Saturday, July 18, 2015

Count Down: A Year to Go Here in Paraguay

I'm sitting on my balcony, my happy place, overlooking the River Parana as the sun sinks into the horizon transitioning from bright orange, hot pink and finally to dusky violet revealing a smiling sliver of the moon and Venus shining bright despite the dying light.

I haven't written a blog post since April, because I'm happy to report I was just too busy with activities. Looking  back on the last few months it's hard to believe I was able to pull so many things together considering the 'tranquilopa' nature of Paraguay.  Recently I heard from my main contact at the office of employment that my hard-working attitude had set a new standard at the office, which as hard as this is for me to believe, is a meaningful compliment nonetheless.

I learned more, I think, than my students during the two classes I taught from April to June. Beginning English for the Tourism Industry and "Construye Tus Sueños" or build your dreams, a business planning course for young entrepreneurs kept me up at night with lesson planning and on my feet during the day as I worked with my students to either have a basic conversation in English or develop a business plan (both things not easy!).  I also was able to reap the benefits of community collaboration by teaming up with the municipal department of youth and the employment office to facilitate two month-long workshops directed at teaching seniors in high school how to look for a job, write their resumes and conduct an interview, all important skills that are often overlooked here in Paraguay where most people have to rely on connections in the right places to find consistent employment.  By traveling to schools outside of the ritzy city center I finally felt like the 100 kids we brought the workshops to could truly use the information to change their futures, it's just a matter of follow through on their part, which is the second biggest challenge.

My entrepreneurship class ended with 11 students writing full business plans and 6 competing in a local judging competition that decided the top 3 plans to compete at a national level.  I was amazed at how emotional I felt as I had to announce the winners; I was invested in every one of the plans, though the time and effort I spent with my students in class, in tutoring hours and alone reviewing the plans and presentations.  From a catering company with an organic garden to a native tree farm to a Paraguayan crowdfunding site, the business ideas were compelling and original and I can only hope that at least a few of them get off the ground.

I am also the coordinator for Paraguay Emprende the entrepreneurship initiative that the course "Construye Tus Sueños" is part of.  In addition to teaching, I am also managing the institutional relationships, overseeing the largest budget to date and helping to organize the three day event that willl hopefully see about 100 young entrepreneurs compete for upwards of $16,000 in total seed funding prize money.

On top of these core activities, I piled on the extracurricular events, by taking some students to an international entrepreneurship forum in Asuncion, participating in several events in partnership with the local university's business incubator, and two entrepreneurship focused non-profits.  I also collaborated with other Peace Corps Volunteers to give gender equality presentations for the UN initiative "He for She" that reached about 550 students in my city alone.  I recently headed out to Trinidad, a beautiful small community with Jesuit ruins, with the organization Encarnacion Sustentable to participate in the Paraguay Verde'i event.  We gave a presentation about the concept of creating sustainable citiess and giving attention to environmental issues especially relating to water.  I have continued to work with Encarnacion Sustentable, a group of young sustainable development enthusiasts that love to work hard and play hard.  We recently launched an organizational development course that I designed to get the group better organized and working more effectively on the projects that aim to raise consciousness about the need to bring an equilibrium to the social, environmental and economic sectors in Encarnacion.

Reflecting on the time that I have been here, I finally do feel as if I have reached a fair amount of people in my community, by educating, participating in capacity building and acting as a nexus between groups and institutions in order to inspire change with very little resources.  Incredibly enough I have reached the point of only having one year left in Paraguay, which some days feels like forever and other days like not enough time to do everything.  It also marks another lull in my service as my teaching momentum comes to a halt and I am forced again to think of the remaining work I must finish, like the organizational design of the Paraguay Emprende program, my graduate thesis (which I haven't even started yet) and my personal health and life.  I still want to cross off all the items on my Paraguayan adventures bucket list while dealing with the reality of being so far away from family events like my sweet aunt's passing, my only sister's marriage, becoming an aunt and other big family and friend moments that I feel excluded from at times.

I wish I could say I'm riding high on a one-year-left adrenaline rush, but maybe its better that I'm not. I'm feeling accomplished and in a place to set new goals while at the same time seeking my center, a balance between myself and my work, life in the northern and the southern hemisphere, my desire to make a change and the impossibility to see an actual impact in the amount of time I have left here, among other existential dilemmas it would seem,  Haha.  Peace Corps, what a trip.

View from "Le Gran Chuch Hotel" (my 100 square foot imaginary pent house)

Adventure to the sand dunes of San Cosme y Damien for the 4th of July

English Class

Construye Tus Sueños

 He for She

 Paraguay Verde'i, Parque Ita Cajon, Trinidad

 Encarnacion Sustentable

Peace Corps Family, 4th of July