Friday, July 31, 2009
Hola mi familia y amigos de MSPP,
Our 17 day immersion experience in Guatemala is defiantly worth writing home about :) Thank you to Michelle Contreras, Stephanie Guila, and the clinicians and staff at Boston Clinical Consulting en Guatemala for hosting such a wonderful, memorable, and personally/ clinically enriching experience. In writing this blog I hope to share some highlights from our work, our play, as well as the excitement we all feel about the catalyzing of this important and special professional international exchange program between MSPP and the Boston Clinical Consulting group in Guatemala City.
During our 17 day immersion we had the opportunity to get to know personally and professionally the group of psychologists and staff working at Boston Clinical Consulting (“Boston”) in Guatemala City. We were welcomed with open arms. At the clinic we attended Spanish lessons as well as psycho-educational workshops presented by the clinicians, topics included: A workshop on grieving for bereaved parents/ families and Sexual Disorders (2 part). These types of psycho-educational workshops are offered weekly to other professionals and to the public in an effort to provide information and services; to de-stigmatize mental health services in the area.
At the end of the first week we visited and did one short play therapy intervention with 25-50 children at an orphanage in Chimaltenango. This orphanage is named Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos and houses over 350 orphans. It is quite a sight to behold. It is a huge pretty well self sustained campus with metal, wood, sewing, cooking/ kitchen workshops, a school, living quarters for the children as well as staff/ volunteers, football field, basketball courts, gardens, green houses, animal shed and more, all back dropped against a surreal mountain and volcano scenery. I remember walking across the field my first afternoon side by side a small boy of 9 years old. I had gone to get him from class to go to his “anger management” group that was being run by a visiting Japanese psychologist. As we crossed the field together, he asked, “So do you like my country?” I said yes, I do. It is very beautiful. He then looked at me, smiled and said, “I know!! just look at the mountains over there!”
In addition to the mountains we were also welcomed by the children to snap shots of their lives and some stories of early abandonment and resilience. We used a “paracaida” (for falling)/ parachute in our intervention, and consulted on a case with the only local psychologist for all 350+ children on how to help better support a 13 year old girl who was reported to be having significant behavioral difficulties that included stealing eggs from the chicken pen and going to the green house to make omelets for herself and a couple of other friends all of whom had recently sneaked out of the residence late one night. There is much clinical work that can be done here, however, more appropriate it seems for groups that could consider staying a considerably longer period of time then we had available on this trip.
Over the weekend we traveled to Antigua. A special and scared place. A place to relax, chat with the locals, and dance.
In the second week we continued with our Spanish classes at the clinic, visited a second orphanage, as well as made several day visits that included going to the National Psychiatric Hospital, visiting an acupuncturist/ local healer, Train museum, and the National Political Archives. At the second orphanage, El Hosicio San Jose (an place for children who are HIV positive) we again did a short play therapy intervention using drawings and a parachute. This was very successful intervention and left us all with active thoughts about how and in what form MSPP could continue to be a presence in these very special children’s lives. I look forward to sharing more on my cross cultural clinical reflections in the future at MSPP :)
We ended the trip by visiting one of the largest Mayan ruins in the world located in the Tikal National Park. This was my first time seeing a ruin and I experienced standing in awe of humanity. The jungle is certainly an energizing place. I fell in love with Guatemala.
Gracias a Zackarias, Christina, Juan y Michelle por un bien viaje!
Gracias to the MSPP community y Boston Clinical Consulting for this first opportunity to be part of such a positive and important international professional exchange.
Simpre la paz,
Thursday, July 30, 2009
From my newfound home in La Garzota, I’ve found my personal cheerleader for my Ecuadorian adventure. A block from the house that Darleen and I have come to call home, is a gym where day-in and day-out, a personal trainer yells “vamos, vamos, vamos, fuerte, fuerte, fuerte!” After long and tiring days in the Guayaquil humidity chock-full of observing, translating, learning, and struggling to take in and integrate this experience, the physical trainer outside our window pushes me onward to the next day, next experience, next new and shocking reality that is this cultural immersion experience in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Today marks our halfway point of our summer in Ecuador, which feels incredibly false on all fronts. It’s not possible that we’ve only been here two and a half weeks—for all that we’ve witnessed, done, and experienced, each day feels like at least a week. And it’s certainly not possible that in two and a half weeks we’ll be boarding a plane back to the US—how ridiculously short that feels! Since we stepped off the plane after 16+ hours of travelling and were greeted with the strong hugs and kisses on the cheek from Marta Lucero, it’s been clear to me that it might take years to fully unpack, integrate, and comprehend this experience. But as today marks the halfway point, it seems like it’s time to stop, reflect, and share some of the amazing stories I now carry with me.
