Aug 2

Today we spent the morning getting to know the area with a walking tour and meeting many different community members. Where we are staying is a large house made for volunteers who come down for many different projects, both medical and ecosystem related. The house is situated on the top of a hill in a local slum/community called Bella Vista, and looks over the peninsula, Bahia de Caraquez. The house is open with few walls other than around the sleeping quarters and the bathroom. All other spaces are open to the elements, sounds, smells and beautiful views of the ocean, city and mountains.

The city from the top of the hill looks vibrant with many different condo buildings and some hotels. It looks as though the streets should be bustling and there should be people lounging and vacationing in their ocean view condos. The reality is that all of these beautiful buildings are condemned, and the people are not coming back, due to the earthquake that hit the city in 2016. The streets are empty, all but a small section of a street that has been made into the farmer’s market (which was once an indoor market, however the building is currently being inspected for safety). Locals gather on the street because their previous buildings are no longer safe to use as a place of business. Those who are still in the city are those who have never left and have no where else to go. They are slowly rebuilding their homes, however many still refuse to enter buildings with more than one story, and instead they now live in homes built from cardboard, tin and plastic. The fear that another earthquake will hit is very real, and the trust of structures is seriously lacking.

As you walk you can see the giant cracks that consume the condo buildings with large pieces of concrete that look like they’ve fallen from the sky onto the road. A brand new school, which was never even used, is a sad reminder of the hard work that once took place and is now wasted. The school was days away from its inauguration when the earthquake hit, and the beautiful new structure, fully equipped with all the best features that a school could have here (including a full sized swimming pool for sports), is now cracked and crumbled. It will not be repaired as there has been too much structural damage and so it will be torn down, unlikely to be built back to the same quality as it was in its short moment of glory.

At lunch we were meant to meet with the head of the emergency department, however he got called into the Hospital and we had to postpone the meeting. These are things that we have to expect while we are here, it is not a culture to rush and their world doesn’t stop just because we’ve arrived to share our services.

The main hospital has not been rebuilt since the earthquake, and the temporary structure is small and only has 1/3 of the original capacity (from 150 to 50 beds). We have been informed that the head of the ER at the hospital is very interested in having his staff trained from our mental health programs, but only time will tell when and how many people will be available for this type of time commitment.

The evening was filled with conversation and planning. We learned that interest from the Ministry of Health has become complacent, so we are unsure if we will be working with them while we are here, unfortunately. This is another change that we have to take in stride and be conscientious of. However, despite this disappointing news came the opportunity to work with a local school who is willing to give us their entire ‘PA’ day to provide their teachers with our Teachers As First Responders training. Given the cultural differences we have seen thus far, we spent the evening changing the program to be appropriate and sensitive to the community within which we will be working – and adapting our Teachers As First Responders curriculum for when we train tomorrow afternoon.

Aug 3

I woke up when the sun came up, so during this overcast dry season that means I’m up by 7, even thought we don’t need to be downstairs until 8. I need to make sure I’m getting my rest in, because between the travel days, heat and teaching, my energy is only going to last so long. The sounds when we wake up are incredible. The neighbor is sweeping their dirt floor before breakfast, the neighborhood roosters are making sure everyone knows that it is time to be awake, and we can hear pigs and donkeys nearby making noise for their breakfast, along with a mixed array of music coming from different houses surrounding our accommodations.

Today we have two separate trainings to complete. First, we have the morning to conduct three hours of our Train the Trainer program. We will be training all three executives at the Walking Palms Global Initiative on our Trainer curriculum as well as our Teachers as First Responders as they will be conduct the session this afternoon in the local school. We are lucky that they all come from health and/or mental health backgrounds (they are nurses, paramedics and researchers) so the information should be well received and the session should go quite smoothly.

Secondly, we have a three-hour session with the teachers at a local school. Our approach will be to use circular learning, where we provide basic mental health information, ask for the teacher’s expectations and questions, and then use the collective knowledge to address as many of their questions as possible. Only after this collective and community knowledge has been sufficiently used, will we provide additional information and resources as needed. This is to ensure that the teachers are practicing and utilizing each other as supports when dealing with difficult circumstances; to show them that we believe they hold the majority of knowledge for this community and to demonstrate that we are solely here to provide some extra resources for them to use.

The train the trainers session went very well. With an attentive group, who had a great basis of knowledge, we were able to cover all of the areas that we felt were necessary before starting with the teachers. We had role playing, examples and activities. We had some fun with the material but also had some deep talks as a team.

Training the teachers was the most rewarding experience we have had so far. We approached the teachers with a circular teaching style, sitting in a circle and encouraging support and answers to come from both the trainers and the participants. We were overwhelmed (in a good way) by the number of questions and drive to learn about mental health and wellness from the teachers. Questions about their students, their family members, friends and for themselves were all asked and accepted in a supportive and loving environment. It was clear that the teachers wanted to be able to help their students during their times of need and were thirsty for as much information and knowledge that we could provide. They also did a great job of providing their own expertise to their peers and supporting each other in brainstorming ways to support their students and other people in their lives.

In the short time since arriving in Ecuador we have already come up with many more ideas of ways the communities might benefit from our support. We will continue to keep you updated with our progress in our endeavours and ways in which we can support this beautiful country.

Stay tuned!