Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Cry for help

                I've been in El Salvador for a year now.  My savings can only keep me here for another 6 months, but I am sure the need for the work I'm doing here can last for a lifetime.  So, I'm writing with hopes that I can find people that want to join me and help support this work.

If you want to skip all the details of the work I'm doing here and jump straight to the ways to help, here you go:
                1) Financially - I need a minimum of $800 month to be able to survive long term here (there's a link to paypal at the top right for a tax deductable donation.  Or you can go to this link for an address and instructions:

                2) Join a team to come volunteer - email me tiffanymlewis@gmail    .com if interested in coming or help support someone else who is interested

                3) Pray - I need a lot of prayer to survive this craziness!!  So do the kids and families that I work with and the other people working with me

There have been a lot of amazing opportunities become available to me lately, and I am thrilled about them. As a therapist, I specialize in grief and trauma, and these are two themes that touch at least 90% of the population and the needs and opportunities to help seem endless! (See the previous blog of "The needs and problems plaguing El Salvador" for further details)
             My first several months here I added teaching ESL (English as a Second Language) at my church's elementary school to the therapy work I was doing.  It worked well, even though it was exhausting.  I was happy to help in a needed way while I was still establishing my work as a therapist and had extra time.  Now, I have been a little bit more protective of my time as the work has found me, and I have to be selective!  

                I've been working at a children's home part time.  There are 28 kids from 5-17 years old that have been placed there by the government.  They have been abandoned, neglected or physically abused and all have been sexually abused.  In a country where 7 out of 10 homes have physical violence, these cases are severe enough that the government has seen fit to step in and take action.  This home is unique in the country because it is the only one that works with the families of the children too.  It's been a great privilege to work with the families to help them heal and build healthy relationships.  Just this weekend, one of the mothers shared of the abuse she received growing up.  We were able to talk about how she can change how she treats her son and worked on simple ways she could make this happen, starting with saying kind words.  This is a new concept!

                I also spend several hours a week at a Transitional home for women.  A transitional home is set up to receive kids when they turn 18 and are removed from the government housing.  Their choices are typically to live on the street, join a gang or return to their abusive homes.  So there have been transitional homes created to help these young adults learn trades and survive without resorting to these options.  I will admit that these young women are the highlight of my week.  They are a therapist's dream client as they are all motivated to learn and grow and are working hard to heal from their traumas and live in a new ways.  It's an honor that they have allowed me to be part of this journey.

                I'm also spending a day a week at the school.  I help some with English, some with projects for the teachers and I have also started doing therapy with the children and their families.  In my spare time I have clients from my church and others that have been referred to me. 

                I'm working on a new project.  There is a clear lack in training for the caregivers in these children's and transition homes.  Starting this February, I'm partnering with my translator and several children's home to begin a training program for the caregivers.  I've seen people with great intentions and hearts for the kids unintentionally cause a lot of damage and hurt by continuing unhealthy patterns.  Sometimes it is because they have a similar background and are living with the same unhealthy patterns or they are accidently letting the kids pull them into the cycles.  My partner and translator who has dreamed of this, has great hopes.  She knows the need and has seen the change we have made on the one transition home we have worked in.  She believes that we can impact these caregivers and homes in such a way that the government will notice and implement our trainings nation wide.  She's dreaming big, and I am still concentrating on creating the materials for the first one!

                There are also plans for a therapist team to come out this summer.  I am hopeful to see the impact a group can make.  The plan is to utilize the team with the families of the children we work with, trainings for caregivers, and support for the medical teams that will be here.  And selfishly, I'm excited about gaining knowledge and insight from others in the profession who have expertise in different areas!

I know I've written a lot, but this is just a small glimpse into my work here.  I would love it if you could support me and be a part of this work too!

The needs and problems plaguing El Salvador

This year has been a huge learning curve for me!  In order to be more effective as a therapist, I've spent a lot of time learning about the history of El Salvador and the social problems plaguing the country.  And it is a lot.

When I first started working with the kids here, I noticed that they were not just dealing with their traumas, but that it appeared that they had learned behaviors from their families for how to survive.  Their parents, who grew up in the civil war (1979-1992),  and learned how to be adults and how to live during this time.  They taught their kids how to live as trauma survivors and have passed down these behaviors.  This has led me to reading all about the physical traits passed down genetically from trauma survivors which I have found quite illuminating in the struggles that these kids live under.

The war created a culture of suspicion.  There is no trust.  (This is also an attribute of trauma survivors). 

Lack of education, nutrition and growing up under abuse and trauma have changed brain development in the poor areas of the country.  This has left a lot of the population without the capacity to think about possible solutions and changes to their lives.  Helping and healing is slow because you have to teach and build the basic resources needed for this process.  And I have had to learn how to teach these skills at a basic level I did not even realize had to be taught.

People do not share that they have been raped because it is expected.  "Why would you complain, that happens to everyone?" is a normal response.

Here is information I've excerpted from a press release from Unicef last month:
"child malnutrition still affects more than 20% of children.

One of the biggest challenges that the new government should take is the right to comprehensive protection , which has been hit hard as a result of the culture of violence affecting children and adolescents in the country. A recent report by UNICEF at mundial1 El Salvador ranks ahead of countries with higher homicide rates against children and adolescents aged 0 to 19 in the world , with 27 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Guatemala ( 22 ) and Venezuela ( 20 ) . homicide is also the leading cause of death among adolescent boys. Furthermore, estimated that 43 percent of sixth grade students have experienced some form of bullying (theft , insults, threats or physical aggression ) and that 16 percent have been physically assaulted in their schools.
Nearly 94 % of sexual assaults were committed against girls and adolescents and 7 out of 10 children and adolescents suffer from some form of violence at home.  Furthermore, in El Salvador , 33 percent of adolescents between 15 and 19 years report having experienced physical , sexual or emotional violence by their parents, And each hour three teenagers give birth .
In urban areas , 47 percent of teens enrolled in school, whereas in rural areas barely 27% . Some obstacles to
guarantee of this right are insecurity , gaps in infrastructure , low teaching quality , low consideration of the relevance of education and lack of family income."
UNICEF has done a lot in the country to attempt to help with child protection.  Unfortunately, some of  the implementation of their protections have backfired.  A few years ago, the laws regarding child protection were completely changed.  At the core, the message was that each child has a right to be with their families and that the best place for a child was with their natural family.
In theory that is awesome.  In practice, there are great discrepancies.  Children have been removed from institutions and placed back with their abusive families.  There are examples of babies being thrown in the trash by a mother and then given back to the same mother 3 months later, and the baby dies.  I've seen the damage of this with kids I work with.  One child has been court ordered to visit her home every other weekend (with the goal that she will move back when her mom is more stable to take her).  This child spends the weeks in fear of the abuse she will receive on the weekends.  And also hates the orphanage that keeps her safe because she does not understand they do not have a choice in her not visiting her abusive home.  It is heartbreaking.

But where there is great need, there are great opportunities to help!