Ken Lassman (occupational therapist, writer and wheelchair clinic director, and my husband) guest-blogs about his experiences working with the disabilities communities in Lima, Peru Oct. 26-Nov. 4.
The Pacific rim in the Americas is marked by coastal mountain ranges. While in North America, the prevailing westerlies creates a moist, even rainforest-wet coastal zone on the ocean side of the mountains, and dry desert areas to the east, the opposite occurs in South America where the prevailing easterly winds are squeezed dry of their moisture on the eastern slopes of the Andes, creating the rainforests of the Amazon river basin, leaving the area west of the mountains along the coast very, very dry. This has resulted in a series of river based cultures that have sprung up along the mountain fed streams that flow into the coastal deserts not unlike the Nile civilizations found in Egypt. The proximity of the Pacific has created a disconcerting and yet very pleasant mix of moderate temperatures and humidity, frequent overcast days, and almost no rain for Lima and other coastal cities.
There are round yellow circles found throughout the city’s streets and parking areas and I had to ask to figure out what they were for. “The S stands for Securidad, or secure areas in the event of an earthquake, people will know where to go to find each other.” While we were at CASP, the alarms sounded and lights flashed at one point, and everyone left the campus to go into the street for what I thought was a fire drill, but then someone said that we had had an earthquake. But even though a 6.7 scale earthquake had just occurred several hundred miles to the south, none of us felt it at all, and needless to say, there was no damage in Lima.
We have been thrown into the mix of activities from the moment we arrived at CASP, and have hit the ground running. For instance, we were shown a classroom where they are teaching students to learn laundry skills. The teacher, with the able assistance of the volunteers were teaching students how to put clothes into the washers using plastic coated cardboard slides, put in the required amount of soap, pull the wet clothes out and transfer them to a clothes dryer. Then they used cardboard folding templates to fold the clothes. CASP has identified this occupation as one which has the potential for some students to earn a living, and they have obtained donated washers and dryers for the teachers to teach this as a potential livelihood. As we observed, Liliana asked us to come up with a way to create a storable work surface for folks who need to sit in chairs or wheelchairs, and the teacher asked us to come up with a better way to pull out the clothes from the washers and dryers. In short order, Steve and Mack came up with a plan that used a shelf that prevented a person in the wheelchair from getting closer to the table and converted it into a fold-out table top with legs, extending the existing shelf out enough to create room for a chair or wheelchair to fold laundry. Steve and I went with Raoul to the hardware store and we found a broomstick and a large plastic coated hook, drilled the pilot hole in the end of the shortened broomstick, screwed in the hook, and voila! A grab stick to pull out clothes and push it in if needed.
We were fortunate to be there during one of their quarterly “sibling days,” an amazing program where the family members are counseled and supported for the many issues that come up when living with a brother, sister, cousin, with disabilities. The amazing teaching staff are very well trained on the best way to interact and bring out the best in each child attending CASP due to the fact that they spend one day a week getting top notch training from experts in the field who come in from around the world to assist this place. During the Sibling Day, the siblings are first counseled on dealing with the real world issues of living with someone with disabilities, first separated from that child, and then paired back together with them. In each setting, they are given opportunities for role playing, doing shared activities asking questions, listening to and observing others facing similar issues. The results were truly wonderful to see as staff gave them invaluable feedback on how to find that balance point between doing everything or not enough, between redirecting, stopping and ignoring inappropriate behavior, how to deal with your own feelings, and more. Good food and an inflatable slide ensured that the day was not all work and no play!