Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wednesday, July 21, 2010: Integrative Seminar, Dr. Kasnitz, and Another Hogar

Wednesdays have become quite busy for us here at the field school. We attended our 3rd Integrative Seminar where we followed up on a case study that we read last week, and we had some chances to offer our feedback based on the research we've been doing. The cases are based on actual experiences by our faculty, and this particular one was about a malnourished infant who ended up dying due to the lack of resources here in Guatemala. It's a depressing reality here and all too common. 50% of infants suffer from malnutrition here, a pretty appalling statistic.

Another alarming- yesterday I learned that cervical cancer is the leading killer of women here above anything else in Guatemala. This is one of the most treatable of all cancers but many women don't know they have it until it's too late. Part of the reason it's so deadly is that not many women get annual checkups and many husbands don't feel it's appropriate for their wives to let doctors examine them. Additionally, this is a highly machismo society where men have other women on the side, and cervical cancer is most commonly caused by an STD. Catholicism has a huge influence over the beliefs of this society as well, and  contraceptive use is not looked upon favorably. We talked about "structural violence" today in our seminar, which is this idea that certain parts of your society, culture, religion, etc., can do more harm than good in a person's life. It's and interesting concept when you think about it, and there seems to be some structural violence here in Guatemala.

So now on to my favorite part of the day: my walk home with Dr. Devva Kasnitz, our Disabilities Studies professor here, and one of my new favorite people in this world! It's hard to know what to say about her because she's brilliant, warm, enthusiastic, hilarious, talkative, loves to dance, and she happens to have Cerebral Palsy. I mention this last thing only because she's sort of what we're studying here in Guatemala... this idea that just because someone appears one way on the surface, we can't exclude them because everyone has something to offer. On the outside, she has her own way of walking and some people might not completely understand her when she talks, but she's so intelligent and when she leads a lecture, she's so engaging!

She has a more raw perspective on disability and encourages us to learn all of the bad terms in spanish so we know what people really think about it. It's cool because we spend so much time being politically correct and tiptoeing around things. But then she presents us with this crazy idea that when we learn what people really think about people living with disabilities, and what the people living with the disabilities really think about themselves (good, bad, and sometimes ugly labels they give themselves)... only then can we really get a sense of what society thinks and expects of people. It's an honest, yet radical perspective... We've all been asking our spanish teachers for slurs in the language so Devva can compile a list for all of us. None of the spanish teachers, who are ambassadors of their language, want to give us the dirty names, because what would all of us, who are advocates for people here, think about them?

Now onto the "Hogar". An "Hogar" is another name for a Home... we called senior homes here Hogars for short. Today we went to Hogar Fray Rodruigo De La Cruz, the only public home for seniors in all of Guatemala... and it happens to be in the center of Antigua. First, I have to say, wow! The place has almost 2x as many people as Casa Maria and they are so much better taken care of. There's OT, PT, Nurses, social workers, cooks, janitors, and so many other people. I think I've seen maybe 5 staff members at Casa Maria, and usually I only see the janitor who helps the residents there. At Fray Rodruigo, there's artwork made by the residents, a chapel for mass, everyone gets their own clothes, an actual cafeteria, therapy rooms, a functioning fountain... The home is located in an old lavish hotel that is huge and ornate, and just amazingly beautiful!

So a few thoughts- I guess I'm a little disappointed because I can see what the possibilities are here in Guatemala, with some resources, but mainly with a lot of creativity. I also have some mixed feelings on things as far as ethics. Fray Rodruigo limits the number of people who allowed to live there in order to provide adequate and ethical care to everyone who lives there. However, the owner of Casa Maria allows most people in regardless of whether there is space, beds, or money to provide for them. So yes, some of these people may be saved from the streets, but is this at the expense of all the people in the home? Is it ethical to accept people that you can't reasonably provide for?