Romba’apo- we work. Rohuga- we play. In Peace Corps, they’re the same.
Nueva Alborada, Itapua, Paraguay
“We live a pretty cool life,” Vania said to me as we were sitting in the bed of a lime green pickup, speeding down a campo road with tall elephant grass on one side, a soy field on the other. As houses and cows and motos flew by, the sun was setting just over the top of the San Rafael range and we had prime seats to watch, leaning up against the cab, legs stretched out, an ice cold Polar passing between the two of us. “Yeah, we do,” I replied, “and I’m reminded of it everyday.”
You don’t have to go it alone in Peace Corps. You may live in a community by yourself, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t supported by the entire network of volunteers stretched out amongst the country in an array of sectors. We’re at the disposal of other volunteers, as long as they bribe us with food and good company and hot showers. This weekend, my friend and fellow Itapua volunteer, Kirby, held a community beautification project and those of us living in Itapua were invited to come help. Kirby lives in a beautiful campo pueblo called Nueva Alborada and is a Community Health volunteer. This beautification project was a joint idea between her, a friend of hers who works for the municipality, and a high school student named Carlos. The amount of voices and diversity of people involved already made Kirby’s project a success in the eyes of another volunteer.
On Saturday, seven of us volunteers gathered with roughly 25 community members, mainly youth, to undergo an extremely unique an really cool project. An old tractor, the very first tractor used in Nueva Alborada, in fact, was going to be cleaned off of dirt and vines that it had accumulated while sitting neglected beside the police station and then brought to a very visible median. One group was going to start cleaning and painting the tractor while another refurbished and painted over an old street sign in order to make a commemorative sign for the tractor. Meanwhile, I was leading a small group of youth and a mason worker to create an ecobench (made of Eco-bricks, which are two liter bottles jam packed with plastic trash) and another volunteer was working with kids to create a trash can out of recycled plastic bottles. With a little bit of history, a smidgeon of art, a dab of trash upcycling, and a bunch of fun, the project was a huge success. We didn’t finish most of the work, but I stood on the median in the road and watched the kids smiling and laughing and joking around while connecting bottles for the trash can and painting this beautiful historical tractor and laying ecobricks while the mason dabbed cement between them. I realized how cool it was that they got to be a part of something so visible and so beneficial for this community. They got to do something different a break monotony. They were learning and making a difference. Most of the volunteers were just supervising, as the community members had completely taken control of the project. That’s satisfaction. That’s what we want to see. That’s what makes a successful project.
Kirby’s community beautification project was a great success. She had so many community members and youth interested in continuing the work and finishing the project the following weekend. I was proud to be able to be a part of it, to share knowledge and experience and come together with fellow volunteers to support our friend and have fun doing it.
We completed the weekend with a recreational trip on Sunday to Indio Dormido, a set of three cerros that look like a sleeping man’s profile. We climbed the Pansa (Belly), weaving over and through a tight gorge, up steep slopes, and over the top, catching stunning views of the Cabeza (head) and Pies (feet), as well as the Río Parana and Argentina across the way. It was an additional reward for the already-rewarding work we had done, to trek around a sleeping Indio‘s belly and spend time together before heading back to our singular and individual work. Peace Corps Paraguay may consist of 200 volunteers, all with their own communities, experiences, sector, and projects, but together we’re all one network of information, one development organization, one web of ideas, one group of friends, one family, one body of peace.