PASEO Program Adventure—Day 25: El Porvenir, Peru

This morning (Tuesday), we began the day with our Spanish for Mental Health class. Shortly after class, we traveled to El Porvenir to host another workshop for teachers and school administrators at one of the city’s local public schools. 

We start each workshop with the same question: What made you decide to become a teacher? Often times, (if you haven’t already realized) when you work in a field with little recognition when so many societal barriers are stacked against you, it’s easy to forget what motivated you to get into that particular field. It’s interesting to hear how each individual found their way to become a teacher- whether it was by choice or because everyone in their family before them was a teacher too. Regardless of how they ended up in this profession, each individual described the same goal, and that is wanting to make a difference in the lives of their students. 

The teachers discussed the hardships of maintaining their students’ attention in the classroom, mainly due to the fact that so many of them have to work night shifts in order to help bring in some extra money for their families. It’s difficult to know that majority of these students face a variety of obstacles outside of the classroom- most of which are outside of our control. However, what helps offer the slightest sliver of peace is the fact that there are so many selfless teachers willing and able to support these children in any way possible. It is our hope that these workshops will help those in the educational field better understand some of the difficulties that their students are facing so that an even greater amount of support can be fostered between the students and teachers. 

 

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 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 14: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

Last night, we went salsa dancing at a local club, which didn’t start until midnight. Given the fact that most reasons to stay up later in the States (i.e. Blacklist, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, etc.) are over by 10:00pm., it’s safe to say that this was way past my usual bedtime. We were out until 3:00am before I remembered I had to be at my internship site nearly two hours away at 8:00am.

Today’s observation was pretty interesting, since I was able to observe an art class, during which the students were learning Marinera—the coastal dance of Peru. I was then able to observe another class where the students were asked to draw a tree in which each part of the tree represents an important aspect of their lives—including values, support systems, and goals for the future. Last week, one of the principals informed me that vocational considerations aren’t usually discussed with the children, so it was great for so many children to have the opportunity to think about their interests, plans, and goals. It was also refreshing to see a professor teach with such passion because doing so allowed her to maintain the class’ attention, which appears to be a big problem in many of the public schools here. But it just goes to show, if you are truly passionate about what you do, you can absolutely make a lasting difference in the lives of so many others.

Upon returning from the school, I had class on global mental health, which I’ll discuss later on. For dinner, we went out for local street food, and of course, we had more papas rellenas, a baked potato dough usually filled with beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, cumin and other spices. Once prepared, this incredible healthy (just kidding) blob of goodness is deep-fried. Because what isn’t ten times better deep-fried?

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 5: Huanchaco, Peru

Today happened to be one of the calmer days in my schedule, so I’ll keep today’s post short, so as not to bore any reader more than usual. Today’s class focused on Spanish grammar, which I’m still trying to wrap my head around, so I’ll save that for another day. 

Upon waking up in the morning, I went to the local gym and purchased a month-long membership. I don’t know if there’s something in the food that’s promoting fitness, or the hard toilet paper that causes this motivation to be more active, but I promise I’m going somewhere with this train of thought. Self-care is an important facet of life that so many of us tend to overlook during our day-to-day hectic, jam-packed, stressful lives. (The list of adjectives could go on, but seeing as this is life and nearly everyone can relate, I think you get the point.)

If we don’t look out and care for ourselves, how can we expect to do so for others? If we are continuously running on empty each and every day, how can we realistically expect to give the most of ourselves to those around us? Think about it this way. If your child, parent, grandparent, significant other, or close friend spoke about feeling overwhelmed and stressed out, what would likely be your initial response? Probably something along the lines of, “You need to take some time for yourself to relax and do the things that you enjoy.” Tell me this. Why is this any different for us?

Why is it that more often than not, we are able to be a helping hand to those around us who are experiencing difficulties, yet we can’t find the means to give ourselves the same level of care and support? Granted, just about everything in life is easier said than done, but it’s truly interesting if we really take the time to think about it. If we can give such great advice to those around us, why can’t we do the same for ourselves? 

You’ll have to excuse the fact that this post is seemingly all over the place, but after testing out this new gym (which includes a personal trainer everyday), I feel sore in places I didn’t even know exist. Maybe that will explain the lack of organization and cohesiveness in today’s post, but there is a message (or at least I think there is). 

Think about advice you would give to a loved one. We each deserve that same level of care, support, and love in our lives as well. And somewhere along the way, it has to start with self-care and treating ourselves as well as we would tell loved ones to treat themselves. We need to make time for ourselves so that we don’t run on empty. Because as harsh as it may seem, no matter how hard we may try, we can’t be of any help to anyone else if we don’t help ourselves first. And with that, I’ll leave you with a picture of a dog sunbathing by the beach because even he knows the importance of self-care. 

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.

Snapshot Challenge Saturday

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the NEDA walk in Miami. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness, and if we can help bring additional awareness to this important cause, more individuals can receive the help and support they need to overcome this awful disorder. Seeing so many individuals come together for a wonderful cause was truly beautiful, but knowing that even more individuals will receive the medical attention they deserve is even more beautiful.

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