Family Therapy in Cusco, New Hope for a Community
In August 2014, twenty-eight professionals completed the first stage of their training in family therapy intervention from the Psychology Department of Andina University in Cusco. Qualified applicants had at least five years of professional experience in Domestic Violence intervention. Preference was given to people from government institutions as these applicants interact with the largest number of families. Among these students were nurses, social workers, psychologists, lawyers, military personnel, a priest, and a psychiatrist. In addition to benefitting the community, students have indicated that their training has a positive effect in their daily work and also in their homes.
Dr. Pach spent four years developing this program to decrease and prevent continuing multi-generational domestic violence that is prevalent in the region. The idea began in 2011, when she received an email from Dr. Michal Finkelstein, Professor of Social Work at Zefat Community College in Haifa, Israel, indicating her interest in volunteering for six consecutive weeks for three years in a row. Dr. Pach worked with fellow volunteers in Cusco to develop contacts with the Psychology College Region VIII in Cusco, the Andina University, health service providers, and translators in the community. An initial public lecture in 2011 about domestic violence and family therapy intervention drew a large audience and generated interest in further education.
Working with Dr. Finkelstein and other professional volunteers, an eighteen-week course curriculum was developed to be taught over three years. To reduce tuition costs, all instructors and support staff volunteered their time for evening sessions. The course was divided into three parts: classroom lectures (including role playing), clinical supervision, and research.
History of PAMS Cusco Mission with the Belen Clinic
In Cusco, PAMS member Dr. Lleni Pach volunteers with the Belen Clinic, which strives to meet the need for health services in the area. Some of these needs include health promotion and education, prevention of domestic violence, dentistry, obstetrics, and physical therapy.
The Belen Clinic is in the Santiago district, the poorest and most populated area of Cusco. This district is a short walk from the thriving tourist center, but is worlds away in terms of living conditions. The site of the clinic, a former garbage dump, was donated by the Santiago Municipality. This impoverished population has a high incidence of domestic violence, spousal abandonment, malnutrition, post-traumatic stress disorder, infectious diseases, and labor exploitation.
The Belen Clinic provides a diversity of services including general medicine, obstetrics, alternative medicine in conjunction with pharmacotherapy, orthopedics, physical therapy, dentistry, a basic laboratory, and a pharmacy. The clinic also has a traveling team that serves several rural and isolated communities within a two-hour radius from Cusco in the Anta Province. This team consists of a physician, a dentist, a nurse, and an obstetrical nurse.
The Belen Clinic is administered by the Santiago Parish, which has limited economic resources. It began in 1987 through the efforts of Father Nicanor Acuna Yaya. Concerned by the high infant mortality rate in his congregation, Father Acuna started providing basic health services in the parish house. The Santiago Parish also has a farm that offers training in organic farming, like dairy production, recovery of native produce, honey production, guinea pig breeding, etc.
Current and Past Projects
Students from relevant fields of medicine and social work have volunteered in different roles.
- Some have volunteered with the Belen Clinic’s Health Promoters Program. This weekly program was held at the clinic, where volunteers participate in teaching classes. Twice a month, the volunteers travel to rural communities to offer health education. These same students have formed an organization, Rimasunchis Allin Kausanapaq Pakarisunchis, which translates from Quechua to "Advocates for progress and a better life”.
- Volunteers are investigating the role that domestic gender-based violence plays in the community. They hope to evaluate how to improve mental and physical health in the area.
- Some volunteers spend time at the local Lorena Hospital, for people with scarce resources, where they work with physicians.
- Others are involved with Cristo Vive, an agency which helps victims of domestic violence.
- There is also work done with adolescents in Yuncaypata, an indigenous community about 15 km from downtown Cusco.
- Another partner is Fe y Alegria, a school that requested help for families and adolescents in situations of domestic violence.
- There is a partnership with an orphanage in Izcuchaca, a town about 40 minutes from Cusco.
- There is also a developing cooperation with Defensoría del Pueblo, a human rights organization that advocates for the health rights of the HIV positive and the elderly.
In these different institutions they are teaching about alcoholism and its consequences, adolescent development, gender identity, etc.
Volunteers have come from some of the best American and European programs in medicine, social work, and community health. All volunteers should have an excellent control of Spanish and should plan to be in Cusco for at least one month.