Guest Post by Catherine Pham, a Foster student who participated in an Exploration seminar in Chile. Catherine is a recipient of the GBC scholarship.
It was one of our usual long bus rides in Chile when my friend Vince jokingly asked, “What is your purpose?” In that moment, I struggled to give an answer, yet the question would linger in my mind. We spent the next few days interacting with the Mapuche native community where I gained an insight into their simple lifestyle. While their resources were limited, the sense of support and community was abundant. No matter the cause, everyone contributed to a community effort. The great sense of unity had left my heart feeling full. My experiences abroad led me to truly discover my purpose. I am passionate about people. I strive to serve others, make genuine relationships, and build community.
This past summer, I had the opportunity to explore and embrace the beautiful landscape, culture, and people of Chile. Through “A Changing Public & Mental Health Care System” exploration seminar, I was able to gain a unique experience that a typical tourist can’t gain. During my program, I spent a week in Santiago, Chile where I learned about the healthcare system by visiting hospitals, universities, health insurance companies, and rehabilitation centers. What amazed me about Chile is the authenticity of the people and their approach to healthcare as a community effort. These experiences would confirm my passion for people.
My fondest memory was when I visited Comunidad Terepéutica Liwen, an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. While entering the center, I read the sign “ya no más solos” translated to “no longer alone” in Spanish. This statement was simple, yet incredibly impactful. As I was greeted with kisses and hugs, we all circled up to introduce ourselves to the residents, who were recovering addicts ranging from 18 to 30 years old. The purpose of this visit was to gain a perspective on how rehabilitation is approached. Initially, we planned to have a short visit to the center, however, our visit was extended into the evening due to our immediate chemistry with the Chileans. Hours flew by as we prepared lunch on the grill, played ping pong, and most importantly, interacted with the residents who shared their journey from addiction to rehabilitation. I had the opportunity to learn Pablo’s story, and it would leave a lasting impact on my life.
Since the age of 18, Pablo was addicted to cocaine, however, he decided to put himself through the rehabilitation program for his wife and daughter. He shared his vulnerabilities, and I remember being in awe by the rawness of his words. While Pablo experienced relapses, he emphasized how the community at this center was crucial for his progress to becoming clean. He described the other recovering addicts as his “familia”, and this great sense of community was prominent when I observed their interactions. It made me reflect on how rehabilitation is tackled back home. Often times, addicts feel like they are alone, and this makes recovery difficult. However, Chileans have mastered the approach to healthcare as a community and team effort. After lunch, music was blasting and suddenly, everyone was dancing. At times, this experience was difficult due to the obvious language barrier. However, when the music was blaring from the single speaker, there was a great sense of unity. The barrier no longer existed. The art of Latin dance is incredibly beautiful. Even though I don’t know how to dance properly, I fully immersed myself in the dance circle as I moved my body to the beat. While many of us were timid to dance, I took this experience head on and took Pablo’s hand as he led me to the dance floor where I shamelessly attempted to dance the “Cueca”, the Chilean national dance. In this moment, I was completely happy. I was amazed by the Chilean’s kindness and authenticity. Despite my limited Spanish speaking skills, I was able to communicate to this community through laughter, smiles, and dance.
My experience at the rehabilitation center was one of many that reaffirmed my passion for people. From my time abroad in Chile, I was constantly welcomed with open arms as these people taught me the value of community. Often times, individuals feel alone whether that is recovering from an addiction or overcoming an illness. However, my time abroad showed me that one’s health is not an individual issue, rather it requires the effort of everyone to achieve a healthy community. In the future, I want to be the community for those who don’t have one. I am happiest when I make genuine connections and show people that they matter. Chile, you have shaped me into my best self and helped me discover my purpose. Gracias por recuerdos lindo. ¡Viva Chile!