So this is actually day numero uno of the field school. We had orientation at the beautiful Hotel Calendaria, with grand views of the 3 volcanoes surrounding the city. We spent time going over our mission, which is simply to understand how environments and support systems impact the lives of the people they’re intended to help. Our NAPA-OT Group (or Grupo NAPA in Spanish) is sectioned off into the following 5 categories: Medical Anthropology, Disability Studies, Pediatrics, Gerontology Research, and Gerontology Practice. I am participating in Gerontology Research which is sort of intertwined with Gerontology Practice.
Essentially, we want to see what we can do to help the people of Guatemala. However, this is more complex than it sounds. When you just go into a country and start helping people who are sort of invisible (here our focus is people who are disabled) it can give the government “permission” to keep ignoring them since someone else is taking care of the issue. We’re working with non-governmental organizations, which are non-profit companies that receive money from other sources and help locals. We’re also working with grassroots organizations that were started by people here in the country and are less bureaucratic, or with a flatter hierarchy of people. Each organization has it’s benefits and downfalls so we want to see if we can assist them in creating places that help people in a way that does not increase reliance on them.
I also had my first day of one-on-one Spanish instruction at Tecun Uman Spanish School. I sat in a restaurant with my professora Sylvia, a girl around my age, and we talked for 4 hours in espanol. We discussed the mission of our group and she told me a story that illustrates our mission:
Sylvia said that when she was a little girl, there was no such thing as senior care homes. Families here take care of each other and they’re very tight knit. However, there were some elders who didn’t have children and needed care so a local Friar opened a free senior home. He took in the elders and cared for them. However some ninos malos (bad children) started to bring their parents to the Friar’s home because they didn’t want to take care of them anymore. The Friar would not accept them so the parents ended up back at their child’s house but they did nothing there.
After many instances of ninos malos trying to drop their parents off, for-profit senior homes started to open to fill the demand. Sylvia says there’s a few in Antigua, but it’s a new concept and only for those people who can afford it. By the look on her face, you could tell it just didn’t sit right with her. The opening of the senior care homes caused a break in the traditional family values here in Guatemala. It created a normalcy or permissiveness for people to stop taking care of their parents. However, in a place such as this where people spend their lives working for little money and few social supports, what are the seniors supposed to do with themselves when their kids decide to break tradition and drop them off in a home?
In my homestay, I see reminders of my past. Marie prepares lunch for her husband Jorge and serves him everyday, just as my grandma did for my grandpa. Women take care, and take pride, in caring for the household. This is what they’re brought up to do and it seems to be a major part of their identity. For men, their work ethic is obvious and appears to be a central part of their identity. In other words, these occupations are essential to the identities of the people who live here. Breaking tradition and placing them in homes disrupts these occupations and that can’t be good. Imagine being 75 and having to find new hobbies, pastimes, and essentially a new way of life instead of living with your kids, playing with grandchildren, and doing all the things you thought you’d be doing. What does that do to people? I guess we’ll see.