During the Global Autism Project SkillCorps trips, it is common practice to evaluate each day with events that were cherished (pluses) as well as events that one would change (deltas). Each day is rated from 1 to 4 (with 4 representing a great day in which one wouldn’t change a thing). Our team was instructed to adhere to this practice from day one.  We could not go to bed in peace without first running a plus/delta meeting. Molly ensured this would happen for the first few days, but this quickly became habit for us. Two and a half weeks later we got together for the last time in Peru and decided to change the rules a little bit, sharing our overall pluses and deltas for the whole experience.

Naturally, after spending day and night for weeks working on a common purpose, Katie mentioned her biggest plus was to have developed this bond with one another and to have worked closely as a team to do important work and contribute to this project. She considered each delta that was encountered during this trip as an opportunity for personal growth, and therefore deltas became pluses. However, the one thing she would change would be to remain close to her new friends. Our last weekend in Cuzco and Machu Picchu was a perfect ending to this life-altering trip. Cuzco was so charming, full of history, and full of life.

Rusty was proud to have worked as a translator “for none other than the phenomenal Molly Ola (Ola being her middle name of course) Pinney”, and to have worked with the kids at Cerrito Azul. He was glad to have met “Pegasus the Llama” at the ruins of Machu Picchu and enjoyed himself to the extreme during Cuzco’s Carnival. He added that he learned the social etiquette of the culture and a bit of the Quechua dialect.

I had to share how impressed I was by the clinical knowledge and the amount of heart both Stephanie and Katie brought to this experience.  Their contributions were so well thought out and insightful, but what I enjoyed the most was getting to know them on a personal level. They are simply bright and beautiful individuals. I was also impressed with the staff at Alcanzando, who showed great dedication and professionalism. They had a very structured and efficacious teaching system put in place by Mapy, but more importantly they had raw talent that was shaped by their wonderful supervisors who diligently monitored them, and were always on point with integrity checks and programmatic interventions.  I had to take my hat off to those instructors who demonstrated their abilities as master multi-taskers. They were able to keep pre-school aged or younger children engaged in 3-hour sessions, running numerous programs with a constant self-awareness as to when to use the correct prompting and reinforcement techniques. They are expected to master so many components throughout each learning opportunity, and they make it look effortless.  They have to know the performance criteria for the skill they are teaching, how to present the instruction, what level of prompting to use, the schedule of reinforcement, and proper corrective protocols for each program they run. They must do all of this while recognizing when a reinforcer’s strength is decreasing, being strategic about recovering the child’s attention, and while not permitting inadvertent reinforcement of problem behaviors.  Their work is clearly underrated.

I have to say, the kids were so petite, so lovely, and so funny! It is impossible not find joy in seeing them blossom and playing such a pivotal part in the process. With that said, I am also pleased with our ability as a team to have chosen practical and insightful recommendations for the staff that were put into effect within a very short amount of time , and caused a sustainable impact on everyone involved. It felt amazing to see that every single person was so receptive and participative throughout the supervisor, staff, and parent workshops.  On a more personal level, I surprised myself in my ability to lead during several impromptu situations. I also loved having the opportunity to learn and share experiences so closely with Rusty. It was refreshing and enriching to have an adult with autism become a colleague and a friend. I was immeasurably touched by Arty’s story as a mother of a child with autism and inspired by Debbie’s art form and advocacy as a photographer.

I wished we could have worked closer to Mapy, Molly and our team leader Sara, who could only accompany us for a few days, but they all wear many hats and can only be one place at a time. Machu Picchu was such a grandiose place. We are so privileged. It was so humbling and amazing to be there. I don’t know how to express in words the magnitude of the impact it had on me.

Stephanie shared each of our sentiments, but also added that she was proud to have practiced and become more comfortable speaking Spanish. Stephanie challenged herself every day to improve her conversational skills. She did an amazing job speaking with greater fluency as time passed, she made great contributions as a clinician and as a person.  Stephanie also made note of something very important: food. What a delicious gastronomic experience. We enjoyed so many Peruvian foods including ceviche, lomo saltado, causa, anticuchos, aji de gallina, papa a la huancaína, chicha morada, granadilla, alfajores,  picarones and more. Stephanie enjoyed the chifa (peruvian-chinese fusión), and could eat Peruvian sushi every day for the rest of her life. As an animal lover she could not wait to be close to Llamas which finally became a reality at the end of our Machu Picchu tour. Again, the only true delta for her was that she will miss her SkillCorps and Alcanzando team and return to a cold winter in Boston.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the pluses we experienced, but at least I could share part of that emotional conversation that precluded the end of SkillCorps Peru 2014. I applaud the Global Autism Project for their dedication to this universal community. I admire Molly’s vision to have traveled great lengths to create this organization.  As a growing organization involving international travel I could witness the numerous challenges and obstacles it encounters on a daily basis, but also saw countless victories. What an opportunity for growth, what a beautiful mess!

I loved this experience! Thank you for allowing me to be part of it! I give this trip a 4!

Thank you!!

Miguel Avila

SkillCorps Member, Peru 2014


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