For my first month here, I am staying in the house of a couple who are of age to be my parents – Argentina and Francisco. I didn’t know anything about them when I moved in, aside from the fact that they rent rooms to volunteers, travelers, and other foreigners coming through. They have been exceptionally kind and welcoming, always willing to help out with whatever I might need. Staying with them, thus far, has been a real pleasure.
As I have mentioned before, there are quite a few others staying in this sort of boarding house right now as well. One of them is a physical therapist from Ireland who is here working for an organization founded by Argentina and Francisco. It’s called ADISA – which stands for (in Spanish) the Association for Parents and Friends of People with Disabilities in Santiago Atitlan.
I wasn’t surprised to find out that these two amazing people I have the good fortune to know are doing amazing work in their community. In fact, the two of them are very well-recognized community members who have been working for the rights and well-being of disabled persons for many years. More than 20 years ago, Francisco and Argentina had their third child, Nila Eliza. She was born with developmental disabilities, and there were no resources in the area available to help Francisco and Argentina in raising and caring for a special needs child. Although Nila, sadly, passed away when she was just 9 years old, Francisco and Argentina (and their oldest daughter, Andrea) have dedicated their lives to ensuring that disabled people and their parents have adequate care and resources right here in Santiago. Actually, even the family dog, Mos, is involved in the organization as a trained therapy dog who goes to work 5 days a week!
ADISA is a special education school, but they do more than that as well. In addition to educators, they hire physical therapists, occupational therapists, and social workers who provide individual attention to the ADISA students every day. They also make home visits for children too young to attend school, provide interpreters for parents who don’t speak Spanish, teach the art of turning recycled materials into jewelry and other crafts that are sold to benefit the organization, and donate games and tools to families who have disabled children. It’s truly a labor of love, and I am fortunate to know such a caring and committed family!
Because she knows I am a social worker, Argentina invited me to come along with her today on a home visit to the family of a 3-year old girl named Cecilia who was born blind and with developmental disabilities. So, Argentina and I went with Maria, a Tzu’tujil-Spanish interpreter, to the community of Chuk-Muk – a large area of government housing that was built for families who lost their homes in the mudslide of 2005. There, we met with Ceci, her mother, and her older sister, and I was able to observe Argentina’s work with the family.
She began by doing some tactile exercises with Cecilia, to establish trust and promote her sensory motor skills. I got to do a bit of this with Ceci as well – she responds well to toys that make noise and was quite playful! Argentina brought toys for Ceci that she left for the family to keep, and explained what other objects would be suitable for her – things that were practical and not expensive, since this family does not have a lot of resources.
Then, Argentina talked with Ceci’s mother and sister (through the interpreter) to create a visual social history of sorts for Cecilia. This is basically a way to situate Cecilia in her environment in a visual format – it is a creative way to involve the family in a conversation about Cecilia’s strengths and needs. Argentina called this a “mapeo,” and from my own social work perspective, it is an excellent tool for capturing family information and creating a basic service plan in collaboration with the client. This tool contains all of Cecilia’s basic information – her family, her housing situation, her medicines and physical health and abilities, her caretakers and other support systems – as well as some deeper personal information for the whole family – what Cecilia likes and dislikes, what her family’s short and long term goals are for her, and the recommended service plan to help her advance along that path.
(I was playing with Cecilia while Argentina drew this mapeo with the family).
This experience really illuminated for me the work that Francisco and Argentina do, the great need that exists in this community for these services, and the tremendous fortune I have to be living with such big-hearted people.