I cannot believe the time I have left in Ecuador can only be counted on one hand. This weekend, my supervisor invited me and other interns/volunteers over to her house to make a wonderful, goodbye ceviche lunch together. I have been so fortunate to work with so many great people, especially my supervisor. After going on house visits, we often sit down and talk over what happened, why a family’s situation looks like it does at this point and time, the cultural influences, and then how Tres Manuelas can help the family. She became the facilitator of Circulo Infantil at about the same time as I came to Tres Manuelas. Circulo Infantil has been transformed from a place for kids to do homework, into a purposeful, child-centered support program. Every week, new elements have been added into the curriculum to benefit the children educationally and emotionally. It has been encouraging to hear the ideas she would like to implement, and then see them put into action. It has been personally rewarding for me to have the opportunity to be a part of those changes, and give my input, knowing the dynamics and personalities of the kids. Tres Manuelas has a wonderful work atmosphere, despite the fact the staff are working with many, heavy case loads. They are positive, genuine social workers, psychologists, interns, lawyers, and doctors committed to helping their community, and I have learned a lot from them.
We broke a window today…oops. The kids have time to play for about twenty minutes to get a little of their energy out before doing homework everyday. Usually I will volunteer to supervise the kids outside, where they play in this elevated concrete patch with a tree, of the terrace in the middle of the other offices in Tres Manuelas (hard to describe and not an ideal playground). Today I thought I was super cool because some of the older boys, who always play soccer, asked me if I wanted to play with them. I was having so much fun with them, even though their ten year-old soccer skills are about one hundred times better than mine. We were playing with a mini basketball, and in hindsight I can now see how this could maybe, not turn out so well. However, they always play with that basketball for a soccer ball, and I did not think twice about it. But of course, in the last minutes of free time, my teammate has a beautiful kick towards our opponent’s goal, and the goal goes right between the pillar of the wall/goal and crashes through the window below. The pillars are hardly any bigger than the ball, but it managed to go through just perfectly. Of course the sound of shattering glass makes everyone come out of their office to see what happened as I am standing there looking very responsible. Yet blame went to the boy who kicked the ball, even though it could have happened to any of us playing. As the responsible adult, who had dutifully supervised the kids by playing with them, I decided I should defend the poor kid and explain it was not his fault. He was playing fair, and happens to have awesome kick. After figuring out how to say this in Spanish, then repeating to however many people that had decided to see what had happened, it was finally understood. Social workers have the code of ethics, and one of those ethics is the pursuit of social justice. Today I learned that I can practice social work values even while playing soccer.
There were a lot of germs being shared between the kids in Circulo Infantil this week. I got to play mom and accompany five of the kiddos to visit the doctor on the bottom floor of Tres Manuelas. I forgot how terrifying going to the doctor can be when you are little, especially if you need a shot. Three of the children ended up needing a shot for an infection they had. I found myself holding hands, and trying to comfort a sobbing and terrified girl. Besides the tears, it was a nice change from helping with homework, where I had one-on-one time with each of the kids as they waited for their time with the doctor.
I began the long awaited house visits this week along with two other social work students from one of the universities in Quito who are working in Circulo Infantil (the children’s department). Most of the children live close to Tres Manuelas, allowing us to walk to all the visits. Without Google maps, and often an actual address, I am thankful that I have two native Spanish speakers to wander the neighborhoods with asking for a certain señor or señora. Our supervisor has started us out with visits to the children’s families she had the most concern. There has not been a single child who did not share a bed with at least one other person. In just the few visits we have done, two of the children’s families lived in a single room with six or more people. I really believe that possessions do not create happiness or make people better, but for these kids it is an issue of space and safety. For example, if a single mom has a different father for all of her children, and they come to visit whenever they feel like it in their single bedroom, there is an increased risk for the kids to be abused. If six people are sharing a room, space is obviously limited, and I understand why they would much rather choose to come to Tres Manuelas to work on homework after school than to go home. I also understand why we have had problems of parents saying their kids have not been coming home right after Circulo Infantil and linger around the neighborhood playing. The living conditions itself are not surprising to me, but what is surprising is that all of the students living with so many immediate needs, rather than just a few of them. My supervisor has been eager to begin the house visits so that we can find the exact needs of each family, and begin with the fantastic social worker effort of connecting the families with available resources.
After having my eyes opened to the extent of abuse happening to the children I am surrounded by, we ended the week by celebrating the children’s birthdays that had passed in the past three months. Utilizing my social works skills, I painted a Feliz Cumpleaños sign, and others filled the room with balloons and streamers. Our fiesta began with the children dancing and singing in somewhat of a competition. I loved how the coordinator prefaced the dancing and singing by saying that they should be doing it to have fun, and there was no reason for them to be embarrassed. Although there were winners after each song, they were all recognized for their courage to get up and perform. In a culture of Salsa, Meringue, and many more dances, the kids were already fantastic dancers and probably could out-dance any high school student at prom in the U.S. Our fiesta then continued with cake and salty snacks, not unlike any American birthday party, and the children sang and laughed together until it was time to go. The day before, we went to a science museum to see the brain and mind exhibit, we split into groups and I was with the older students. Afterwards, the first and second graders who went to a more interactive and younger exhibit then took me running through the area where they had gone, excitedly showing me all they had done. The children at Tres Manuelas have undoubtedly captured my heart, whether I am helping them with their homework or celebrating their birthday, I really enjoy my time with the cuties.
I returned from the Galapagos Monday night, and it was absolutely phenomenal and will be getting its own deserving post later. Now I am back in reality, and back to my internship. In Ecuador, the students at the universities have just come back from a winter vacation, meaning that there are so many new Ecuadorian students also doing their internships at Tres Manuelas. For universities in Ecuador, every semester social work and psychology students must be involved in a social service agency in some way and it progresses in involvement each year, which is very similar to my social work program. Today, two other social work students and I went to a school for a workshop about the rights of children and sexuality. When I was in Ser Joven, I also went to a high school workshop similar to the one I went to today. However, this time each of us went with a member of the Prevention Team, and the member personally taught the class to 6th and 7th graders. The workshop was fairly basic, and emphasized that only they had the right to make decisions about their body. At the end of the session, they were asked to fill out a confidential survey if they had been abused sexually, and if they would like help. In two classes with about thirty students in each room, seven answered that they had been sexually abused in just one classroom, and one student left the classroom crying. In the other class, one student said they had been abused. With the information, Tres Manuelas then begins investigations and psychologists and social workers at Tres Manuelas at the school, then work together with the students (the student crying went to a social worker after the class). The coordinator who taught my class said that not all the “yes’s” will probably actually be cases of abuse, but I am still shocked at the proportion of students that are affected by just sexual abuse in the classroom, and this is not even covering emotional, physical, or psychological abuse. The Prevention Team of Tres Manuelas goes into schools regularly putting on workshops and investigating, as well as working to help students, in cases of abuse. With so many children being at risk of abuse, I can see even more, just how important prevention is for the community of Quito.
International Women’s Day (Día de la Mujer) is this week. The majority of Tres Manuelas’ clients are women, and all services provided result from some form of victimization. Tres Manuelas is taking advantage of the opportunity to promote change within the area that they are confronted with everyday. For two days there will be an exposition promoting the rights of women, providing the community with resources and tools, as well as activities for children and adults, artists, and speakers. The Prevention department is the one putting on the exposition, but almost all of the staff is involved in the event. It has been a great experience to see just a part of the planning, connections, and coordinating that has had to take place.