Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Post -- 30/03/13

Trinidad is in the grip of a bona fide crime wave at the moment, with a spate of robberies taking place across the city over the past week. These outbreaks are known to happen fairly regularly, but are no less shocking for their frequency.

Our missionary friend, KC, was dealing with some important paperwork (somebody we know always is – this is Bolivia) last week, for part of which she was required to show her face at the police station. She arrived to a scene of total mayhem, a slew of stolen motorcycles littering the main corridor following a major bust. “Better if I come back next week?” she inquired of the copper in question. “Probably” was the reply.

The last few days have highlighted the precarious nature of youth work in this and, indeed, in any culture. I remember as a secondary school teacher back in Scotland (where I worked in two less-than-well-off catchment areas) having nights when I’d drive home, consumed with self-doubt after having gone twelve rounds with certain classes, wondering why I wasn’t making any difference at all to the behaviour/attitude of my pupils. Particularly when, as an English teacher, I had the privilege of their company for more time than any other of my colleagues, maths aside.

When the reality struck me, it was so obvious I could hardly believe I’d thought otherwise. In a school context, yes, these kids had more class time with me than almost any other teacher. Yet in the context of their week, their four hours of English teaching were but a drop in the proverbial ocean of influences at home, in the street and, yes, at school (where Christian values, inevitably, were not always upheld across the board). A galling, yet liberating, realisation.

Fast-forward four years and it’s a principle I’m continually reminded of in our youth work here in Bolivia where, if anything, our contact with young people is even more limited. And yet, as a relatively young church, we naturally place a great deal of importance on the couple of hours or so each week we have with the local youth. At times it consumes our working week, and certainly our prayer lives – meaning that when things don’t turn out quite as expected, it can be hard to take.

And yet, we need only look around us to take in the scale of the tide we are swimming against. Negative influences tend not only to be fostered among peer groups but from older relatives. Girls are largely encouraged to get pregnant sharpish so that someone else can take care of them. Fathers’ lives are, in many cases, governed by the bottle. Many, indeed, view the church with suspicion (an ever-increasing challenge in the more atheistic West) and permit their offspring to attend the Saturday night youth group meeting on the condition they don’t get involved on a Sunday. Support from schools is on the wane too, with the native Bolivian ‘Mother Earth’ religion now being promoted in primary school R.E. lessons. Idolatry by another name, therefore, is increasingly encouraged.

Saturday was the most recent reminder of the challenges we face. You may remember my mentioning last week that, as part of a teaching series on the Passover, I was charged with leading a session on what the Passover means to us as believers, which focused largely on the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and its importance to Christians. In the church, we choose to observe this important ritual every week before the family service and, if you’ve ever partaken in it, you’ll know just how refreshing it is to be able to take our eyes off ourselves and our own challenges, and concentrate on Jesus.

To be honest, we don’t really get a lot of youth along to the service at the moment (owing, in part, to some of the above-mentioned factors), but I was nonetheless led to present an overview of what we do and why – with a particular emphasis on the obedience factor – in the hope that it might encourage at least some of those youth who are able to make it to the service the next day. I didn’t mince my words, really driving home the message that if we take our faith seriously, then we’ll get to the Communion service, no matter what.

Being Sunday, as usual, it was difficult to see the wood for the trees owing to my various tasks with the band. So it wasn’t until I got home in the afternoon that it dawned on me that not a single new face from the youth group made it to the service that morning.

I learned long ago not to take these things personally, especially in a culture which has major commitment issues, but it was more than a little depressing as one of the youth leaders to realise the deficit between the theory and the practice when it comes to what we teach. Naturally, much of the teaching tends to centre around less discernible matters of the heart. This was a case where evidence of any fruit borne in the hearts of our young people could be seen in their actions the following day.

And yet, as in so much Christian work, we must trust in the Father who ‘is at his work’ and the Son who, too, is working (John 5:17). As youth leaders, we seek to teach only the Word of God and, as long as we do that, we can be His word will not return empty, but will accomplish that which He pleases (Isaiah 55:11). It might not happen overnight (as it certainly didn’t in this case in a very real sense!) but we trust that our Heavenly Father continues to minister to these young people, in ways beyond our asking or imagining, in those 166 hours of non-contact every week.

