Understanding OT Abroad

During my second week in Guatemala, I completed my service learning experience.  For my service learning, I visited Missionaries of the Highway or Misioneros Del Camino.  Missionaries consists of a campus that includes, a home/orphanage for the children, a school, a clinic, and a special education classroom within the clinic.  Misioneros Del Camino is a nonprofit organization that provides care, treatment and education to children.  During this second week, I mainly spent my time working with the children in the clinic.  Here I learned more about the practice of occupational therapy with children with disabilities.  There were multiple settings in the clinic which each served the children’s specific needs.  These settings included, a sensory integration area, fine motor, the special education classroom paired with psychology, and physical therapy with a focus on adaptive equipment.

While spending time in the clinic, I had the opportunity to work along with a practicing occupational therapist in each of the settings.  I learned more about testing and treatments that can be used for children who present in different ways.  Additionally, I learned more about the healthcare system in Guatemala and the diagnosis process.  While working in the special education classroom I recognized the problem with over diagnosis.  This wasn’t something that only occurs in Guatemala but also in the U.S. as well.  One of the children we worked with was diagnosed with autism.  This child really did not have autism though, she was just extremely shy and because she did not verbally communicate or make eye contact, the doctors and family believed that she had autism.  This is a common mistake that many healthcare workers can make and it made me recognize the lack of thoroughness in healthcare systems.

In addition to this, I learned more about processing in children.  An example of processing is choosing activities or steps in a process.  While working with one child we recognized her difficulty with choosing activities.  We set up an obstacle course and allowed her to choose the fourth step; this child could not decide what she wanted to do next.  Even when she was provided with two options, such as, jump through a hoop or do jumping jacks, she had difficulty choosing.  I found this very interesting because at this point in my schooling I had not learned much about processing and how it could affect everyday activities.  From this experience, I became really interested in processing and the techniques used to encourage decision making.

In addition to working with the children in the clinic setting, I also had the opportunity to visit a child’s home and work with his adaptive equipment in his everyday environment.  I thought this was very important to my service learning experience because it allowed me to see how the children participated in his environment.   I was able to see some of the difficulties he experienced in his everyday life in regards to his maneuverability around his home.  I also was able to see how he overcame those difficulties and how he and his family adapted their home.  This was very important to see because as an occupational therapist one of our main goals is to increase participation within the client’s everyday environment.  I really enjoyed this experience because I was able to provide additional ideas to help the family and the child, in regards to increasing maneuverability and adapting his equipment to allow for it to be more comfortable and suitable to the child’s needs.

Another experience I enjoyed was the interaction from the parents and caregivers during treatment.  Prior to visiting Guatemala, it was explained to us that parents of children with disabilities feel guilty for their child’s disability because they tend to be blamed for it and viewed negatively by their peers.  They also explained that some children with disabilities are neglected and hidden from their families in order to avoid ridicule.  Though this may be true, I did not see this during my service learning experience.  Many of the families and caregivers came to therapy with their child and participated in the experience by doing the therapy with the child and interacting with the therapists.  This was very enlightening because it showed how much the families cared and showed how they wanted the best for their children.  I think it shows a lot of love for their children and it really helps the therapists to provide the best care possible.  This also excites me for my future and allows me to look forward to the help and encouragement I could provide to families one day.

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Growing through Disappointments

It is crazy to think I only have one month left in Nicaragua. I feel like I have lost my sense of time here. At Xavier, I was always counting down the days until the weekend or next break. I had such a sense of urgency for time to move on and was hyper-aware of where I was in the timeline of both the semester and my life. But here, time just exists; it is not something I really worry about–it is neither a friend nor an enemy. I am hoping for this last month to be fruitful, and to absorb every moment like a sponge.

Last weekend, we went to Granada for the weekend. I really enjoyed time away from Managua with my fellow Xavier pals. We didn’t do much besides walk around, relax, and eat really good food. We went to Cathy’s Waffle House and the Garden Cafe, which were a good break from Gallo Pinto. From the weekend, my favorite moment was praying in the Cathedral with another student, Maggie, and then going out to the roof of the Cathedral to see the sunset. I felt such a strong presence of God both within me and also in the exuberant colors of the sky.

Provenzano, Angela Blog 3 Photo 1

We went to the Atlantic coast for five days last week and it was an adventure to say the least. The Atlantic coast is actually an autonomous region in Nicaragua made up of 6 different ethnic groups (we learned this fact on many occasions). During the trip, we faced a lot of unexpected changes. The road we planned to drive to Pearl Lagoon was undergoing construction and was not safe to pass. Therefore, the next morning we took a boat instead to the city of Bluefields. We stayed here for 3 days, where we met with speakers, visited the amazing University of Uraccan, and ate lots of good seafood. Our last day in Bluefields we were supposed to travel to an amazing, untouched island for  a beach day with only us there. Unfortunately, due to weather, we could not take a boat to the island and instead went to a hotel to have a pool day. We still managed to have a great day as a group because we kept a positive attitude about the situation. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty disappointed by not being able to go to the beach because it looked so beautiful online and the beach is such a special place for me.

