Just as each individual’s life experience is unique, so are interpretations of the truth. Therefore just because perceptions of the truth may vary does not mean they are not valid. Every individual’s interpretation of the truth is an important piece of the puzzle. You can’t make a whole without all of its parts.
We were reminded today that there is always more to the truth than just one individual’s interpretation of the truth. It is our responsibility as social workers to always strive to get as many interpretations of the truth as we can before coming to a conclusion or making a decision about any issue. As social workers it is our responsibility to always work hard to get as close to the truth as possible, for the truth has many layers and endless perspectives. Therefore my fellow social workers, we have a great deal of work that lies ahead and much truth seeking to keep us all very busy for many years to come. Remember that whenever you think you have it all figured out, life will always come along to remind you that you do not. Never stop seeking knowledge and the truth – it is what empowers you and the people who you serve.
“There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting. ”
Jefferson Perez is an Ecuadorian Olympic speedwalker who has earned silver and gold medals. He started an after school programming the same name, for children. The mission of the program is to promote education, health, and nutrition for children, but it encompasses so much more.
There are 550 children served by this program in Cuenca. Many of these children attend school and work in the market with their mothers, selling produce or handmade artistry. These children work to help the family but also because there is a lack of affordable daycare. They also earn money to pay for their school uniforms, and this agency also provides $15 vouchers for this use. In the after school program, the children do recreational activities such as playing games, learning Japanese, and watching movies. Another goAl of the program is to eradicate child labor, and education is one step toward that goal.
Services are also provided to the parents. There are workshops provided that teach healthy cooking classes, self esteem, sexuality, and family planning. Basic computer skills are also taught, such as emailing and writing a resume. A certificate is provided at the end of the class so that they can get a job that uses these skills. Since many of the families work in the market, the psychologist from Fundacion Jefferson Perez travels to the market and conducts family therapy sessions in offices set aside for there at the market, so that the families will not lose money shutting down their booth and traveling to the center. Parents whose children participate in the program are also given the opportunity to receive $200 to expand their business to make money for the family.
Anti-bullying workshops are also offered through Fundacion Jefferson Perez. These are in response to racial and economic discrimination that these children have suffered at school and in the community.
We were impressed that a well funded agency allows for a more comprehensive approach to services for families both here and at home. The Fundacion Jefferson Perez after-school program provides services to empower children and families on several different levels. As social workers, we know that facilitating growth using an ecosystems framework is the most effective and empowering for the people who we serve.
Our most recent visit was to the women’s domestic violence center named Casa de Maria Amor in Cuenca. Upon entering the unmarked and confidential door the inside immediately gives a warm welcoming through the colorful art and atmosphere. With an open layout the offices of the social workers and psychologists are visible from the courtyard and the rooms were on the second floor. Venturing further back, we encountered a number of curious eyes from the children and welcoming smiles from many women. And this is just the atmosphere.
The social worker and child psychologist took the time to sit and answer a number of our questions about their center. It became very apparent that this center functions through a empowerment model. The methodology used to form the life plans is based on the best evidence-based practice models worldwide. In addition, they use the feedback and goals of the women. The children also play a role in setting the goals for the family when age permits. The entire program is voluntary and the decision to leave may be based on safety and their feelings of success with their objectives. Furthermore, the workers respect a woman’s decision to leave and return to their aggressor only with the request not to tell where they were and who they met for confidentially and safety purposes.
The workers believe the Latin American cultural aspect of Machismo to be a major contributing factor for men to justify their behavior. The workers also stated that is it very common in the traditional country sides for religious leaders to tell women that the abuse is their fault. Therefore, the center utilizes every opportunity to inform and advocate in communities. Some churches even request their presentation as a part of the premarital counseling process. Casa de Maria Amor also maximizes the use of their volunteers by allowing approved men to work with the families to help change the violent image of men that many of the children develop.
In summary, Casa de Maria Amor is empowering the women by allowing them choices without any judgement and giving assistance when requested, in addition to, their education on human rights. Furthermore, the center also empowers the children by giving them choices and a role in the familys’ decisions. Experiences such as this clearly display the universal practice of social work empowerment model and its ability to assist international social work. In addition, we also came in touch with professionals in the field who have the same itch to advocate for oppressed populations and work with people for a living. In reflection of the generosity of the workers time and their final words before our exit, it became apparent that the workers were also using our visit as an opportunity to advocate for their cause. That is a statement in itself about social workers all around the world.
Often many individuals forget that humans are more similar than different. In Ecuador, many things are unfamiliar to me. The scenery, the food, the customs, the language and the culture. However on one of our recent site visits, I could recognize something very familiar; the human need to love and be loved and the things we do cross culturally to avoid experiencing our pain.
We visited a site that treats individuals struggling with their addictions to drugs and or alcohol. Our class was fortunate enough to have a few individuals come forth and share their personal stories with us. I was moved by the fact that these individuals’ stories were the same stories I hear from clients that I am working with in the States; processing emotions is difficult for many of us and sometimes avoiding the bad feelings and our personal hurt and pain is the only way many individuals find they are able to make it through the day. Therefore they turn to drugs and alcohol in order to avoid their emotions that can cause them so much hurt and pain.