  • For the Lord’s continued work in the hearts of our young people, and for endurance for their, at times, impatient, youth leaders!       
  • For our documentation situations! Craig is still waiting on his visa to be processed (now two weeks behind Amanda’s). Amanda, now on to the post-visa stage of renewing her ID card, has hit a minor snag. These are fundamental documents for life and work here so continue to remember this in your prayers. 
Our new kitchen. Amanda refused to be photographed in it on the grounds
of 'sexism'.
  • We have a kitchen! Visitor’s to Craig’s Facebook page will have read about the closing, dramatic developments in the saga earlier this week (the kitchen was delivered by the transport company to a completely different city in the opposite direction from Trinidad!) but it was, finally, installed over the last couple of days, meaning the interior of the house is now, more-or-less, complete.
  • For a relaxing Easter weekend (so far!) and slightly extended break it affords us. Enjoy your own wherever you are.

¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Saturday Post -- 23/03/13

A few weeks ago, we got word of Shona's visit and, with the house edging towards completion, we asked our builders to ensure it was completed by the weekend of her arrival. With Shona landing in Trinidad on Sunday the 10th, the goal was to be moved in by Friday the 8th, giving us a couple of days to get the house in order. Our builders were all too happy to accommodate our wishes. 

And thus began a very Bolivian house-move. For in the days leading up to our hoped-for move-in, it became clear that the house would not be delivered to us in a completed state. Among the items still to be dealt with when we arrived were:
  • Paint splashes all over the floor tiles and windows
  • Smudges on the newly-painted walls
  • An unpainted exterior wall
  • Windows without mosquito nets
  • Loose rails in the showers and patio doors
  • A back garden littered with builders' equipment
  • Lack of electrical socket for our oven in the kitchen
  • Bathrooms without lights
  • Several windows without curtain rails (we're still waiting on these!)
These have, largely, been dealt with over the past couple of weeks. But it's been yet another pretty alarming eye-opener, as if it were needed, as to the quality of customer service here. We have spent, at times, consecutive days calling the same electrician/carpenter/painter over and over again, being told each time that they are coming "ahorita" ('right now'). This is a very Bolivian tactic: to keep the customer off your back, tell them what they want to hear rather than the truth. Furthermore, pride in the quality of one's handiwork does not seem to take any real precedence. Many of the problems since we moved in have been owing to negligence on the part of the workmen. 

However -- and it's a big 'however' -- we're really delighted with the (almost) finished product and already feeling the benefit of the increased space available to us. Monday (our day off) of this week was the first chance we had to spend the whole day in the house uninterrupted by builders (though, to be honest, we were waiting for them!) and we were struck by the freedom we each had to relax. While our house is not big by any stretch of the imagination, we have much more room than in our apartment which was essentially a series of four consecutive rooms, one following the other. 

We are just so thankful to have such a welcoming, airy place to come home to and looking forward to sharing it with our friends and those we minister to in the coming months.

Additionally, there has been some movement this week on the hoped-for land sale, with a visit from an interested party on Tuesday, with a view to possibly buying both of the plots. The deal would depend on the availability of funds on the prospective purchaser's end. We'd really appreciate your continued prayers as we aim to shift these plots.

All of these housing shenanigans have had to be dealt with against the backdrop of a busy couple of weeks at work. This week saw another ENT surgery campaign take place at FT. Amanda was not involved directly, but there's always a knock-on effect for her as she sees many of the pre- and post-op patients in Audiology. Since taking on the audiology work, she has never had a week quite like this one. 

Meanwhile, there have been some really encouraging developments in my educational work recently. We are now three weeks into the new year of English classes, with over 30 students enrolled in this year's class -- way more than in previous years and so many that I've had to stop new people signing up for the time being. 

We also have a solution to the staffing issues in the Community class. Elizabeth, who has been a huge help in the last year, told us that she may have to leave in mid-April to pursue her career. This left us with the prospect of having nobody to take on this thrice-weekly children's ministry. However, in the past couple of weeks, Elías (pastor of our church and a basketball coach with FT's Sports ministry) expressed an interest in taking on the work and he took up his new post this week, helping Elizabeth and short-term volunteer Deborah. We won't know till mid-April if Elizabeth is staying or not, but we're now in a good position to get help for Elías if need be. We're delighted to have this ministry secured for the year.

