Sorry in advance… This is a long one 🙂

August 4
After our day spent teaching the teachers at Sathya Sai school, they made it clear that they would like the opportunity to speak with PIM staff one on one, to get some additional information and guidance for some of the more difficult cases they have in their classrooms. We again approached this learning and support style in a circular manor. Our trainers sat down in a circle with 2 – 3 teachers at a time, and they shared experiences about the difficult situations they have had with their students. This smaller circle gave the teachers an opportunity to go into more detail, and to provide more direct support to one another. Our instructors were there to facilitate this support circle, as well as provide evidence-based tools that can the teachers could try and integrate into the already amazing support they are giving to their students. It is amazing what people can solve on their own, in a supportive and knowledgeable environment. And we were incredibly impressed with the love, compassion and patience that the teachers have for their students.

We had the afternoon to complete another section of the instructor training. The topics of Substance Use Disorders and Psychotic Disorders were very interesting, especially when discussed in the settings of Bahia and the trauma that has been experienced here. In the case of Psychotic Disorders, we also had to have many conversations about the different understandings of psychotic symptoms in this culture, and how these understandings may affect a person’s desire or ability to seek help.

August 5 & 6
Saturday we were able to wake up a little bit later, and start the day with ease. The instructors all gathered at the house we were staying at, to complete the second last section of their training. We taught our Trauma and Grief section, which is one of the most important sections for this team because of the earthquake that happened last April. We have heard many stories of people experiencing flashbacks, being afraid to enter multi story buildings and still struggling with the loss of their loved ones. It was nice to be able to take some extra time on this section and really make sure that the instructors were extra comfortable with the material.

Sunday was spent Siananda Hotel to teach the wellness section of the course (our final section). We had a couple of new participants join in for this section, where we covered coping skills, self care, mindfulness and went through SMART goals. Having some new faces in the group brought out some great new ideas for coping skills and allowed a new dynamic for learning such an important topic. On top of that, we were in the most peaceful setting, talking about wellness while listening to wind chimes and birds chirping.

August 7
Monday we returned to Siananda to use the Internet and have some meetings. This week we have community wellness sessions set up, and we needed to do some planning. PIM staff also wanted to meet some of the other people behind Walking Palms who were just passing through the area.

This was also the day where the owner of Siananda, Don Alfredo, approached our team about providing mental health training to some staff members at the local jail. The local jail has been under some heavy pressure since the earthquake over a year ago, as many inmates from other jails have since been moved in to the local Bahia prison. The earthquake destroyed many of the jails in the area, and being the only one that stood firm, Bahia’s jail has gone from its purposed capacity of 250 inmates to a whopping 621. This has increased the number of staff required, as well as increased the risk level for inmate conflict, as personal space and resources are stretched thin. At this time we were also informed that at least 100 of the 621 inmates were labeled as having either behavioural or mental health problems. Their support staff for this is one full time Social Worker, one part time Psychologist and a Psychiatrist that comes in irregularly. Suicide and self harm are frequent concerns for the inmates, as are many untreated cases of schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses. After some discussion our team decided that we would accept the offer to train the prison staff, and began planning for the following day.

August 8 & 9
Our work in the prison is something that none of us will ever forget. We were graciously brought into the Warden’s office by prison staff, first thing in the morning on Tuesday. There was 10 staff, including the warden, waiting patiently to see what we had to bring for them. The staff ranged from the Warden, Social Worker, Psychologist, Guards and Admin staff. And everyone brought an interesting set of skills and experience.

Because there is only one prison in Bahia there is little information we can share, due to confidentiality. However, one aspect that we can share is their openness to provide their inmates with as many rehabilitation opportunities as possible. This included having David from Walking Palms come in one morning to get an entire cell block to do an hour of yoga. The men were so happy to have something different in their day, and some of them were really good at it. Seeing the relaxation that they experienced was really incredible, given that they are living in an environment where relaxation is likely hard to come by.

August 10
We returned to the school on Thursday to complete the second half of our training program, as well as to follow up with some individual staff members who had more specific questions for our team.

Teachers went back over some of their case studies with us to talk about what they had tried and what barriers they were facing. Everyone was reporting progress with the cases they had presented the week before, and gave great feedback about our brainstorming sessions. While most teachers had began implementing their plans, some were faced with absent children, or other more pressing issues that took priority for that week.

During our group session, the first order of business was to discuss the idea of a buddy system. Our team had discussed this idea with the teachers who had brought us some difficult cases to brainstorm. With the idea is that the younger children who were experiencing some emotional, behavioural or social difficulties, could be buddied up with an older student for additional support and guidance. The teachers and school management would set up this program, to look whatever way they felt was best. Second, we talked about suicide and safety plans. This was a difficult subject for this group because there was a suicide in their community only weeks prior. We purposely left this section to the very end, so that the teachers felt the most comfortable asking questions and conversing with our team. While we had some difficult conversations, and it affected some people more than others, it was a very successful session all around. We were sad to say goodbye to the school and the teachers, but they have invited us to come back with some additional session topics, and we are going to make sure we are able to follow up.

August 11
Friday was our wrap up day. We got the whole team together (Other than Dr. Pikard who had returned to Canada already) and talked about what worked, what needed work, and what our future plans in collaboration and service provision would be. It was a great way to close up the project and make sure everyone was on the same page.

What an amazing two weeks it was, and our team learned so much. We can’t wait to process our research and be able to give even more feedback and information about how our projects were received and how they will proceed in the future!