Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Help Me Construct a Center for Rural Women in Paraguay!

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope this entry finds everyone well. As you know, I have been in Paraguay since May 2008 serving in the Peace Corps. The past year has been filled with many amazing highs as well as its share of lows, through all of which I have done my best to remain positive. My main work in site has been with a rural womens' group, La Asociacion de la Mujer Rural (The Association of the Rural Woman), also known as AMUR. It is composed of three groups of women in three communities, with its central group in my town, Valenzuela. Most of my time is spent teaching basic computer classes and working with the ladies in Valenzuela, but I also meet with one of our sister groups once a week in the nearby community of Minas Cue (MEE-nas KWAY). AMUR's objective is to build the capacity of rural women in order to improve their economic situations and work with them to develop sustainable, income-generating activities. The purpose of this email is to talk about what will very likely be the biggest project of my Peace Corps service and how you can help me make a difference.

For the past ten years, the women of Minas Cue have met every week to learn and make craft works such as crochet, ao po’i (traditional Paraguayan embroidered linen shirts), homemade detergent and soap to sell, as well as other activities. They also cook various traditional foods, which they sell at a weekly community food stand in order to raise money. They are very low-income, extremely hard-working women. They were holding their weekly meetings in a vacant house in the community until earlier this year, when they began having problems with the owners and were forced to vacate the house. Instead of embarking upon a prolonged and expensive legal battle, they decided to meet in the home of one of the members pending the construction of their own meeting house. In their house they would no longer be renters, but rather owners in control of their own situation. They would be able to work more effectively and empower themselves as a group through workshops and educational courses that would be held in their own women's center.
Through their activities, the women of AMUR in Minas Cue are fulfilling an important need by motivating the females in the community, all whom are of limited economic resources, and deserve a place of their own where they can work more effectively.

Earlier this year, the women pooled their monies together to take out a loan from the local cooperative to purchase a plot of land on which to construct the house through a loan from the local cooperative. As a result of the aforementioned food stand sales, they have also raised some funds to help with construction costs. While the ladies have already begun enthusiastically preparing for the construction process, they are still without the financing needed to bring the project to fruition.

It is for this reason that I am utilizing a program called the Peace Corps Partnership Program to raise the funds to construct the center. Peace Corps volunteers such as myself work with the community to write up the project, which is approved by Peace Corps Paraguay and then forwarded to Headquarters in
Washington. Utilizing the contacts of our family and friends that we provide in the application, the Peace Corps Foundation sends out copies of of project proposal so our folks can donate to the foundation and fund our project. Once the project is fully funded, Peace Corps forwards the money to Peace Corps Paraguay, which forwards the money to me so we can begin construction. So how can you help? First, email me at with your home address and email address in order to receive a copy of the proposal (look for it in the next month or so) once it is approved by Peace Corps and posted to the Peace Corps website. After you receive a copy, please go to the website and contribute to the project so we can make this dream a reality. Please forward this to anyone you know that might be interested in contributing. No amount is too small!

Thank you all in advance for your help, without which this project would not be possible.

Celebrating my birthday

Preparing food for my birthday party

Showing their craftwork. Even the babies participate!

Na Isabel crocheting

Na Isabel helping Na Antonia with her crochet.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." - 3.20.09

A moment of clarity at Cerro Yaguaron in March

So here I sit, approximately two-and-a-half months since returning from my trip home for Christmas, and still a month before that since I wrote my last blog entry. Where have I been you ask? Everywhere from the depression-induced low of having to readjust after my visit home to the highs that come with meeting new Paraguayan friends and living life down here to the fullest. If anything, I am fully confident that my coping mechanisms are in overdrive. Let's start with the sad stuff first.

My visit home for Christmas can be described in one word: bittersweet. The sweetness of course was being reunited with my friends and family, after having spent the longest time away from them until that point. The bitter part, which I tasted even before I left Paraguay, was knowing how fast the time would fly, how potentially traumatic it could be, and also knowing that I would not be able to see everyone as I would have preferred. While I was home, I almost felt like I was living out the last days of my life - trying to spend as much time with everyone as possible, still having time to lay around and relax at home, trying to buy up all the necessities to take back with me, even eat what seemed like my last meals! And of course, as my return date back to Paraguay approached, so did the anxiety we felt when I was preparing to leave in May 2008. However, leaving the States a second time was actually 10 times worse than before. The lump in my throat began to form as Lil' Mommy and I approached Dulles Airport and were in full torrential swing when she walked me to the security checkpoint. My heart was broken all over again, as my responsibilities in Paraguay snatched me from my mother's breast, just as the anticipation of what awaited had seven months before. I cried from Dulles to Panama to Peru to Asuncion. Although once I reached Asuncion, I begun to feel a little better, even better still when I stepped out into the warm air and familiar smells and surroundings of my current home.

