Rise up this mornin', smiled at the risin' sun,
three little birds pitch by my doorstep,
singin' sweet songs of melodies pure and true,

sayin' "This is my message to you-ou-ou-ou-"
~Bob Marley

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Road is Made by Walking...

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Wanderer, your footsteps are
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.
               - Antonio Machado
This quote was sent to me by my son- this seemed like an appropriate place to share it with you. 

During the past two years of our Peace Corps service in Paraguay:

Our footsteps led us through subtropical forests with hardwood trees sprouting pink blossoms, tangled vines, and wild orchids; to wide open savannas with birds, bunch grass and three foot tall ant hills; to tree lined rivers, whose fish provided food and income for those who lived near.

Our footsteps led us to fields where people who grew their own food, with hoes and hands, following the cycles of the moon, and wisdom of their fathers; to schools where students used a notebook and pencil to capture what their teachers imparted, using the materials they had- a blackboard and piece of chalk; to the patios of artisans who created works of art by hand, with a few simple tools, from ox cart wheels to finely crocheted wool ponchos, and who were happy to teach their craft.
Our footsteps led us to cocinas, where hospitality treated us to new foods – mandioca, sopa Paraguaya, carpincho, kesu, and clerico; to gatherings for holiday celebrations, weddings, birthday parties, and sharing the grief of a miscarried child; to house fronts where chairs formed a circle for sitting, sharing terere and stories about the weather, beliefs, and local gossip.

Our footsteps led us to farms where we worked side by side with our neighbors, sharing seeds, harvests and sweat; to plots of land, with buckets, and boxes and arms full of trees, helping those who wanted to give back to the land what was one time taken away; to the classrooms carrying books and the privilege  of seeing the excitement of children who had received a gift they treasured.
Our footsteps led us to nearby countries- Argentina, with Iguazu Falls and Salta; Chile and the Atacama desert; through the Andean mountains of Bolivia with the Salar de Uyuni and Lake Titicaca; then to Peru with Cuzco and the trek to Machu Picchu, via the Inca Trail. From heights of 15,000 feet above sea level, to blue alpine lakes, to pink flamingos, colorful market places, to ancient ceremonial grounds, our journey left us breathless, humbled and in awe.

Our footsteps led us to people with open hearts, who passed bowls of soup over fences; arrived at our door step with gifts of chickens; patiently listened to our stuttering Spanish, though Guarani was their mother tongue; who asked about our family, and included us as part of theirs; and who yelled our names in greeting from patios, dirt roads, farmed fields, and forests.
Now it is time for our footsteps to lead us back home. We will take with us the sights, experiences, and memories of people who we grew to love along the way. Paraguay will be with us always.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Mission Accomplished

This past month, we completed a project we began with the community about a year ago. The people shared that they wanted help with recuperation of the soils and more trees in the community. As many trees native to Paraguay put nitrogen into the soil, planting trees seemed like a logical next step.  

Starting with the students in the schools, we taught about deforestation in Paraguay, the importance of trees, and how to properly plant them. We prepared presentations with each class and held an assembly at both schools where the students taught each other and their communities about what they had learned in class. Then the students planted 50 trees at one school and over 100 trees at the other school.
Trees for the new Plazita in Jhugua
We moved on to the agricultural committees in both communities, presented information about how trees could benefit the soils near the areas where they cultivated their crops. We worked with the committee Presidents to write grants to a Paraguayan non-profit organization, requesting 2000 trees to be planted in the communities. The trees were delivered, and planted by the community members. The last step was to visit the planted areas, take GPS readings, and report the locations to the non-profit organization that provided the funding to purchase the trees.
Mark takes GPS coordinates to locate Felix's trees
The community members were proud of their new trees and their contributions to reforesting Paraguay. 
Blancita planted 30 trees near the Tebucuary river
The tree plantings stretched from an estancia near San Miguel, to the river Tebucuary, to the plazita in Jhugua. The people who worked to plant the trees ranged from the youngest, a three year old to Don Ramon, who was in his 70’s. 
Don Ramon's smile speaks for him!
Teodocio was excited to have more shade in the patio near his home. But most importantly, he shared, was that he had a beautiful reminder of the time he spent with Susana and Marcos.
Mark congratulates Angel on a job well done!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Paraguayan Women in a Campo Community- Observations

It has been interesting to observe the everyday life, responsibilities, and gender roles of the women in this small Paraguayan community.  Though one could never make statements about Paraguayan women and their roles in general, I have included some my observations from living alongside these hardworking, resourceful, resilient individuals.
The women of our Paraguayan host family
The women I have observed:
* Are usually awake by 5:00am to start the cooking fire, and preparations for the day, then end the day by preparing the evening meal, between  9:00 and 10:00 pm, and clean up before they retire for the night.
Blancita prepares the morning meal
* Prepare all of the family meals, which sometimes includes:  butchering an animal, finding ways to prepare every part of the animal, including hooves, lungs, ears and snouts, and cook it all over open fire. They serve the meal, serve second helpings, ensuring everyone is satisfied before sitting down to eat their own meal.
Leyla uses every part of the animal
* Wash the entire family’s laundry by hand and hang it to dry.

