"It's like I wake up everyday in a postcard!"- Pooja, fellow trainee
Aveiro, 6.6.08 - After our lunchtime and siesta we went to visit a multi-active cooperative that specializes in low-income housing. Since this was my concentration back at HCS, I was super-excited to see it. Little did I know that it was more than anything I could have ever imagined seeing in Paraguay, let alone up the road from my training community. Suffice it to say that it was certainly the most amazing housing-centered project I had seen in my life.
The cooperative, whose name in Guarani means "sunrise", is the only multiactive (meaning providing a number of services) one of its kinds in the entire country, as all other coops are savings and loan or other food/goods production. While its main goal is to provide affordable housing (yes!!!), the community also has a school, cement factory, dispensa (general store), blacksmith shop, community radio station, hair/nail salon (yes ladies), community recreational and job training facilities, and even a community trash collection system. I probably forgot something but it is, for a good part, self-sustaining and entirely self-managed. And to top it all off, the shot callers on the Board of Directors are all women! I love it!
The project currently houses 130 families with 80-something units under construction and a final 85 that have yet to be constructed, for a total of 300+ units. The houses are all on one level and all attached except for the end units. Each house has 3 bedrooms, a living/dining area, indoor plumbing and modern bathrooms (i.e. flushing toilets and showers), and a kitchen, with about 400 sq. meters of space (I think, definitely bigger than my 620 sq ft condo). Each house has a front patio as well as side and back gardensThe project was made possible by a Swedish NGO (non-governmental organization) that provided money and professionals for the conceptualization of the project, modeled after a similar housing development in Montevideo, Uruguay. Additional money was provided by local and national government bodies.
The initial inhabitants came from Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, who had to take cooperative living class (yay-yayeee! just like what I did!) and other capacitation before moving into the barrio (Spanish for "neighborhood"). Families that did not contribute manual labor to the project had to pay a certain amount to buy into the coop; I am not sure about the exact income limits required for the members. Inhabitants were trained and certified in all aspects of construction and, to this day, maintain facilities that provide professional capacitation. In order to prevent or at least ameliorate the job shortage that is beginning as a result in the decreased construction in the barrio, the coop is in the process of forming a construction company to provide services to other communities. Although the roads are not paved, they are lined with cobblestone to prevent them from washing away when it rains. One sight that will remain with me forever was that of a husband and wife excavating dirt in preparation for the cement foundation. The woman was right in the ditch IN A WHITE JACKET THAT WASN'T EVEN DIRTY, I was like what do you mean??? And it was hilarious because she commented that this was a surefire way to lose weight; I agreed with her, saying that she wouldn't even notice that she was working out!
To top off this most amazing day, my fellow RED (Rural Economic Development) trainees and I decided it would be an excellent idea to climb the 81-meter-high radio tower, which had a lookout point at the top. At first I thought the others were insane for doing it, but once I actually saw them climbing up the caged-in ladder I ran up to join them. Let me say that I have never been so scared in my entire life than when I was climbing that ladder. I know you all probably think I'm insane and wonder why I would have dared to do such a thing, but the folks assured us that it was safe, as someone from the barrio has to climb it anytime the radio antenna needs repairing. However, this did not change the fact that I was praying out loud to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the entire time up and down the ladder. A little less fervently on the way down. Once I reached the top I shouted, "I'M THE QUEEN OF THE WOOORLD!!!" and the breathtaking view made it all worthwhile. Palm trees, sugarcane fields and countryside spanned the landscape as far as the eye could see, with some mountains (or at least foothills) rimming the horizon. It was truly "God's Country". What made it even more special was that I shared the accomplishment (overcoming a fear of heights) and the beauty with my fellow RED trainees - Pooja, Matt, Eric, Tim and Paulette - which brought us even closer together. After savoring the view with two pre-teen girls from the barrio that accompanied us up to tower and taking a few pictures, we headed back down. Lord Jesus Christ please get me down safely, I prayed again.
While other things may not seem as death-defying, it will be one of many things that I would not have likely done anywhere else but in the Peace Corps. At other points in my life, I have regretted not doing certain things or taking advantage of opportunities I had available. For the next two years, I have promised myself that I will live every moment to the fullest, and take advantage of every opportunity to meet new people, try a new food (well maybe not every one, no liver or intestine...lol), and travel to new places. I am truly living out my dreams and having the time of my life; I will have no regrets. I hope that others will live to say the same about their own lives.