When I finally arrived back in Valenzuela two days later, my recovery process continued to improve, until I was struck down by the entrance of a number of tarantulas into my house. Initially it was one per day for the first three days I was home, and then maybe one or two per week until I discovered the root of the problem. Let me make you understand how I absolutely loathe bugs, let along big, hairy, evil, devilish spiders that are, in most cases, poisonous. So here I was, by myself, literally confronted with the devil incarnate in my bedroom. It was unnerving, to say the least. As a result, I developed the obsessive-compulsive habit of checking upon entry every corner of every room of my house, and not taking a step without a broom in my hand just in case I found another one. I lost the peace of mind I once had in my home and felt like I no longer had any control of my situation. I wondered what I was doing here and why I was putting myself through such hellish challenges. I was happier when I was visiting my friends in their nicer houses or in a nice hotel in Asuncion. Finally, I realized that I had no choice but to regain control, leaning harder on my neighbors for solutions to my problem until I figured it out. I also began to cook more for myself instead of always eating with my host family, and taking other steps to regain my independence. The other week, I had two more get in after not having seen any in weeks, after which I quickly identified and covered the entry points to prevent their re-entry. I was finally in control!

While the "squatter situation" was comfortably under control, it was not until last weekend that the cleaning situation was effectively tackled. There are many times down here when I am reminded of just how much of a "lazy american" I am. Please believe me when I tell you that you have not seen people working hard until you come to a developing nation, especially one with a strong agricultural base, such as Paraguay. People wake up at the crack of dawn, work around the house or in the field, wash clothes by hand at a water spout a half mile from their house, come back and prepare lunch from scratch over a fire, maybe rest a little after lunch, head back out in the hot sun to gather firewood, come back and get dinner ready, bathe for maybe the third time that day, and then go to bed. You can't tell me that just reading that routine didn't tire you out. I swear, some days it's all I can do to wash my clothes and make my lunch. While this may not be everyone's routine, there is no shortage of housework down here with the abundance of red dirt and dust that gets into everything. Lil' Mommy asked about the potential for using a vacuum cleaner; I compared it to vacuuming dirt from the backyard. While I had been sweeping my house regularly, cleaning my bathroom and other more or less low impact cleaning, I had yet to tackle the numerous cobwebs on the ceiling and other more thorough chores. I knew I would hate doing them and it would put me in a bad mood by creating a bigger cleaning task. So it went undone, and I just continued living as I had been in my house. However, paying someone to clean your house is pretty normal in many houses down here, so I knew it would likely be the route I would take. My next-door neighbors have a family member that cleans their house and watches their little daughter, so they suggested I check with her about helping me out. And so it was that last Saturday Patricia came and delivered me from the filthy evil that was my house. The amount of dirt and debris that fell from the ceiling was UNREAL. From even my front porch, she went through the house like the white tornado. When she finished, my neighbors came in and said that it was as if the house was "breathing new air". I thought to myself, "Lawd I WAS NOT living right," and swore that I would never let it reach that point again. Even after she finished cleaning, I continued to do other chores around the house until almost 6pm. Cleanliness is certainly happiness!

Earlier this month I started my computer classes, which are going well so far. I have about 20 students on Tuesdays and Thursdays, two per hour, one hour each in the morning and afternoon. It is definitely an adjustment from being on vacation and not having to be somewhere at a certain time most days, but it will also be good to get back into the routine. We'll see how things go. I will leave you all with some pictures from the past few months I've been m.i.a on the blog...

Me and Paulette at Thanksgiving in Encarnacion

Me and Courtney in Asuncion watching the Super Bowl

Lazing around my friend's house in January; that thing on my arm is my lil fake boutaineer (sp?) i found. Yes, we were bored.

Supermarket in Asuncion - toothpaste, anyone?