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!