“The foundation of every state is the education of its youth”- Diogenes
“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption”- Kurt Cobain
Campamento Jack Norment, Caacupe, Cordillera, Paraguay
I think that all of us can understand that Paraguay is very much unlike the United States. Attitudes, cultural differences, economy, understanding, family structures, and gender inequalities all form the differences between the two countries that become more and more apparent to volunteers as time goes by. In some cases, we appreciate aspects of Paraguay over those of the US, but there are areas of Paraguayan life that I wish involved the same aspects of America. Mainly, the lives and opportunities of Paraguayan youths. In my community, Paraguayans goes to elementary school with a professor who only tends to show up on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They’re placed in one room and she teaches first through fifth grade all at the same time. Then they go to school in another community for the following grades until they complete colegio (high school). At this point, I’ve seen a couple outcomes: 1) most often, they stay at home, work on the farm with their father or in the home with their mother and will stay there indefinitely, even if they get married, 2) they move to a bigger city, such as Ciudad Del Este, Encarnación, Asunción, or even Buenos Aires to find work in the service or manual labor industries, or 3) very very rarely, they go to University to continue studying. Many youths don’t venture past a 25 mile radius of their communities and don’t know much about their own country. I would be willing to bet that Peace Corps volunteers know strikingly more about Paraguay than the average Paraguayan campo resident.
The goal of every Peace Corps volunteer is to make lasting, sustainable outcomes and, as is the case in every country, this means we must target the youth. We make it one of our goals to better inform youth and also show them opportunities that don’t involve forever staying at home or working in the service industry. Some may argue that these two options are necessary to continue Paraguay’s economy in the cities and agriculture, but can’t we at least show the youth that they have the power to choose their future for themselves? So what can be done?
Youth camps. Peace Corps Paraguay puts on several camps in February right before the new school year starts, some for specific sectors and some for all volunteers to attend with selected youths from their community. The camps range in topic from gender empowerment to sports and life skills to environmental issues. All of them offer the opportunity for Paraguayan youths to learn valuable life lessons, see a new area of the country, meet and make new friends, and understand what opportunities they have in their future.
This week was Paraguay Verde, the camp specifically for Environmental and Agriculture volunteers to bring youth to. I unfortunately did not get to bring a youth, thanks to misinformation from the gossipy Paraguayans in my community and me putting all of my confidence into one youth, who apparently couldn’t care less about the environment (I have two years of service to change this). But I went anyway, making the 13 hour journey with Chara, Hannah, Ruchi, and their youths to the department of Cordillera, where we met with about 40 other volunteers and their selected teens. Over the course of two and a half days, there were talks given by WWF and A Todo Pulmón, activities regarding trash management and recycling, ideas regarding youth groups and leadership within a community, and an opportunity fair with environmental organizations and different departments from the National University.
Beyond the learning aspect and opportunity fair, it was amazing just to see Paraguayans, who tend to feel most comfortable at home or in familiar environments, make new friends so quickly. Most volunteers didn’t even have to stick with their youths, as they bonded and stuck together throughout the camp. Today, the first full day back in our sites after the camp, I saw that Chara’s host brother Javier posted on Facebook that he was already missing the friends he made this week. I know Javier well and know that he definitely got something out of the activities and presentations, but even if the only outcome for him was a new friendship with someone from a different city or department, I’d say the camp was a success.
Without a youth, I spent most of my time helping out the coordinators and doing logistical errands. It was a good opportunity to see how the camp was run, as my fellow G46 volunteers and I will be coordinating next year. Until then, we continue to educate and try and inspire youth within our own communities to think bigger, both pertaining to Paraguay and themselves.
Just a note: I’m currently reading a book called The Third Plate by Dan Barber. Chara gave it to me and if you’re interested in agriculture, food, and eating more sustainably or you enjoyed The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan (everyone must read) or the documentary Food, Inc. (everyone must watch), then I highly recommend it. I’m also listening to a new artist named George Ezra, who’s a nice bass that I can easily sing along to. Check him out!