And I'm delighted to have another post written for the week. A happy Day of the Sea to you all!

  • For the youth group this evening, where we're continuing in a short series on the Passover and its significance for us. I'll be speaking on the Lord's Supper. Most of those who come to the youth group have never come to our Communion service at the church, with many being under the impression that it's for a particularly lofty category of Christian! Additionally, due to Catholic teaching, many have misplaced views as to the importance of the sacraments. Please pray that God would speak truth to their hearts tonight. These, like many other such issues (such as not eating meat during Holy Week), are things of which these young people simply accept society's version without question.
  • We're due to get our kitchen delivered and installed tomorrow. Please pray that this goes smoothly. 
  • For energy for Amanda during a hectic week. Indeed, give thanks too for the campaign in general, where about 20 patients were given world-class ENT surgery by the visiting doctors and all returned home safe and sound.
  • For all the encouraging developments in the education ministries.
  • Whoops! I posted this, forgetting to mention that Amanda's permanent residency visa is now here. Give thanks for that and pray that mine will arrive soon. She's not good on her own is our Amanda.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Post -- 16/03/13

Amanda and Shona
This week, we not only moved into our new home but received a much-anticipated visit from Amanda's old university roommate, Shona Blatch, a speech-language pathologist. Shona was working with Amanda's fellow audiology worker Odalys Arce (who has some speech therapy training) as part of a week-long drive to give guidance to speech therapy clients and to give Odalys the tools to continue therapy. 

Shona with Odalys, outside FT's headquarters.
Around 20 patients had been identified by Amanda and Odalys for treatment in the previous weeks and Shona was able to see most of those patients in her short time here.

Why did you come to Bolivia?
Amanda invited me. I've always wanted to use speech therapy in a Third World context, in another country. So when the opportunity came, I jumped on it. 

This week's pictures were all taken by Shona, including this typical Benian
lunch (rice with dried beef and egg).
What were the circumstances that led you to decide to come here?
The day before Amanda invited me I'd asked somebody to pray for an opportunity for me to serve and the very next day, I got Amanda's email! And then everything just fell together. It was in January, so fairly short notice, but I already had my vaccinations from previous visits to Africa and Asia, which helped a lot. 

Amanda with Arturo and Poppy. Our pristine-white
exterior walls are already a distant memory with
those two around.
What have your impressions been of Trinidad?
I've only been here a week so still don't really feel I've had time to process it all! I felt like it was a cross between Asia and Africa. It's a busy place and yet everybody seems so relaxed. Even though I had very little Spanish, everyone made an effort to communicate, which I thought was great.

The view from Shona's bedroom window.
And the Foundation?
I had looked up the website beforehand so it was exactly as I'd expected it to be. I thought it was pretty neat to learn about how they can't do things the same way as back home because of the weather and humidity -- for example, with the hearing aid molds, they use an acrylic resin instead of the usual material. I found it difficult having limited supplies and no formal assessment materials, so basically everything we did was from scratch. Also, therapy really depends on follow-through at home, so I can see the long-term difficulties Odalys will have with clients if they don't show up to appointments regularly or practice at home. Speech therapy is not a quick fix! 

Shona making noises, with patient. She specifically requested that we not
post the image with her tongue sticking out the side of her mouth.
So, what did an average speech therapy session look like?
An average appointment would take an hour. The patient would come in, we would chat a little bit about what concerns the parents have, with the child to see what they sounded like and how intelligible they were. We had a range of patients, for example, a three-year-old who hadn't started talking, as well as older children with speech delays. 

We would then carry out a structural assessment to see if everything looked normal in their mouth. And then I would have them do little tasks to see if their articulators (tongue, lips, etc.) functioned properly. It was at this point that I realised just how poor the dental care is here, and not helped at all by all the pop they'd been drinking [Trinidad has its very own Coca-Cola factory]. One night, for example, I saw an eight-year-old kid wandering about the street in his pyjamas with a bottle of Coke!