The individuals stories were similar too, in that they had to hit rock bottom before they were able to seek out or even desire assistance in regaining control of their lives, rather than allowing their addictions to consume them. They spoke about the value they placed upon their relationships they had with their families and their enthusiasm about being able to see their loved ones again. In fact, one of the individuals had earned the opportunity to have his wife visit him later in the afternoon the day of our visit and to see his face light up with genuine enthusiasm regarding her visit was truly heart-warming. The individuals we spoke with were enthusiastic about the program they were in but also acknowledged how difficult the healing process could be. Yet through all of their hardships they were hopeful in moving forward to a happier more fulfilling life and rebuilding their relationships with their loved ones upon completion of the program. Despite all our differences we are more alike than we are different. Ecuador has shown me that we all hurt the same.
Throughout our time in Ecuador we have taken trips, attended lectures, toured the Andes, and visited social service agencies among other things. Liberation theology reinforces the idea that every person has different experiences and these individual experiences shape one’s perception of reality and their behaviors. Change is needed and it is important to engage the poor in the process.
Larger systems influence individual situations; global and economic trends influence the migration of the people of Ecuador. There are several reasons individuals choose to migrate, some of these include economic crisis, to get themselves out of debt, to build a home, and/or to join other family members. The Ecuadorian economy’s number one GDP is petroleum, followed second by remittances from immigrants (mainly from the US and Spain); over one million people in Ecuador rely on remittances.
We attended an immigration lecture and learned about one man’s migration experience to the United States. With the amount of debt accumulated by migrating to the United States he had to work three jobs, eighty hours a week to pay off the loan. In Ecuador there is a business for people funding immigration. It costs around $17,000 for someone to immigrate (undocumented) to the United States. Chulqueros lend the money to these individuals, with collateral put up for the loan, and charge around 8% interest monthly. The man discussed how he obtained his GED in the United States and decided that he wanted to further his education, but could not because he was in the country undocumented. The reason he then decided to return to Ecuador was to receive his college education. Many individuals who migrate to the United States wish to return to Ecuador, but cannot because there is not money available in Ecuador to earn comparatively.
We all have known or been around people who have migrated to the United States. Having heard his story really opened up our eyes to what these individuals have to of through to get there.
Along with our many visits, the mountains paired with the vibrant colors used in all the architecture have provided us Midwestern natives with a great amount of sensory stimulation on a daily basis. It seems as though no photographs can do the scenery justice. Furthering on the topic of justice, we visited a museum of very a famous Latin American artist named Oswaldo Guayasamin. Born in 1919 in Quito, Ecuador Guayasamin was an artist who became famous in the mid 1990s for artwork which focused on the oppressed populations of Latin America. He studied the past oppression of the indigenous people and the exploitation and abuse they received from the conquering Spaniards. Guayasamin’s mother was a mestiza, which means a person of mixed races, and his father was indigenous. He used his studies and experiences to make statements through his art to remind people about the mass division between classes and the troubles these abused populations faced. Guayasamin also painted many pieces about the pain mothers face at the loss of their child or the inability to provide for their child. He depicted his emotions of empathy towards oppressed populations in a creative way which gave those populations a voice. By his powerful artwork on the oppressed, Guayasamin became a powerful advocate through his intolerance of socioeconomic class division, racism, political oppression, and poverty.
In his later years Guayasamin painted about his ultimate goal of peace and tolerance in the world. Through our evaluation of the work of Guayasamin it is apparent that he had very similar core beliefs to the social work foundation. He was able to communicate to society with his voice and through the powerful catalysts of artwork. Prior to his death on March 10, 1999, Guayasamin was the winner of the Ecuadorian Salon Nacional de Acuarelistas y Dibujantes and Third Hispano-American Biennial of Art in Barcelona. Furthermore, the Fourth Biennial of São Paulo named him the best painter in South America in 1957. In commemoration of Guayasamin the day of his passing is marked as a day for national strikes, mainly by the indigenous, to lift their oppression.
Fourteen years after his passing the museum of his work remains in beautiful condition and copies of his paintings can be found all around the cities of Ecuador. Therefore, his voice continues to advocate to this very day. Unexpectedly, we left feeling as though we had been exposed to our first international social worker. He had a feminist perspective on injustice that moved us to open our worldview and consider the experiences and history of other countries.
Social work roles extend beyond national boundaries. Social work and social welfare are prominent institutional vehicles through which societies assure quality of life for their citizens. This blog is designed to chronicle the experiences of 3 MSW students and a professor through Ecuador. Our task is to gain a multi-level understanding of this beautiful country and its people.
So far, we have made the trek from the Capitol city of Quito, to our home away from home, Cuenca. We are traveling with other students from Speech Language Pathology and Occupational Therapy as well. The group has visited multiple historic sites, done cultural mapping activities,
enjoyed traditional meals and celebrated New Year’s Eve Ecuador style in our first few days here.
Students will be sharing their insights here, about their experiences in the community, in class, and in the agency visits. We hope that you enjoy sharing this with us.