that just last week, two students got into an argument, which led to one student punching the other in the face. When the school called the student’s parent, the parent came to the school and almost immediately hit her child in the face upon hearing what happened. Fortunately, school administrators were able to intervene, but only for the time being. Unfortunately, what happens when the student returns home is considered a different story. 

With regards to continued education, many times, parents will tell their students that after secondary school, they can no longer continue their education because they need to start working and bringing in an income for the family. In other cases, the children aren’t even given that option, and will drop out of school so that they can work instead. 

While the principal explained that the school does have successful alumni who they are very proud of, there aren’t many. The mentality is typically to continue working where the parents work upon graduating (if the students complete secondary school), and in this particular city, this usually involves selling goods in the local market or making shoes. 

Just a few months ago, Peru experienced a devastating flood, which destroyed many houses and local buildings. One of the teachers spoke to me about a student of hers who was knocked down during the flood and nearly drowned. He hasn’t been able to focus on his school work ever since, and understandably so. Many of the students’ houses were destroyed in the flood as well, which led to them having to stay at the school in the days following the flood. As of this moment, most, if not all of them still do not have a home. 

The resources are scarce and lots of the familial situations aren’t conducive to fostering a child’s development in a safe and loving environment. But the students continue to smile, laugh, and find a way to continue to persevere. For many of these students, school is the only place where they are given the opportunity to do so. 

After a long day of observations and class (which I’ll discuss in a later post), I went to a local restaurant for dinner with a few of the students on my trip. Papa a la Huancaína (boiled yellow potatoes in a spicy, creamy sauce called Huancaína sauce.) and tallarín saltado con pollo was the perfect way to end the night.

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 6: Huanchaco y El Porvenir, Peru

This morning began with a class on Motivational Interviewing in Spanish. Motivational Interviewing is a style of counseling that focuses on trying to motivate clients to achieve change on their own terms. It makes sense when you think about it. If someone tells or forces you to change an existing habit, odds are, you likely won’t change. But if can attain some sort of intrinsic motivation to make a change, the outcome will be much more significant. (Keep that in mind the next time you tell a loved one they need to change an existing behavior.) 

The afternoon was spent in El Porvenir at a different school doing more observations. Many of the kids come from families whose parents are in gangs and/or commit serious crimes. Other kids come from families who have neglected them, which often times affects their behaviors in the classroom. Some of the teachers believe that this is the biggest barrier in the classroom setting, which is difficult, to say the least, because how do you make such a large systemic change in such a short amount of time? Then again, I’m sure plenty of people across the globe are asking the same question.  

One positive note is that any time a student wants to speak in front of the class, he or she has to stand up, which helps foster public speaking skills and a greater level of confidence (as uncomfortable as it is). And anytime an adult walks into the classroom, all of the students stand up to show their respect. Students are also expected to participate in school events such as plays and historical reinactments throughout the school year, which helps them learn to work alongside one another. Something that was also nice to see was a small garden, created and cared for by some of the students. Anytime you plant a seed of any kind, it’s only a matter of time before it blossoms into something worthwhile. 

While there is definitely work to be done, it’s refreshing to see small acts of kindness at a young age that will hopefully add up to help these children find a different path in life than the path that many of their family members have taken. 

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.