Provenzano, Angela Blog 3 Photo 2
City of Bluefields

I still am a bit disappointed, but I think this is an opportunity to learn how to deal with disappointment.  Rosa who was our guide for the week told me “Every disappointment is a blessing.” To me, this means being grateful for every situation even if it doesn’t go as planned. Maybe my blessing in the disappointments throughout the trips is learning how to deal with disappointment in a healthy and positive manner, because the fact of life is that there will always be unplanned disappointments. Dwelling on disappointments keeps me from being present and from being grateful of what I have. I am even struggling with that now as I see Xavier go to the Elite Eight and think how cool it would have been to be able to cheer for the team this year like I did last year. However,  I keep reminding myself I am here in Nicaragua–learning so much through the places and people here, facing  beauty, pain, friendship, faith and unanswered questions. That is a blessing.

Thanks for reading!

-Angela

Gallo Pinto – Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Rice and beans are really starting to rub off on me. There are so many ways to eat them–with cheese, with cream, with plantains, with hot sauce, and maybe even ketchup. You also can’t forget the side of a tortilla or bread with every meal. I have also been schooled in the important lesson that the dish Arroz y Frijoles (rice and beans separated) is very different from Gallo Pinto (rice mixed with beans). It’s the subtle things in life here. 

In all seriousness, I’ve been continuing to enjoy my time here, both with my fellow students and my host family. It’s nice to be able to start to settle into a schedule, but also have free time to adventure. I’ve started classes, some at the University of Central America, which have been very interesting thus far. I also started my “service” site at a community center two times a week, which has been a great way to integrate into a new community.  The days are long, but fruitful. There is always time for conversation, laughs, mess ups and of course telenovelas. 

Provenzano, Angela Blog 2 Photo 1

This past weekend, I was able to visit 2 different volcanoes! It was definitely an amazing experience, one that always put life into perspective. Our first trip was to Cerro Negro, outside of Leon. After a bumpy bus ride up many narrow roads, we arrived and had the opportunity to volcano board down. We hiked to the top in about an hour and a half and the view was breath taking the whole way up. It was a hard and scary hike because of strong winds. At one point I was sure I would fly off the edge of the volcano. But in the end it was all worth it when we got to practically sled down a volcano. Checking that off my bucket list.

On Sunday, I went with my host sister and her friends to Volcano Messiah. You can actually drive to the top and see lava inside. I was proud because I passed as a “national” (Nicaraguan) when I payed to enter instead of a “gringo” tourist. However, the joke is I’m only Nicaraguan until I start speaking Spanish, then you can tell I’m not from here. That was another amazing view that I can’t quite put into words. I also got to ride in the bed of a truck as transportation for the afternoon. It’s pretty much a Nicaraguan convertible and I loved every second of it.

If you look closely you can see a little lava, but it’s easier to see at night.

Provenzano, Angela Blog 2 Photo 2

Besides the cool trips, I’m learning to see God differently here. He’s not so much in Sunday Church for me anymore. He’s in the people… their openness, welcoming, love, hard work, humility, hospitality. He’s on the tops of volcanoes and in the bumpy bus rides in between. He’s in my  host mom who works so hard to care for everyone and treats me like a daughter. In my 5am “runs” with my host dad, which normally turns into walking and conversing for an hour. In my host sister who helps me with my Spanish and everything in between. He’s in the 3 hour process of washing laundry by hand, only to have clean cloths for the next week. He’s in my boyfriend who still supports me from millions of miles away. He’s in the deliciousness of gallo pinto for dinner, even if you have already eaten it for breakfast and lunch. He’s everywhere around me, but also working inside of me.

Thanks for turning into my recent blog. Here’s a poem I really like that I came across. Peace and blessings from Nicaragua!  Provenzano, Angela Blog 2 Photo 3

 

Cultural Learning in Guatemala

During my study abroad experience, I traveled to Guatemala for two weeks.  During the first week, I visited Antigua and Xela.  Upon arriving to Guatemala, I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the country and I was struck by the obvious differences between the United States and Guatemala.  One of the most obvious and first experiences I had that differed from the United States was the transportation.  In Guatemala, driving was so fast paced and it seemed that road signs were suggestions.  Also, the roads were very tight in comparison to the U.S.  Being the worry wart I am, this driving experience made me very nervous at first, but I eventually adjusted.