This patient, with Downs Syndrome, was
a bit of a player.
I would then carry out a speech test, by presenting a list of words representative of the various sounds in Spanish. The patients had to say each of the words back to me. We would see which sounds they'd say correctly/incorrectly. Then, we would see if we could teach them to say the sounds correctly and then finally, we'd choose our goals for therapy. And to finish, we'd have a question-and-answer session with the parents.

Amanda and Odalys.
Were all your patients children?
No, we had some adults. For example, we had a teacher with voice issues. We explained to her how to use her voice properly and look after it, i.e., drinking lots of water and avoiding coffee and Coke, and taking voice rests. We did some voice exercises, stretching her vocal cords, showing her how to produce voice gently rather than using it harshly. 

We also had a stuttering client who was an adult. With child patients, we taught the parents how to model slower speech and praise the child's fluent speech. But with the older client, I taught him some more direct therapy methods. I was a little shocked that the methods taught down here to address stuttering are methods that have been discontinued in Canada.

To bring the curtain down on a top week's work, we all went out for steak
last night with Odalys and her daughter, Karol, left (a recent addition
to the English classes, too).
Any funny stories? 
One day we were working with a little girl to expand her vocabulary. I pointed to her head and she replied, "lice"!

Finally, and at the extreme risk of sycophancy, did you have a good time with us?
It was great to be able to catch up with Amanda and it was great that, although I didn't always know what was being said in conversations with her friends and colleagues, I could catch a word or two and work it out from context, so I didn't feel entirely alienated from conversations. And Amanda did a fantastic job translating. 

I appreciate Craig and Amanda's hospitality. The visit was a great opportunity to experience what their day-to-day life is like so I can go home and have a better understanding of it. 

Amanda with ventriloquist's dummy.
  • For safety, energy and patience for Shona as she embarks on an epic journey home. She has a short flight to Santa Cruz at 7.15pm this evening, where she has to wait till 2am (!) to board a flight to Panamá, where she will spend pretty much all day tomorrow before flying to Toronto at 5.30pm. Yikes!
  • For our kitchen, i.e., that it would finally arrive this week from Santa Cruz (there have been blockades on the road to Santa Cruz all week).
  • For the speech therapy patients with whom Shona met this week, that they would be diligent in acting on the expert advice received this week.
  • For an immensely fruitful week with Shona, both professionally and personally. We give thanks for her friendship and for giving up a week's holiday to provide such invaluable support to the Foundation.
  • For a pretty smooth transition to the new house this week. No major problems to report.
¡Que Dios les bendiga!

Craig & Amanda

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Saturday Post -- 02/03/13

Craig and I have switched Saturday morning duties this week… and we’re both quite chuffed about it. Instead of having to do all the grocery shopping at various locations all over town, I am still in bed in my pyjamas typing an interesting and enthused blog post… at least I hope it’s interesting and enthused. Craig is currently running all over town…and he has also intentionally added other jobs on top of the normal groceries that he is going to do as well. I think he is mostly excited because he gets an extended period of time to listen to his podcasts without my disapproving glares. I don’t have a problem with podcasts in general – I have a problem with him listening to them in the house where I have to shout at the top of my lungs for him to hear me when I want his attention. He responds, “Its not the podcasts’ fault, Amanda, the headphones are just that good.” But as it has just started to rain, I still think I am getting the most out of this deal.

This week has been a bit stressful in terms of the house. It’s so close to being finished, yet so far away. We really wanted to move in this weekend, but that is not going to happen. Now we have our eyes set on Wednesday, but it depends on so much. We think the main problem is that the site manager does not quite understand the urgency with which we’ve set the deadline (which is now three months past the promised completion date – the culture here is very laid back) and on the whole we were fine to go along with that, but as Shona is going to be here in seven days, well, we have no time to be relaxed any more. Craig feels like he’s turning into an old woman with all his nagging and part of me just can’t get upset about it, because I don’t really believe that there is a chance it is going to be ready in time. The balcony railings were put in yesterday and I think still need to be painted, there are still some glass panels missing, the mosquito netting still needs to get installed, but most importantly, the house is not electrically live. The house is completely wired, but it has not been hooked up to the city grid yet and without electricity we don’t have water and without water I am not moving. I can live without the kitchen cabinets (which haven’t even arrived from Santa Cruz yet), but I need water.