Although there’s always some culture shock when navigating a new culture, our adjustment was smoothly facilitated by Johnny Gonzales of Blue Hill College, who has done an incredible job of orienting us, organizing amazing clinical opportunities for us, providing us with Spanish classes fit to our varying communicative abilities, and does all this with such a smile, with such charm, and such obvious respect and commitment to the Lucero LMH program. From the psychologists in the sites we’re visiting, to our profesoras, to our Ecuadorian familias, and most especially the Lucero family and the folks at the Cynthia Lucero Foundation, everywhere we go we’re received with such warm and welcoming arms. I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising from the stories we’ve heard about Cynthia, her warmth, generosity, and spirit. Having learned more about Cynthia through the foundation and her family, I feel so honored to have the opportunity to carry out some of the work she had hoped to do, here in the city she was born in.
Tonight I will write the “highlights version,” as my time is short so I can get some rest before our 6:30am home-visits to observe family therapy with families of children who attend the Fundación Crecer’s school for children who work on the streets. On my list of personal highlights are my first telephone conversation in Spanish, with my Ecuadorian Mami, the experience of trying cow-foot soup, seeing whales and blue footed boobys (birds) in Puerto Lopez, canyoning (rapelling) down a waterfall in the mountains of Baños, and successfully explaining the history of the LMH program in Spanish to my family—something I was not able to do last summer.
While I certainly miss the delicious coffee of Costa Rica and the intensive experience of 6 hours of Spanish class a day, with our time split between volunteer work and classes, I feel I’m getting a much more intimate view of life in Guayaquil. The differences in socio-economic-status are shocking. The majority of us live within a two-minute walk from each other, and I’ve never experienced such a wide range of economic variety from house to house. While this felt striking to me for the first two weeks, Monday I witnessed families living in poverty that I could never imagine. Visiting families this week has really put into perspective the unbelievable privileges I hold. The bedroom that I’m living in here, which is probably half the size of my room in Boston, is slightly smaller than the one-room house that sleeps 13 in one of the homes we visited. The privacy, which I crave here, living with a family again for the second summer in a row, and the second time in my adult life, is simply impossible for the families we visited. After seeing the family situations first-hand, I had a different perspective while meeting with the children this morning. One little boy drew us a picture of his family. He spent a very long time concentrating on making his picture—his Abuelita, Mami, Papi, and 3 hermanos—drawn as small as my littlest fingernail. It was as if he couldn’t allow his family to take up any space. Last week I would have interpreted this solely as being about his lack of self-esteem, possibly pointing to depression. But today I paused and considered what it is like to live in a big world and not physically have room to take up the space one deserves. Big hearts of various colors surrounded the picture, as if to say, “we might be small, but our love is big and strong.” This 10-year-old boy with a hefty trauma history, in his picture, and through his play, communicated his awe-inspiring resiliency.
Monday we visited with a family with three adolescent children, one of whom had run away from home. The home was narrow, at the top of incredibly steep stairs that were almost vertical. Like climbing a ladder, it was impossible to ascend the staircase without the use of the banisters. Once inside, the psychologist proceeded to have an hour-long therapy session with the father who struggles with Alcoholism. The entire family (sans the daughter who ran away) was present for the session—there wasn’t another option. While listening to the conversation, I watched the teenage son march an action figure on the ledge of the stairwell. In slow-motion he walked the action figure on the narrow ledge, occasionally flipping him through the air. The figure landed on his feet—most of the time. After quite some time of listening to his father shrug off responsibility, chastise him for behaving like a normal teenager, and lie to the psychologist about his drinking habits, I watched this young man balance the action figure precariously on the ledge of the stairwell. What a long drop it would be if he fell, I thought. I was thankful that action figure stood steady for the rest of our visit, and long after the young man had walked into the room he shared with his siblings. It was hard to peel my eyes from the figure when it was time to leave the house. I wonder if it still stands there, balancing.
Although I’m learning so much, understanding more each day and able to communicate in Spanish better and better each day, my ability to express myself and fully comprehend in Spanish still fails me on a daily basis. While this is incredibly frustrating for a psychology student for whom expression and complexity of thought are of utmost importance, I’ve found myself less and less conscious of the moments where I am lost in translation while observing and interacting in our volunteer experiences. Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, I’ve rediscovered the power of nonverbal communication, and of symbolic representation. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to spend some time with the families here, and to witness and participate in these moments. Whether it’s with a 5 year-old boy at a Hospital Leon Becerra who came alive through play with his toy helicopter and the lunch-bag puppets we made, the one-year old little girl who followed my eyes with hers for 20 minutes after a painful procedure, or the young man whose action figure communicated more than the situation would allow, it seems clear that despite language barriers, people will find a way to communicate what needs to be heard. Beyond the language barrier, so much can be understood. While it feels hard to know how my presence in these institutions, with these families and children, could possibly be of use in such a short amount of time, I am acutely aware of the ways in which I am affected by the time spent with the children and families I have had the privilege to know.
I’m certainly not a morning person, but I’m looking forward to awakening before the sun tomorrow, to meet three more families. Entonces, porque voy a levantarme muy temprano en la mañana, buenos noches a todos. Espero que todos están felices y seguros en Los Estados Unidos.
