Monday, August 25, 2008

An Overdue Recap of Costa Rica

It is hard to sum up in a few paragraphs what an experience like Costa Rica was.  For 6 of us (7 if you count our adopted Psychiatrist from Cambridge Hospital) it was an immersion of intense language classes and of cultural clashes, in the most harmless sense of the word.  For 3 of us, who are native Spanish speakers, it was a challenge to our developing professional psychological selves, as well as a mutual sharing of differences among the Latino cultures.  

While our classmates enjoyed the rigorous task of learning the subjunctive, preterite (perfect & imperfect), and "jerundio".... the native speakers were out getting our feet wet with individual clients twice a week, with group work with adolescent girls' shelters (one which included teen mothers) involving psychometric testing, and with visiting clients at a hospital whose sole purpose was to provide palliative services to terminally ill cancer patients at minimal cost to them and their families.  Though exhausting and challenging at times, the benefits reaped from such experiences are invaluable.

On an individual level, the clients attending sessions at the Rancho were determined to make the most of their 4 - 5 sessions. They consistently showed up on time to their scheduled appointments and gave their 100% cooperation in wanting to seek change for the betterment of their lives. We saw sons, daughters, mothers, and even folks who got their neighbors to "tag along" for treatment.  Personally, it was remarkable to see how such few sessions could really make such a difference in people's lives. I'll never forget one woman in particular who came to therapy seeking advice on how to "feel less guilty about standing up to my mother."  This was a 42-year-old woman who had been completely overpowered in every way by her mother since childhood. By the end of our time together she was making statements like, "I have the power to take control of my own marriage, my own household, and my own mother's burdens are her own backpack to carry, not mine."  Her change was remarkable.  Mostly it was the act of being heard and of being understood that helped this woman.  Just a simple reminder that she too was a person of value in the world, whose opinion also mattered. 

Equally striking was the positive energy we received from the terminally ill cancer patients at the hospital.  Do~na  Alice in particular was a 94-year-old woman full of wisdom, courage, and most of all laughter and lo
ve.  Spending time with her made one forget the reason she was there to begin with. I know I can speak for the 3 of us, that she will remain in our hearts forever.  

Lastly, but surely, we have our adolescent girls who reminded us that although troubled by extensive trauma histories and dysfunctional families, they still found a way to remain youthful, to find the positive side of educating themselves, and to embrace their individuality as a person.  They welcomed us with open arms and saw us as their equals. Fascinated by our cultural diversity (Puerto Rico, Peru, and Argentina), they asked millions of questions, yet treated us like their own. 

We are also grateful to our Tica family who made us feel right at home. Do~na Carmen not only treated us like part of the family, but she also
 kept our bellies full of delicious native food 2 times a day.  Thanks to her, our repertoire of Spanish recipes has considerably grown.  So much so that some of us couldn't help but bring back some of their country's products (e.g., Salsa Lizano!).  

A HUGE thank you to MSPP who supported us in this endeavor. Without your investment and belief in us, we would not have had the opportunity to have such an enriching experience.  This is indeed a worthy cause that is much needed and much appreciated, both by the professionals themselves and by our targeted population in need.

No comments: