Living in a Third World country, even as one as beautiful as Nicaragua, has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the “disadvantages” is the inability to find a WI-FI connection when you want. Right now, I am writing my thoughts down hoping to send this to my blog when I finally make a connection. Was my inability to make a connection to the cyber world a complete disadvantage? Not really. I felt strangely liberated from the constant barrage of news, email requests and other technological distractions that besiege me. I was able to make contact with my adult children by phone that offered some comfort that I am still connected to my world in the United States, but for the most part, I allowed myself to immerse in a culture that is warm and welcoming.
We drove from Estelí to Juigalpai to present our workshop. The drive reminded me that punctuality is quite impossible when roads are unpaved for long stretches of time and the drive will be interrupted by the crossing of cows and bulls at unscheduled times. The picture below was taken from my stopped car.
I am quite convinced that a delayed trip to Fayette from Madison would have created considerable angst. Somehow, I surrended to the idea that I had no control over my environment and when I did, I felt I was able to temporarily surrender to a culture that is perhaps less obsessed with time and performance and more focused on the moment. Isn’t that what I always tell my worried clients who see me in psychotherapy? Be in the moment; it is all that we have. I will be referring to this concept later on in my blog.
The workshop was presented to paid and volunteer consultants who work for “Community Based Resources.” This is an international non-profit organization funded by churches to provide services for the mentally and developmentally disabled. We highlighted the most recent brain research and its implications in providing family and community based services to children in order to maximize development in emotionally safe relationships. The most salient feature of our program focused on how fear thwarts learning and brain development while empathy and compassion create the opposite. The implications are self-evident when working with “acting out” children and adolescents. In spite of the 100-degree temperature and high humidity in a room with approximately 35 people, the workshop was very well received. Katharina probably had the most difficult task translating every word spoken by Carola and me. Our PowerPoint, which was translated to Spanish, helped. Below is a picture of me helping a small group of students towards the end of our presentation.
This workshop was so well received by both participants and the program director that a request was passed on to Katharina to repeat it with the parents in the community area. I was very proud.
One major faux pas was committed by me when I was comparing the brain with the “automobile’ and the invisible person inside us as the “driver.” I was clumsily attempting to give examples how the “driver” is responsible for their behavior regardless of the condition of their “automobile.” I was quickly reminded that no one in the audience has an automobile. In fact, cars are a luxury for the very few.
At the end, we raffled two Upper Iowa University shirts. Isn’t it wonderful to see Upper Iowa represented in the Nicaraguan area?
Afterwards, we were invited to visit Aldeas Infantiles SOS, Nicaragua in the same city. This is an amazing project that takes children from ages 0-12 who are neglected, abused or abandoned by their parents. For many of these children, it is a respite from a troubled family who might need some time to heal from emotional wounds that have afflicted them. It is well staffed with loving people and very clean. I walked into the infant room and a small boy named, Alberto, immediately crawled to me, grabbed the bottom of my pants and lifted himself so I can hold him. Every time I tried to leave, he would do the same thing. Here I am with my new friend looking over some behavioral charts with Katharina.
After a long day in the sweltering heat, we met with Ms. Rosalina Flores Obando who was very interested in our NorthStar Adolescent Day Treatment program. For those who are less familiar with this program, NorthStar was established 21 years ago under my supervision and co-ownership 21 years ago. The treatment philosophy is based on some basic premises; (1) adolescents often express their inner turmoil with “acting out” behaviors and (2) a vast majority of us are “hard-wired” to be understood and accepted. With very skilled therapists, we attempt to create an environment that encourages authentic communication and understanding. Dr. Pfortner’s recent research of our population demonstrated an 85% improvement rate in overall psychological functioning at discharge and 3, 5 and 8 years after the adolescent graduated from the program. Since this was not the main thesis of her research, there were many confounding variables that probably inflated the success rate. Albeit, one wonders that if these variables were better controlled, would we achieve similar results? What would the results be in a different culture? We proposed the possibility of inviting undergraduate students to help develop community mental health initiatives under my supervision. Is there interest? I will follow-up this question in my next blog submission. One of the major concerns has been the alarming increase of adolescent suicide. Numbers are difficult to obtain, but I will try.