Ñande Sy- Our mother. As in Mother Earth. Happy Earth Day!
Oga Ita, Itapua, Paraguay
Mother Earth. As urban or rural as your life gets, fast paced or slow, physical or mundane, whatever part/stage/story. Nothing changes, our Mother is still Mother, and without a relationship we lose touch and mostly respect…for her our neighbors and ourselves. Sometimes it’s a good thing to sit back and not only appreciate but give thanks. Gratitude and appreciation come in real experiences and concepts; not international power hungry companies, not packaged mac n cheese, not a business meeting, not evening planting a single flower. Gratitude to our home and in reality our own flesh and blood comes from respect, and respect only comes when a relationship is built and maintained.
Get to know ourselves a little more. We are made up of organic materials and are powered by organic materials and in the end we just contribute to the ongoing beautiful cycle. Food comes from the ground, insects pollinate our fruiting plants, weather good and bad drives seasons, etc. So know your food, know your ecosystem. Just because a record low of the number of people dealing with agriculture is what our majestic society is at doesn’t mean that we have to give in. Have relationships with the most basic part of being a biological being. That means care about your food, care about the hands it touches to get you that food, care about the ecosystem where that food lives, care. A relationship isn’t really a word, it’s a feeling. Feel and care, whoever you are, whatever you do, wherever you are, we are all together.
-Zach Palma, G-46 Agriculture
Earth Day is an amazing initiative. People all over the world, on one day, are all raising awareness of our impact on the one planet we live on. It’s such a great opportunity for Environmental Volunteers as well. It’s a chance to integrate kids from rural Paraguay into something bigger, something beyond the boundaries of their town or district, something bigger than Paraguay, which is often something they can’t even comprehend. And it’s a chance for change. It’s the day where everything we teach and demonstrate as volunteers can be rolled up into one worldwide educational package. But it’s not just educational and impactful- it’s fun! We’re celebrating the Earth! We’re celebrating the good! The trees and the animals and the beauty of it all! We’re celebrating our relationship with Mother Earth, but also acknowledging that we need to stop, think, and act accordingly, as my G-mate Zach so poetically and appropriately describes.
I’m not usually one to do activities on environmental holidays, as many volunteers do, but I figured that because this is The Big One, and I was sick last Earth Day, I’d get out there and do something fun with the kids in my elementary school. The plan was this: I’d introduce Earth Day to my 12 students, tell them all about how cool it is and how it’s worldwide. We’d discuss why we need to take care of the Earth and then I’d talk about the importance of trees. I’d give them all big pieces of paper and have them draw the most beautiful tree or forest they could imagine. Then we’d look at the drawings and talk about what are the good things trees give us, like fruit for us to eat, wood for us to build our houses, shade to drink terere in, a home for animals, oxygen for us to breathe, and more! Then we’d all go outside and happily plant some beautiful native species and have an amazing time celebrating Earth Day.
Like most Peace Corps volunteers know, things never go according to plan.
It rained a bit this morning, which is never a good omen for a successful project, but it let up midmorning. After lunch, I walked to school with my two nephews, Rolando (8 years old) and Elvin (5) carrying a bag of 10 trees, a shovel, my termo for terere, my backpack full of markers and paper, and a great, positive attitude! We got to the school and I unlocked the door (who would entrust me with the only spare key to my community’s only official building, I have no idea) and waited. And waited. And waited a little bit more until we realized that no one else was coming to school, not even the professor.
So my Earth Day celebrations were mainly spent as the three of us sprawled ourselves all over the tile floor of my one room school house with big pieces of paper, armed with markers. As I drew a forest and Roli drew a very nice Lapacho (National Tree of Paraguay) and Elvin drew a beautiful purple orange tree, I chatted with them about why we liked trees. Their principle answers when I first posed the question were simply “mangos” and “oranges”. Although those are extremely delicious answers, I kept probing for more answers until Roli mentioned that everything is more refrescante when you’re in the shade of a big tree. After a little more discussion, we put our drawings up on the wall so that all the other students could later see the fun they missed out on and envy our Earth Day celebration. We moved outside, I taught them what species we were planting and how to plant trees, which both of them picked up really quickly. All I had to do was dig holes while they took care of the planting, refilling the holes, and watering. Once all the trees were planted, pointing straight up, and standing in a nice pool of water, we washed up and sat down on the front stoop of the school, passing around some ice cold terere. As we sat drinking terere, I saw at least three of the students who were supposed to come to school pass by on their way to the store, wave, and keep going.
We squelched home barefoot in the mud, shovel and shoes in hand, and I realized that even if it was just Roli and Elvin, we still had a great time, we worked hard, they both learned something and they both have a little more appreciation for Mother Earth. And that’s really all that matters.
Shout out to all of the other amazingly guapo volunteers who did great Earth Day activities, despite the rain! And thank you so much to everyone who donated to my organic gardening project! It was the best Earth Day present ever to find out that it’s now fully funded and all of the families in Oga Ita will receive materials to improve their gardens!