On the other hand, there has been a lot of progress this week. The inside of the house is all painted (and the pink looks great!), all the curtain rods have been hung, the outside is almost painted, the balcony railings actually arrived and the big mound of earth in front of house has been distributed all over the land. Whatever happens, we just have to be flexible, be ready to drop everything and move if we have to, or arrange for a bed for Shona in the apartment downstairs. Don’t worry, Shona, we won’t make you sleep on the floor.

But I am really getting excited about Shona’s visit; obviously on a personal level, as we haven’t seen each other since August 2011, but also on a professional one. Shona is coming down to run speech therapy training sessions with my colleague Odalys and myself. We offer speech therapy at the Foundation, which Odalys oversees, but she feels really under-qualified and would rather not be doing it. To be fair, in a city where no one else is offering such services, the little training Odalys has is better than nothing, but to encourage Odalys and to better equip her, Shona kindly agreed to spend her March Break with us, demonstrating techniques and constructing treatment plans for specific patients. The patients themselves are really excited because we’re really hyping it up to try and impress the importance of actually turning up for their appointments; and also because we’re not charging. As the therapy sessions are being coupled with staff training we felt it would be better to not charge for these initial evaluations and treatment plans. Who does not love free medical care from an overseas specialist?!?! If only I were so lucky with my medical woes...

I also spent a lot of time this week preparing a professional development course on patient interaction and inter-staff relationships. I have been working in health care for almost six years, both in admin and as a heath professional, with another three years of studying health care and their systems, and thinking about that made me feel old. But then I realised I was still under 30 and felt better about myself.

Customer service in Bolivia is relatively non-existent. Craig once found hair in his food at a restaurant and asked me what he should do about it. I said if he was hungry he should just eat it, because he is not getting replacement food or a refund. He mentioned it to the guy as he was paying and the guy shouted into the kitchen, “And we all know whose hair that was!” and laughed it off. Ya, no refund.  Unfortunately, this attitude can make its way into health care as well and this is not the type of atmosphere we’re trying to cultivate at the Foundation where we’re trying to show the love of Christ to everyone we meet. Also, as is quite common in many health systems, an atmosphere of competition or blame can develop between the admin and health staff, so we’re trying to develop a complete team attitude. I enjoyed putting the course together and I would like to give a big shout out to Westmuir Medical Centre, Parkhead, Glasgow, Scotland for teaching me the majority of what I know about patient interaction!!!!

The board of directors approved the course this past Thursday morning and the course is planned for this coming Friday afternoon…

Today is a big day… the Club de Exploradores de la Biblia (Bible Explorers Club) starts again today. KC and I will be leading the same class as last year, i.e., girls of twelve years and older. Today we’re starting with some games and Bible trivia to start nice and easy before we push the girls to work really hard. Seriously, last year, when no one was volunteering answers, KC made the girls do exercises to wake their brains up (sometimes the exercises were laps). I was so glad that I was a leader and not a participant, although I would possibly be thinner than I am now if I had to participate. When I refer to working hard, I really mean thinking outside the box; forcing them to think about what they are reading and trying to understand it. Sometimes I think we must come across as mean people because of how hard we push them to think comprehensively and critically, but they keep coming back, so maybe they know that the tough love is really full of genuine love.

I will leave it there… and I (if Craig does the grocery shopping again next week), or Craig will fill you in on the housing developments over the next week.

  • That we would be able to move into our new house this week, so Shona can stay with us in it.
  • Shona as she travels down here in one week’s time and for the speech therapy training sessions that are being organised.
  • The beginning of a new year of many activities in the church and the Foundation – that God would be working through these activities to reach many people. 

  • Craig’s stellar talk to the youth group last Saturday on the Prodigal Son – it was very clear and very fun as well (they got to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire to illustrate the concept of walking away with what you have instead waiting until the game is over – kind of like the prodigal son, get it?).
  • Productivity on this professional development course that I was able to prepare this week – it really was a blessing to me to work on it. 
       ¡Que Dios les bendiga!

       Craig & Amanda

      PS Craig here, got some pictures of the work in the house, taken today. Hopefully these will be the last such images we post here before moving in.