Sunday, July 25, 2010

Hello from President Covino

Seven days in Guayaquil. I arrived a day prior to our students to meet President Gonzalez and the Luceros and to get acquainted with the area a bit before the students came.

This is a highly organized and complex rotation. President Gonzalez is an unusual man; a real humanitarian. He looks after the students with the enthusiasm of an uncle and a master teacher. He speaks passionately about his country and the work that our students will be doing here. He and the host families waited with me until 12:30 am to greet our students when they arrived. He knew everyone by name when they arrived and made sure that they were settled and that each one had a packet of information. The introductory week was manageable and well thought out. A tour of the city, an orientation to the area services, government structure, neighborhoods and customs. Although he has done this work as an educator for many years, he engaged our group with enthusiasm, kindness and energy and he spoke of the customs and needs of the people with compassion.

On the second day we met the staff and people of the three placements that the students will be working in: a primary school, a public health clinic in a neighborhood that is being settled by squatters who were brought in from the mountains by the government to become “voters”, and a Foundation that educates street children. The latter is a school that takes all comers regardless of age and groups them into classes according to educational needs and abilities. Many of these children are without families or have been working from a very young age (grades 2 or 3) so that they have had a very spotty education. The students began their work at this Foundation on the very next day.

Johnny continued to be present and to mentor the group, giving his time in the morning to make sure that things went well and, again on the next day. Jazmyn is one of the local psychologists (a BA level professional with an additional year of professional training). She interviewed a young child with one of our students in the room and the rest of us behind a mirror. Apart from the heat and the age and condition of the play materials, these mornings looked much like internship training at the Beth Israel Hospital when I was there. If I can get back to this blog, I will write about the young boys that were seen that day by our students and Jasmyn; it was very impressive.

I am most impressed by our students. The early days are overwhelming for all of us. If you haven’t lived in another country, it is scary to be in a neighborhood with limited language skills. People on the plane cautioned each of us to “be careful” living in the city. It isn’t staying at the Hilton compound. However, in a brief meeting on the second day, we were all able to talk about the issues of safety and trust that we were experiencing. It was easy to make the leap to understand how patients, especially those whose English mirrors our level of Spanish, feel when they come to a mental health provider for care. By day two or three, however, these students were jumping rope, playing clapping (hand) games and swinging on swings with the Foundation children who were eager to engage, touch, and talk with them. This was impressive “immersion” after only a few days and starting with a good amount of apprehension. They are clearly off to a great start.

The “star” of this rotation, though, is Johnny Gonzalez who is ubiquitous, compassionate and a true educator. In short order it is unmistakable that this man has a “calling” to do this work and that it is not in any way a job. He knows the people at the clinics and they have obvious affection and respect for him. He is concerned that people get the maximum outcome from their educational experience. He left a dinner with his wife to pick up two of our adventurous students who had become stranded at a mall. He has been very attentive to me and to the Lucero family to make sure that the work that we are doing in Cynthia’s name is successful. He speaks Spanish with patience to the students and has been the translator of language and culture for me. Anything that moves this program forward is his mission. I meet a lot of people in my work, this is the “real deal” as a man who is concerned about the human race. We are fortunate to have him as our host and teacher….and did I say that he has a family and another job as president of Blue Hill College? Indefatigable as well.

Nick Covino

No comments: