“Let us remember: One book, one pen, one child, and one teacher can change the world.” -Malala Yousafzai
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.
Over the summer, I attended a medical mission trip to Guatemala where our team of doctors and volunteers treated well over a thousand individuals in only a few short days. I worked in a triage station, and had the primary task of asking the people needing medical attention what was wrong, taking their blood sugar levels, blood pressure, weight, and temperature. From there, myself and the other triage team members would write down which doctor the person needed to see, and someone from the logistics team would walk him or her over to the required doctor.
A mother and her young son sat down at my table, and the mother explained that her son was very quiet and did not like talking to many people beside for her. She mentioned that the boy’s teacher believed him to have Autism Spectrum Disorder and recommended that he stop by the medical mission to inquire testing. I spent some time with the child and tried to engage in conversation with him. Although he was shy and seemed afraid to talk at first, little by little, he began opening up.
While I still recommended he receive testing by a trained psychologist as his teacher had recommended, it turns out, the child was being bullied at school. For this reason, he had become increasingly quiet and preferred not to engage in conversations with individuals other than his mother. Because he was being bullied at school, he was carrying around a significant fear on his shoulders, and no one seemed to know about his bullying.
Bullying occurs across the globe, and for us to ignore such terrible actions committed against others is an injustice to those afraid to speak up and ask for help. No one should have to endure bullying, and we should be doing everything we can to make sure that no child, young adult, or even adult faces mistreatment by others. It is up to us to make a difference.
For a child who was believed to have had Autism and who was believed to avoid individuals and not smile at all costs, I would say that after explaining his story and having someone to talk to, his smile was pretty big if you ask me.