Guest Faculty Post # 2: Latino Mental Health Program Immersion through Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano in Guayaquil, Ecuador

Posted on August 05,2012 by latinomentalhealth

Old Cathedral, Cuenca, and horse carriage

I traveled with Dr. Stacey Lambert, Director of the Latino Mental Health Program, to Guayaquil, Ecuador on Friday, July 27th and returned to the US on Tuesday, July 31st. It was a very short trip, but full of experiences that we will never forget. We arrived in Ecuador at 10 pm that Friday, and were greeted by Don Enrique and Doña Marta Lucero, Dr. Cynthia Lucero's parents, and by Don Johnny and Doña Carla Gonzalez. Johnny is the General Director of the Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano in Guayaquil, and he is the person who coordinates our students' experiences in their second year immersion in Ecuador.


Saturday morning we went on a car trip to Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, with over half a million habitants. It is over 7,000 feet above sea level, and it takes between 3 and 4 hours of driving up a windy road through the mountains to get there.On our way, we passed through El Cajas National Park, which has beautiful views and many lakes in the mountains.

Pictures don’t make justice to the magnificent mountains and vegetation of that area. The temperature dropped considerably (hint: do not wear shorts if you are going there!). During our stay in Cuenca we visited a number of sites, including a hat factory where people make hats by hand, several churches including the old and the new cathedrals, and several markets, where we appreciated the hand made clothing and other items made by the indigenous people of the area. During the trip we were able to see differences in climate, housing, and clothing between Cuenca and Guayaquil, which is on the coast. Everyone was friendly and eager to help. We returned on Sunday afternoon to get ready for a long day on Monday.

LMHP students, Johnny Gonzalez, Dr. Stacey Lambert and Dr. Nilda Clark in Cuenca


Monday morning found us visiting the three sites where our students do their clinical rotations.


The first place we visited was Fundación Crecer.

This is a school dedicated to provide education to children who are school dropouts because they are working in the streets to support their family. They have an outreach worker who goes into the communities to encourage the children to join, and then they enlist the support of the family to make a commitment to allow the children to participate in the Fundación’s program. The children have to come to the Fundación on time. They are provided with breakfast and lunch, a place to shower, an opportunity to learn (two academic years condensed into one), recreation and fun activities, and religious education (Catholic) or ethics and values if they don’t want to participate in the religious program. Although the Afro-Ecuadorian population comprises 7.2% of the population, most if not all of the children in the program belong to this ethnic group. All of the participants come from barrios where people live in extreme poverty, and where drugs use and trafficking, as well as domestic and other violence is the norm. Many have traumatic histories and some have learning difficulties or learning disabilities.

Looking through the one-way mirror

There is one psychologist providing clinical services (and the director, who is also a psychologist, takes on a few children for therapy when needed). Their resources are limited, and they appreciate the extra help that our students bring each summer. Our students participate in consulting about therapy and assessment with the psychologist there. Their labor is one of love and they are making a big difference in the lives of many children.


Our next stop found us at Escuela Presidente Velasco Ibarra.

There we met with the school psychologist, who has been there 30 years: 15 as a teacher, and the last 15 as a psychologist. She gave us a tour of the elementary school, and we had the opportunity to go to one of the classrooms to greet the students and the teacher. The children wear uniforms and are provided with breakfast and lunch. Out of the 500 students, she sees about 100 of them during the school year, some of them due to emotional problems, and others due to learning problems.


The third site was la Fundación VIHDA (VIH is HIV in Spanish, and it is pronounced “vida” as in “life.”) We met there with the director and two of their psychologists. This is the first year that MSPP is placing students there. Fundación VIHDA started in 2006 to provide services for women with HIV at the Hospital Gineco-Obstetrico Enrique Sotomayor (a maternity hospital). There have been over 800 women since 2006 that have tested positive for HIV and have received services with them. These services include three HIV tests during the pregnancy, participation in counseling for the newly diagnosed, participation in psycho-educational groups and support for the women after their children are born.

A group room at the main facility

The Fundación also has a prevention program. They visit secondary schools and talk to students about prevention and health promotion. To date, they have reached about 30,000 students. Another service they offer is counseling to caretakers of children with HIV, many of whose parents have already died and now live with relatives or other caretakers. As a consequence, they are now starting a service dealing with these children: revealing the diagnosis and then having them in support groups with other children that have the same experiences. They said that there is still discrimination against children with HIV in the schools, even though the law provides protection. They offer the children cultural and recreational activities to support that their HIV status is only one part of who they are. Lastly, they offer free, walk-in HIV testing. They are looking forward to having our students with them this year and in the future.



After these visits, Dr. Lambert and I went to the Centro Ecuatoriano Norteamericano and visited the Spanish classes. Our students are placed in three different levels: beginner/intermediate, intermediate/advanced, and fluent. We visited all classes and were impressed with the teaching methods in each one. CEN's director, Johnny Gonzalez, was a great host. Here he is in his office:

Johnny Gonzalez, General Director of CEN


That night we attended a reception at the Fundación Dra. Cynthia Lucero. For a video of the history of the foundation, see here:

This foundation was established by Cynthia’s parents to educate and promote the donation of organs, which is something that was met with a lot of resistance in Ecuador. These days, although there are laws in place for organ donation, the medical facilities to perform these surgeries appear to be limited. The foundation also offers scholarships to students who have challenges. That night we met two of the recipients of these scholarships. One of them, a young man who is blind, will be graduating with a master’s degree in educational psychology.

The ceremony at the Lucero Foundation was very moving. I had the opportunity to talk to a woman who was Cynthia’s friend since childhood, and who clearly still misses her. Cynthia’s spirit was very present there. Her parents said that continuing her work is what motivates them to keep going after such a great loss.

Enrique and Marta Lucero with us at the Foundation.

Going on this trip, both to Costa Rica and then to Ecuador with our LMHP students was an incredible experience. I could not help but reflect on how many lives have been affected and touched by Dr. Cynthia Lucero, a young woman with a strong desire to serve others. I hope that when she looks on us she feels that we are carrying on with her work and are worthy of having her name in our program.

Nilda M. Clark, Psy.D., Head, Counseling Psychology Department, and Faculty, Latino Mental Health Program