As I approached my final week of Spanish lessons with Maria, throughout our month together we had been engaging in ongoing conversations about the systemic challenges some people of Guatemala face. We would talk about the positives including the deep sense of community and family, the rich religious traditions as well as the areas of struggles including being a sexual minority and what that means, child labor, and the lack of comprehensive mental health systems…I listened intently and felt more connected to this community as Maria shared parts of her country with me (of course all in Spanish so I could continue to learn). Very early into our lessons, I shared with her my desire to give back to the community and to use my skills as a psychologist, but wanting to do this in a way that didn’t impose a western perspective.
She suggested that as my final exam for Spanish that I offer a talk or “charla” on parenting for a small group. This was simultaneously exciting and immensely anxiety inducing. Besides the idea of presenting the western concept of discipline to a small community of parents from San Juan La Laguna who primarily spoke Tz’utujil, I was being asked to do this in Spanish. I spent the week writing and re-writing what I wanted to share and then having Maria edit it for accuracy. We planned to have my talk on the porch of Maria’s home. She shared that they posted flyers and she was unsure how many people would be there. Of the many presentations I have given, I remember feeling that my knowledge and training in parenting didn’t really help me. Instead in some ways it felt limiting and limited…
The porch began to fill up mostly of women and one man who were eager to hear me talk. I knew immediately then I wanted this community to understand who was the expert in the area of parenting as they patiently waited for me to speak…they were the experts. As they introduced themselves, how many children they had and their ages…it was clear that collectively they had more experience raising children than I have had in all my training and education. As far as my Spanish final exam not sure I passed, most of my talk was given in Spanish (that was written out) which Maria translated into Tz’utujil and somewhere in between my English would creep in, which she would help me translate back into Spanish and then back to Tz,utujil – Maria was truly amazing!
As I shared the meaning of discipline from a western perspective (there was no word for discipline in Tz’utujil), they presented their ideas of what it meant to them. I got a sense of what “it takes a village” meant in this community. The parents shared how the expectation for correcting and changing behavior of children is a responsibility that is placed on everyone in the community especially teachers in the schools. These lessons were further reiterated in the homes and religious spaces. Although nothing new, this blending of roles across contexts seems to provide consistency for the children. I ended my charla with having them participate in role plays practicing parenting with and without using positive discipline (in a way that felt meaningful for them)…nothing momentous, just real. This was my grassroots international psychology experience.
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