Friday, June 10, 2016

Worst Blogger Ever!!!

I'm shocked that it has been 8 months since my last blog.  I knew I was bad - but the depth of my ineptitude has shocked me.  You guys are probably not as surprised as I am.

I've had so much going on in these last 8 months.  Too much for one post.  So, sometime (soon, hopefully)  I will do a blog about those months, but for now, I just need to catch you up on my major changes.  Like for instance, I am no longer in El Salvador.

I moved back to California last month.  I need to finish up the process to receive my California license for Marriage and Family Therapy.  California requires that I do 3,000 hours of therapy before I can take the test for my license.  I am almost finished, but there is no guarantee that they will accept all of the hours of therapy I did while in El Salvador (there's a chance - which gets a lot bigger when I think of miracles happening on my behalf).

It is my hope to return to El Salvador when I receive my license and continue there.

Leaving was very hard.  I had to say goodbye to a lot of great friends, leave the many jobs I was working (Children's home, School, Individual clients, special seminars I developed), I left my apartment, gave many things away, and had planned to sell my car - but that did not work out.

So, my car is still waiting for me there, with a good friend storing it at her house, along with a few other items ( a lot of books and materials) that I left behind.  It was scary not selling my car because I did not have money to buy a car in California without selling it.

But it's been amazing to see how God has blessed me and provided miracles for me as I returned.

A week after I got home, my parents decided to see what the cost would be to add me to their phone plan.  Turned out, they could upgrade their plan, add me and save $5 a month.  And then I received an old iphone from a family member and have the fanciest phone I've ever had for free :)

Two weeks after I got home, my parents called me to tell me my sister bought a car - and so I could use their extra car that she had been using.  We called to get a quote for their insurance since it is registered to them - and it would only cost me $395 a year!!!!  I was thrilled.  Then, a few days later when we went through the process to officially add me on to their plan, my mom shared details about me and my work in El Salvador to see what discounts I qualified for - and because I have my masters I qualified for some special program that is now saving my parents $18.70 for the year!  AMAZING

Those are the big ones.  Lots of small stories too.

So, I have been blessed, but it has also been hard returning.  I sometimes feel overwhelmed in public places with how tall and big people are and am a bit mesmerized by the diversity.  Things that I did not expect to have culture shock over.

Well - It's time for me to keep working on my job search - but hopefully in the next week I will start catching up on what I did my last few months in El Salvador.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Trauma Seminar

Yesterday I finished the training for the mediators in the country.  It was a great experience.  I taught for 2 days - probably 70 or 80 people.  They mediate all the non-violent conflict in the country. 

I taught about trauma.  I explained about how traumatic events are processed differently in the brain, and it's symptoms and treatments.  Most importantly, I taught about secondary traumatic stress, and how people in helping professions that assist others who have experienced traumas can end up with traumatic symptoms.  We talked about how their jobs effect their personal lives, and how their personal traumatic history can effect their ability to do their job well.  I gave them some practical skills for them to better manage their own emotions, know how to get help with their traumas and ideas to help clients that need to be calmed down in their office.

It was exhausting, but good.  I am hopeful that I was able to make a positive impact on those that play such an important role in resolving conflict in the country.  I found out afterwards that this is the only training that they will receive all year.  I was grateful I didn't know that beforehand - I didn't need that extra pressure when preparing!!!!

Monday, September 21, 2015

New Adventures!

Next month the House Parents for the childrens home move to our new property!!!  The kids will move in November.  There is a lot that has to happen between now and then. Our new property, which we call, "La Finca" (the farm), is about 25 minutes outside of the city.  It is almost 30 acres. It's beautiful - and my new office space has a beautiful lake view.
Here's a picture of the beginning of construction 3 months ago, and a picture from last week:

As you can imagine, things have been a bit crazy!  So much to do.  I lot of my work has been working to prepare the staff for how things will be different when we live on La Finca.  All the effort put in to this move was not done to just transfer the same program that we've had, but rather to change an enhance what we have.  So I've spent a lot of time processing through HOW they will live in a different manner and all the issues that they will deal with (including that the House Parent's biological kids will now be living with them and be part of their ministries).

