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!

Friday, March 6, 2015


Recently I taught on Manipulation.

It's a huge problem amongst the abandoned kids I work with.  The biggest challenge with kids that have been abandoned is that they believe they are unwanted and unloved.  Unfortunately, sometimes this is true.  What is not true, however, is that they are the cause of this problem and that they themselves are no good or unlovable. 

But they believe it, and so they also believe that the only way to protect themselves in this world is to depend only on themselves and take whatever they need.  If they need attention or love, they try to force it out of you (because no one would actually offer it freely to someone who is undesirable and unlovable).

I used an example of someone starving.  So they take a gun and rob a store for food.  Their need for food is real.  But, it was a terrible (but effective) way to meet their needs.  That's what these kids are doing to the people that are trying to help them.  They are robbing them to get what they need.  My training touched on points for how we can help meet these needs before the kids resort to stealing it from us.  But we have to realize what the needs are in order to meet them.

We also have to meet their needs faster than they can steal it from us - which is hard to do.  And then it's a process to make them believe we are sincere and don't have ulterior motives in these acts. Trust.

Building trust is the most difficult part of my work here.  Not dealing with the trauma, or all the other issues involved.  Because without trust, nothing I can offer is of value to them.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Well, I am still enamored with the view from my apartment.  It's my favorite place to enjoy my chai :)

This month there's been a bit of a switch in the focus of my work.  I've started to work more with the staff and people caring for the kids than directly with the kids.  So, I've been doing a lot of work on preparing powerpoints for training and games and lesson plans instead of working on games for one-on one therapy.

I'm still doing therapy at the transition house and a bit at the school and random individuals or families.  But I am no longer working with the kids at the orphanage directly, and I've been more focused on a new training program and helping the teachers at the school.  I think this will be a good spot for me - we'll see.  I think it will definitely be a good switch at the orphanage.  It's hard for me to build trust with the kids - they have trust issues already, plus, they have seen hundreds of Americans visit and leave breaking promises to keep in touch, and dozens of volunteers do the same over the year.  I spent more time trying to recover trust lost if I was gone for a few days than getting work done.  Plus, it's going to be a challenging and exciting year for the orphanage this year, and I'm excited to be able to focus on helping these changes go as smoothly as possible.

After nearly 5 years of working to get permits, the Children's home finally has approval to build on it's land!  It's a very exciting time.  I don't know how many acres this property is, but it's big!  Ultimately, they want to have 8 homes, but they are starting with 3 for now.  This is going to change the whole program for how everything functions.  Because, as much as they try to emulate family living, it's still currently an institution with a lot of familial elements.  The house parents are there during the days and return home to their own biological kids at night (like a regular job).  But that won't be the case at the Farm (or, La Finca, as we call the property we're building on).  The house parents will live with their families in the same homes with the kids.  The tios and tias (aunts and uncles - or younger helpers), will no longer be living in the homes in shifts with the kids.  This is going to be a huge change for everyone!!!

So my focus this year will be helping everyone get through this change - and keeping up with the training on day to day needs as well.  I don't think I'll be too bored this year.

Here are some picture I still from their website to show you La Finca!!  For the last several years, the kids have been visiting La Finca for vacations to enjoy feeling freedom to run and play more than our regular property allows.  They love it here

Friday, January 16, 2015

My New Apartment

Well, God has blessed me with an amazing new place for a great price!

I had been looking for a bit online and everything in my price range was not in a safe location or was falling apart (or both).  I found a good option and emailed my friend, Alejandra, to ask if it was a safe location.  She called and it had been rented on the first day it posted the ad.  So she asked her husband what they could do to help me and he gave her the number of a Realtor friend.

She called and told her of a good place and said it will go fast, can we visit today?  It worked out and we arrived before the realtor and were able to look around outside of the apartment building.  We loved the view and location.  Alejandra told me not too look too excited if I liked it because then we won't be able to negotiate for a better price.

When we took a tour inside I was shocked.  I was expecting awful furniture for the price and it to be run down.  It was beautiful. The view is great and all of the furniture is in good condition, clean and modern.  I even like the style and nearly all of the art decorations.

Alejandra started saying how much she loved it!  And I asked her if I was stupid to take the first apartment that I saw.

When considering location I mentioned that I would be closer to the Children's home, but further from my church.  At the name of the church the realtor asked me about it and it turns out his daughter is a student at the school there.  His mother in law was a good friend of the Pastor's wife, and if I could get a reference from them they would skip all the background check stuff for me.  Great news!

And when I went to sign the contract a few days later we discovered that the owner is a good friend of Alejandra - and they've known each other practically all their lives.  Throughout the conversations we discovered that the owner is beginning a Foundation with the same goal and mission as we were.  The difference being that the owner used to be a lawyer and is working with the public lawyers and mediators, and Alejandra and I are working with the caregivers in children's homes.  But the premise is the same.  She discovered that in order to make a difference in the overwhelming social problems, she needed to make a difference in those helping - and those helping are hurting from the same issues and are struggling to help because of their own stuff.  And Alejandra and I are working on a training program to start next month for caregivers because many haven't healed from their own traumas and are bringing their own unhealthy habits into the kids lives instead of making change and healing.

We're talking about how we can partner together.  I'm very excited to see what develops from this.