* Milk the cows, make cheese, tend  the garden, carry bundles of pasto, a coarse grass, home from the fields to feed the horse, cow, chickens, cook down bean pods and other roughages to feed to the pigs, and carry buckets of water to the animals several times per day.
Modesta tends her small farm
* Are responsible for caring for and raising the children, and at times, grandchildren as well.

* Many accompany the men to work in the fields, to hoe weeds, plant, and carry harvested crops in sacks weighing 50+ pounds on their heads, sometimes miles to return home.

* Are the spiritual leaders in their towns, organizing processions, teaching the children about the town’s patron saint, decorating shrines and leading prayers. They believe and have faith and therefore it will be.

* Prepare and serve terere to the men and any company that might visit the home.

* Are the healers for their families, able to identify hundreds of locally growing plants and their medicinal properties, using them to treat maladies from intestinal parasites, to high blood pressure, to urinary infections, to skin abscesses, to aches and pains, to sore throats, coughs and more.

* Care for the elderly in their families, whether in their own homes, or taking food for daily visits, sharing harvests, or finding transportation to a doctor’s appointment located an hour from town.

* Plan and organize family gatherings, holidays, and celebrations, and finding enough food and sleeping places to go around.
Antolina and I get a ride home from her son's wedding in the back of a pick up
*In their “free time” wash, dry, card, and dye raw wool, finger-spin it to make loose yarn, then crochet using the hand processed yarn to make products to be marketed along the ruta to make a little additional income for the family.

* Girls are expected to be chaperoned by a brother, friend or other family member when walking to another part of town.

* Some girls do not attend school beyond sixth grade and are sent by their families to larger towns to become live-in nannies, and unfortunately, at times, the job comes with it expected services for other members of the family, as well.

* Young women in a relationship are expected to ask permission from a boyfriend before visiting someone or attending an event without him.

* Some teenage girls become the head of the household when their parents move away to work in the large ranches in surrounding areas, and take over all of the responsibilities previous shared with their mothers. They insure their siblings are fed, have clean clothes, and get to school and soccer games on time.

* Many young mothers leave their babies to be raised by their own mothers. When the baby reaches six months of age, and is able to be weaned from breast milk, the mother moves to a larger community to work, sending money home to the family, and visiting when she is able.

*And through it all, these women support each other, and continue with each new day, living their lives.

In Ramona's household, four generations share the responsibilities

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tú mismo debes ser el cambio que tu quisieras ver en el mundo. –Ghandi

You, too, should be the change you would like to see in the world. Ghandi’s words of wisdom were our focus as the seventh grade class I was working with discussed ideas for their class project. 

Identifying the problem
The question was posed- “Is trash a problem at our school?” We started by doing a five minute trash hunt, in teams, which resulted in five full bags of garbage collected on the school grounds. Using a graphic organizer, and sharing ideas, the class got to work identifying a project that they would work on together.

Brainstorming ideas and creating a plan
The seventh-graders decided to furnish their school with trash cans. Since the school did not have garbage cans, students were not accustomed to using them, just tossing trash on the ground. So, the seventh graders decided that they would also create presentations and demonstrations to teach the other students in the school about trash awareness, and why it was so important to make sure that garbage was disposed of properly.
The class held a fundraiser, selling medicinal plants to people in the community. The event raised 100.000 guaranies. The students found families who were willing to donate buckets that would serve as trash cans that could be distributed to different areas of the school. The seventh graders decided to use the funds they raised to buy paint to decorate the buckets, and markers and paper to make posters as teaching visuals for their presentations.
Taking action!
Yesterday, when I checked in with the seventh grade teacher, she was excited to tell me about the trash management lessons she was teaching, using a manual I had shared with her the previous year. The trash “buckets”, collected by the students,  were being artistically painted with bright colors. She said that the students were also working on their presentations and looking forward to sharing this information with the other classes. 

It occurred to me in that moment- I was no longer a part of this project we had started together… Though a little bittersweet, this idea of small sustainable change is what we hope for as Peace Corps volunteers.

This super motivated teacher and hard-working class were on a roll- moving toward the change they wished to see in their school- a trash free space.