I'm also still helping out at the elementary school that my church has.  I enjoyed my summer vacation (even if it was only 1 day a week), but it is fun to work with the kids again.

I also finished my first rounds of training for caregivers in childrens homes around the city.  The feedback was very positive, but I certainly learned a lot on what I will improve on for next time.  It is rewarding to teach to people so appreciative and excited to learn what is offered.

Next week I will do a training for the mediators and lawyers whose job it is to resolve conflict in the country.  I will teach them about trauma and how their own personal traumas inhibit their work, how their clients are effected by trauma, and some practical skills that they can take with them to calm their clients down in stressful situations. It's amazing to be able to impact the people that work to resolve conflict in this country. I'm excited and a bit intimidated.

Saturday, August 1, 2015


I've been dreaming lately about a new ministry I'd like to start here.  I think it's a compilation of a lot of things I've been seeing and learning over the last couple of years.

I would like to start a program that works with pregnant women all the way through their child's third birthday, teaching them parenting skills and helping them to allow their child to reach developmental milestones.

Here's the many issues I've learned that have led me to this idea:

Over the last year, I've watched the families that come and visit the kids in the children's home and have seen a disturbing pattern.  One little girl that is 4 is at a level of play and development of a 1 yr old.  I brought her a child's puzzle to do one day, and she kept dumping the pieces out of the box and putting them back in. Dump, put back in.  This is a toddler age activity.

The babies that have come to visit are the most disturbing to me.  There are currently 2 families that come to visit that have babies.  I had a hard time determining, but I don't think that either have physical disabilities - but it was hard to determine because they are both so under stimulated and their behaviors mimic those that have disabilities.  4 months old and can barely hold their head up, don't track people or the activity that is going on. 

And most surprising to me, is that no one else besides me (and the social workers who also work at the children's home) think that this is abnormal!!!  When the 4 month old is passed around to be held by different people, they all automatically hold him like a one week old infant that cannot support himself at all. That this behavior is exactly what they expect!

So, I have been reading about parenting skills and developmental milestones so we can teach these families how to care for their children in a way that helps them.  In all this reading, I am repeatedly finding all the information of what these skills the kids are missing out on is meaning a lacking in brain development in important areas.  And these problems are the problems I see in the older children and adults that we are working with.

Another aspect I've been looking into, is how to break patterns and cycles of problems.  Not just for a family, but how to change this when the problem is for the whole community or society.  Every program I've found to have success, or research in this areas  have a few things in common.  One of the main elements is that they work with 2 generations.  That means, you can't just work with kids, or with parents, but the programs work with the parents and the children together.  They also indicate that it is better if they are younger.  So, young parents with very young children.

Another area I've spent a lot of time learning about is physical changes in the brain with traumas.  This has led me to many different tangents of studying.  I've looked at how these physical changes get passed down generationally, how brain development effects people's responses to stress and ability to cope.  In the most recent book I'm reading, it talks about brain development for these issues.  I have always known how important the first weeks of life are for attachment and such, but this is the first time I have read about it in terms of brain development.  This books stated that these first days, weeks after birth not only is the time for development for this area of the brain, but it determines the entire "structure" for the formation of the brain.

I've been thinking of the analogy of the old custom in Japan to keep girls with tiny feet by confining them to small shoes so they can't grow.  I have this image of boxing in the children's brains so they can't grow.

I want to change that.

We have one boy at the children's home who is mentally retarded.  His uncle comes to visit him on these visitation days.  His uncle has no disability but has more limited capabilities than his nephew.  I watch them play games together and see the uncle struggle week and week to understand how to play UNO or other simple games while this boy surpasses him.  How incredible that "normal" in the poor areas of this country is less developed than someone with a mental handicap.  And I think, how can we ever make a change in this country if people don't have the capacity to learn and change?

I have no idea if this is something that I will ever do.  But I am dreaming. . .

Monday, July 20, 2015

Back to old habits I guess - catching up on 2 and a half months since my last entry!

I'll work backwards :)

Last Friday, I started my first training for caregivers in children's homes around the city.  I think there were 18 or 19 that came.  One of the groups that came has 19 children's homes throughout the country, and I do not know how many different homes workers came from different places - but there were at least 4 different homes that were represented.