Beck Photo 1

In the first week, I experienced and participated in activities and events that were unique to the Guatemalan culture.  One of the first things we did while in Guatemala, was participate in a traditional Mayan Ceremony.  During this ceremony, we learned about the traditional views the Mayan people had about health and well-being and how this leads to a balanced life.  They truly believed in holism.  We also learned that they believe that certain stresses and actions in life could lead one to become sick.  This is because they believe the body can become ill without a medical explanation.  Also, we learned that this sickness can also very quickly effect one’s family because of the unbalanced nature of that person.  The Mayan people believe there are four main Gods, which represent the sun, darkness, things we can touch here on earth, and things we cannot touch.  We also learned what each offering we presented to the God’s represented.  My group and I were also lucky enough to witness a healing ritual because one of our group members became ill within the ceremony.  This experience was very unique to the Mayan culture and it was meaningful to me to participate in the ceremony rather than observe.  I really felt that I was one with the Mayan people and I could actually feel the spiritual experience of the ceremony and it was very eye opening to recognize different faiths and rituals.

Beck Phot 2

Additionally, in the first week, I was able to live with a host family.  This was like nothing I had experiences before.  My host family was truly amazing.  They made my roommate Jordan and I extremely comfortable and treated and viewed us as family.   I really enjoyed living with the Guiterrez Family because they pushed Jordan and I to use our Spanish and participate in their culture.  We learned about some of the traditional foods, from our host mom Mara.  We also learned about some Urban myths about their chocolate café.  They taught us a lot about their culture and their traditions, in addition to allowing us to experience these traditions.  For example, as a family we joined another host family and students and ventured to the Chocolate Café.  On our way to the café our host sister, Vivi, was egging us on to ding-dong ditch a few houses along the way.  We thought she was kidding until she went and did it.  It was crazy because the next thing you know our host mom was booking it down the street, whereas we thought she would have disciplined Vivi.  It was a fun experience to have with the family and it was one where we could see the U.S. and the Guatemalan culture intertwine.  I learned a lot from my schooling prior to the trip but nothing can compare to the learning I had gained from living with my host family and being immersed in the culture.

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Eye-Opening & Enjoyable

I’m getting used to waking up to the sounds of chirping birds, howling roosters and street vendors yelling “paaaaaan” early each morning.

These past two weeks in Nicaragua have been a lot of things, and I would have to list two pages of adjectives to sum it up. In two words, I would say eye-opening and enjoyable.

Provenzano, Angela Blog Photo 1 Group in Van
Bus Tour Selfie 🙂 

The first week, seven other Xavier students and I loaded a bus to tour around Nicaragua. We learned the process of pottery making, walked through a newly renovated lake front, went to a lagoon, saw many scenic views of mountains and lakes, experienced a Nicaraguan market, and learned about basic Nicaraguan history. For a week, we stayed together in a house and began to build a community together. There was lots of laughs and storytelling. Friendship and sharing is a beautiful thing.

“Laguna de Apoya” is actually a volcano full of rainwater water than accumulated over time.

 

 

Provenzano, Angela Blog Photo 2 Laguna de Apoya

Provenzano, Angela Blog Photo 3 Swimming in a Volcano
So now I can cross “swimming in a volcano” off my bucket list.

 

Provenzano, Angela Blog Photo 4 Trees of Life
“Trees of Life” found throughout Managua.

Learning to make pottery the old-fashion way. It’s harder than it looks!Provenzano, Angela Blog Photo 5 Pottery MakingOn Saturday we moved in with our host families. I am lucky to have a very fun and understanding family where I have 2 sisters and a brother. Spanish is difficult sometimes but I think it’s getting a little easier everyday. They always make sure I’m well rested , well fed, and enjoying myself.

 

 

Provenzano, Angela Blog Photo 6 Sunset
A view of the sunset from my house. Its the little things.

On Thursday we went to Leon, a colonial city of Nicaragua. We saw an amazing Cathedral and got to walk on the roof of it. We also had some really good pizza and walked around the shops. We even met up with a group Fuego y Sol who empowers people through dance. We got to try walking on stilts!

 

The food here is amazing, only if you like rice and beans though. I’ve eaten a lot Gallo pinto , the staple dish  of rice and beans, sometimes with queso fresco or plantains. The freshly squeezed juice here is also something you can’t turn down.

So so far, I’ve really enjoyed my time getting to know Nicaragua. Next week I will begin my classes and service. A lesson I’ve learned over these weeks is that the beauty of nature never ceases to put  life into perspective. Also, conversation and just being with people is one of the greatest joys of life.

Listening to the song Happiness by NEEDTOBREATHE I realized the lyric “It’s all for You in my pursuit of happiness” has really summed up my reason for coming here. To seek God in new ways, and learn more about myself and where I want my life to go.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned.

Angela

 

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