Archive for July, 2011
We had a long day of plane travel and landed in Managua in the evening. A three hour car ride took us to to our hosts’ house in Esteli. Conversations with Katharine oriented us to our busy week. This morning, we are headed to their “finca” (farm) approximately 1,400 feet in the mountains. I will say more about their attempts to create a green and sustainable environment in this area. Pictures will follow.
I recently accepted an invitation to research and review community mental health and developmental disabilities programs in the indigenous areas of Nicaragua next week. I am very excited about this opportunity and hope to parlay this initial visit into future classroom opportunities for our undergraduate students at Upper Iowa University who are majoring in psychology and/or human services. I have also communicated this interest with my colleague at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Rothermal Bascom Professor of Human Ecology, Shepherd Zeldin (http://www.sohe.wisc.edu/is/ShepherdZeldin.html). His research interests include the utilization of community resources in helping children and families all around the world. Not surprisingly, our conversations explored mutual interests and future collaborations and research opportunities. Dr. Carola Pförtner, a Ph.D. graduate from the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Counseling Psychology and full-time faculty member of Madison College, will partner with me on this exploratory research visit.
Why Nicaragua? While I was fortunate to visit many countries and hope to teach in the near future at Upper Iowa University’s Hong Kong Center, South America has always captured my imagination. Unique and ancient cultures were decimated and divided by European interests in the 1400s. In spite of the slaughter and enslavement of advanced civilizations, remnants of the past are visible in the many surviving ruins and spirit and customs of a proud people. Nicaragua is also the home of Katharina Pförtner, the sister of Carola. Katharina has devoted the past 20 years advocating and serving the individuals and families of the developmentally disabled. A German native who worked as a special education teacher, she presently trains teachers, health care providers and social workers at “Community Based Rehabilitation,” a non-profit organization providing services to the indigenous countries around the world. Katharina’s professional knowledge and leadership in the field is matched with her devotion that is intense and contagious (http://www.cbm.org/Katharina_Pfoertner-254648.php).
You are invited to join me on this travel log. We will be leaving from Chicago this Saturday July 30th and returning August 7th. I will attempt to write and upload videos and pictures at the end of the day. I go with an open mind and an open heart. But before we depart, allow me to share a little about myself.
I was raised in The Bronx in a neighborhood that was somewhat culturally diverse. In retrospect, we had very limited financial resources, but I never felt “poor.” My family worked hard to make ends meet at “dead end” jobs, but I always believed in a better future if I worked hard and applied myself. The “’hood” was very important to me. Neighbors had tacit permission to correct our behaviors if we were too noisy while playing “stickball” in the street. “Stickball” in the streets? With buses and cars driving by us? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stickball
Please do not think I was “brainy;” I was not. I took underachievement to new levels until my junior year in High School when I began to realize that higher education allowed me choices. Freedom has always been important to me.
I studied at City College of New York in Harlem and received my B.S. and M.S. in psychology. Community service allowed me to find my professional “calling” that academic courses could not. My interest in people and their communities has remained my passion when I had an early epiphany while studying Freud in my “Abnormal Psychology” class. I realized that human beings, as social animals, are hard wired to love and be loved. Anything that gets in the way of that will create psychological, emotional and physical problems. I decided to keep this “revelation” to myself fearing that this notion would be ridiculed, but I hold firm to this idea. I revised my theories about the definition of “love” and my study of the brain recognizes that sometimes this organ has a “mind of its own,” but I stay committed to this idea. Recent brain research and other studies lend credence to what this precocious 19 year old thought 41 years ago! After receiving my Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in 1977, I became a licensed psychologist and therapist.
After years of working with families and individuals, I established NorthStar Day Treatment program in 1990. Soon after, Ben Farbman, ACSW and valued adjunct faculty member at UIU, assumed administrative responsibilities. This is a program for psychologically disordered teenagers who are either adjudicated and/or at risk for residential treatment. The underpinnings of treatment is based on the belief that all human beings want to be “understood” and that the behaviors that we observe in our troubled teens are the manifestation and communication of hurt, upset, fear or anger. A program was developed that attempted to help teens communicate their authentic “selves” in a more pro-social way. The program rewards authenticity and communication. Unlike many other programs, we do not reward “good” behaviors; for many adolescents, that approach seemed rather short sighted and limited. Another underpinning of treatment is the involvement of families, schools, social workers and other health care providers.
Research completed by Carola demonstrated an 80% success rate when we contacted “alumni” who completed their treatment 3 to 8 years later. This is an astounding success rate that makes all who are associated with this mission very proud. NorthStar has also offered students from UIU to participate in their psychology and human service undergraduate internships. Most have furthered their education by pursuing graduate work in their respective fields.
Look forward to further installments at this address. I welcome and appreciate your thoughts, questions and comments.