I think it went well.  They all seemed pleased.  The training is split into 2 parts - the first is looking at family systems and how patterns of behaviors happen and looking at how to break patterns.  And the second part is looking more at issues that effect the kids - trauma, sexual abuse and abandonment.  You know, the easy stuff!

I left feeling more pressure than I did when I began.  I think it is both good and bad.  A few drove more than an hour each way to come to the training, and some have been working in their home for years and have never received any kind of training before!  I can't imagine how overwhelmed I would feel working with all of these tough issues and never having any sort of guidance.  So, my newfound pressure is good because it makes me want to work harder and provide an even better training - but it also makes me want to dump EVERYTHING I could possibly teach into it.  But that would not be helpful :(

And June was an exciting month because it held my favorite week of the year - Happy Feet!

Happy Feet is a ministry that goes all over the world - well, not ALL over, just the really poor places and gives shoes to kids that don't have shoes - or more likely (at least in Guatemala) have shoes that are falling apart, 2 sizes too small, etc.  The goal is to share God's love in a practical way.  I love it!

And the day after Happy Feet ended, my friend from San Diego, Anna came to visit!!  She was my first visitor here, and it was so nice to be able to share a bit of my world here with her.  She flew into Guatemala, and we did a day of tourism there.  Then we drove to El Salvador and she spent 4 days here, helping out at the children's home where I work and enjoying some of the beauty of the country.  We had a lovely day going up to see the volcano and lunch with a beautiful view.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Welcome back to me!

I had the privilege of traveling to California this month to go to my cousin's wedding.  It was so fun to visit with family and friends. Definitely what I miss most being here in El Salvador. . .well, that and my Mystic Chai Tea.

I had a lovely Welcome back so far.  First, I get home from 13 hours of traveling and find something strange on my couch.  I couldn't figure out what it was, but I was certain the answer wouldn't be pleasant.  After noticing bird poop on the ground all in the living room and dining room, I knew it came from a bird.  Unless the bird had been to a spa for a mud bath, I think it is safe to assume that this particular bird had diarrhea on my couch.  I spent an hour and a half cleaning up the mess it left behind. And I found some small gray feathers which means it was worst case scenario - a nasty pigeon!

And Today I was at the grocery store. When I put my key in to open up the trunk I could feel the key itself twisting. So I stopped and pulled out the key.  The metal had half twisted off in the middle.  I straightened it, and was able to use it on the door and start the car. I drove next door to the hardware store to get a copy made.  I asked if they could do it with it breaking off.  The employee got the key making expert and when he came back with it, he had it in two pieces.  He asked me if I had another one and I explained that this one he just broke is the only one I have for my car that is sitting in the parking lot.  1 hour, 3 keys and a miracle later, I had a key that worked!

And after I got home I found the pigeon in my house again and I chased it out!!!

At least yesterday I got to see this beautiful sunrise to help ease my return to a 3rd world country.

Welcome back, indeed!

Monday, April 13, 2015

A life in extremes!

Well, it has been an interesting couple of months.  I've had both some of the biggest successes in my therapy and also my biggest challenges.  I've lost half of my days off in the last 2 months because so many "emergency" meetings and sessions have had to happen on those days.

So, I was extra happy to go last week to Guatemala for Semana Santa (Holy week - or spring break)!

I played tourist in a beautiful town called Xelaju, in Guatemala closer to the Mexican border.  It was a beautiful city at a very high altitude.  It has volcanos and hotsprings too!

One of the highlights was visiting Laguna Chicabal.  I told my friends it was like the real life Indiana Jones Ride from Disney land, when we rented a ride in the back of an old pick-up truck up this volcano.  No arrows came at us, but we did have to duck from the tree branches that hung low over the road.

Once we got to the top, we climbed down 570 steps down to the lagoon that fills the crater of the volcano.  There were clouds covering the area, and it was beautiful as we walked all the way around the lagoon.  The pictures below were taken when the clouds cleared to reveal more of our surroundings - most of the time we were surrounded by the clouds.

Then we had to walk back up those 570 steps :(

It was a wonderful time to relax and enjoy a break!