Hasta pronto! Aliza
Queridos amigos y amigas:
Queremos enviarles un saludo tropical desde La Guácima, Costa Rica. ¡El programa de inmersión de verano en latinoamérica del Program Latino de MSPP ha comenzado este año con gran éxito! Nuestros compañeros de Guatemala ya regresaron a Boston sanos y salvos. Las que estan en Guayaquil, Ecuador están participando de un programa muy interesante de trabajo voluntario y clases de español. Y nosotras ya estamos inmersas profundamente en la cultura costarricense en la segunda de las 5 semanas que pasaremos aquí. Como se podrán dar cuenta por medio de las fotos, hemos estado bien ocupadas con las clases de español en el Rancho Español y el programa de trabajo voluntario. Pero también estamos sacando tiempo para divertirnos aprendiendo bailes latinos con Carlos, a cocinar deliciosas recetas ticas, y participando en muchas otras actividades divertidas. Amaro ya partió hacia Miami para pasar una semana de descanso después de estar una semana con nosotras acompañado de su esposa, Kim, y sus hijas, Isabella and Mariella. Algunas de nosotras ya hemos ido a bucear, a montar caballo, a disfrutar de las bellas playas de la costa del pacífico de Costa Rica, del bosque húmedo, y estamos muy ansiosas ante las aventuras que aún nos aguardan. Nuestras familias ticas nos están alimentando muy bien y dándonos una calurosa acogida en sus hogares. Y también estamos aprovechando de las clases de español de alta calidad del Rancho Español, al igual que de la cálida recepción de parte de Verónica, Clara, Manuel (Sr & Jr), Alejandro, Yohana, Carlos, y el resto de “La Gran Familia del Rancho.”
Les mantendremos informados acerca de todas nuestras aventuras en Costa Rica, y la lección más importante que hemos aprendido hasta ahora es la importancia de disfrutar la vida a su plenitud, lo cual se describe muy bien con la tan versátil expresión tica: “Pura Vida”
¡Hasta la vista!
Amaro, Andie, Emerald (“Esmeralda”), Jen, Leah, Lissa G, Lissa P, Maddie, María, Meaghan, Melissa, Sarah, Steph, Verónica (+ Chris, nuestro compañero adoptado de Pepperdine Univ, a quien hemos declarado estudiante honorario de MSPP, y Greg, quien se unirá a nosotras muy pronto…)
We want to send everyone back home a warm tropical hello from La Guácima, Costa Rica. MSPP’s LMHP 2009 Summer Immersion Program in Latin America is off to a great start! Our older siblings in Guatemala are back home and safe. Our close siblings in Guayaquil, Ecuador are getting busy with a very exciting volunteer program. And we’re becoming fully immersed in Costa Rican culture in our 2nd of 5 wks we’ll be spending here. As you can see from the photos, we’re already getting quite busy with Spanish lessons at Rancho Español and the volunteer work program, but also finding time for fun learning Latin dance with charming Carlos, cooking delicious Tico recipes, and other fun activities. Amaro is off to a week break in Miami after having spent a week with us here joined by his wife, Kim, and daughters, Isabella and Mariella. Some of us have already gone scuba diving, horsebackriding, enjoying the beautiful Costa Rican Pacific coast beach, the rainforest, and we can’t wait for many more fun adventures to come. Our Tico families are feeding us well and treating us warmly. And we’re enjoying the high quality Spanish instruction at Rancho Español, as well as the warm family hosting by Veronica, Clara, Manuel (Sr & Jr), Alejandro, Yohana, Carlos, and all the rest of the friendly bunch at this “Big Rancho Family.”
So, we’ll keep you updated on our Costa Rican adventure, and the most important lesson we’ve learned here so far is the importance of enjoying life to its fullest, which is captured by the versatile Tico expression: “Pura Vida”
¡Hasta la vista!
Amaro, Andie, Emerald (“Esmeralda”), Jen, Leah, Lissa G, Lissa P, Maddie, Maria, Meaghan, Melissa, Sarah, Steph, Veronica (+ Chris, our adopted honorary MSPP student from Pepperdine Univ and Greg who’ll be joining us soon…)
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Bueno, ya llegamos a
Queremos tambien desearle mucha suerte al grupo de estudiantes de cuarto año que están en
Gracias a todos los que trabajaron para la realización de este programa.
¡Hasta la próxima!
Amaro (representando a Avi, Laura, Darleen, Shelly, Aliza, Sasha y Jamie)
So, we’ve arrived in
rogram. After long hours of travel, we’re starting to land in this great city (the most populous in
We also want to wish good luck to our 4th year LMHP siblings who should be in
Finally, as you can clearly see from the photos, we haven’t been wasting any time. Aliza already started practicing her Spanish trying to convince a young girl that she would be fine holding the iguana’s tail (although the little one doesn’t seem very convinced). And Avi, Laura, Aliza and Darleen (taking the picture) went to sip a beer with Amaro on Sunday at the famous “peñas” in Centro Santa Ana, while Shelly, Sasha and Jamie decided to go for a stroll in the mall.
We truly want to thank everyone who worked toward the realization of this program.
Until next time!
Amaro (representing Avi, Laura, Darleen, Shelly, Aliza, Sasha and Jamie)