Thursday, September 4, 2008

It's always Christmas en 25 de Diciembre!

A little bit of background information before I dive into this next blog...

The Republic of Paraguay has just entered a new era. Whether or not you are in a Red home, or a Blue home, you cannot deny that fact. From 1954 to 1989 the country was under a cruel dictatorship; the history of which varies, depending on whether or not you are talking to a member of the Colorado Party, or the Liberal Party. However, this past spring, Fernando Lugo achieved a historic victory in Paraguay's presidential election, defeating the ruling party candidate and ending 61 years of conservative Colorado Party rule.

Now, imagine that you are a poor Paraguayan housewife. Mother of five children, and living in a small isolated barrio. You do not have a television, but word here in Paraguay travels fast. You just heard the news, "down with the Red." But what does this mean to you?

Peace Corps volunteers are encouraged to find a counterpart while they are living in site. A counterpart is a member of the community, and is someone who act as a mentor. It takes some volunteers months to find a good counterpart, and some end up having multiple counterparts during the course of their two years of service. I was extremely fortunate enough to meet Raquel Romero my very first week in site. And when I say I was extremely fortunate, I mean it... EXTREMELY. Raquel is a very unique, dynamic, and inspirational woman. She lives in La Virgin de la Asuncion, the barrio next to mine, with her husband (retired National Police officer) and is mother to five children between the ages of 8 and 26.

When I met Raquel, she took me under her wing with no questions asked. Wow, I really didn't even mean to have a play on words, but with her help and guidance I feel like I have literally been able to have a birds-eye-view of my district, the people, and its problems. My day-to-day routine normally consists of shadowing Raquel as she visits each of the 23 barrios to meet with the different women's committees in 25 de Diciembre.

"The purpose of organization is change... the only change in our government is color, we cannot rely on them."

I have heard Raquel say this about 20 times now, to 20 different groups of women, and every time I hear her and I am that much more motivated. As an American, it is impossible for me to completely understand the degree to which Paraguayans dislike and distrust their government. What have they done for that woman and her five children? But that woman, like Raquel and so many others, does not need the national government to make her family's life better.

There is no solidarity between the different groups. No representation in the Municipality. These women have ideas and motivation. But no means of change...

So now I am sitting in on a neighborhood women's committee meeting. It is about 14:00 hours (2:00 pm). Around me there are between 15 and 20 women, of all ages. On their knees are babies, and around them playing in that red Paraguayan dirt, are their children. It is 32 degrees Celsius (about 96 degrees Fahrenheit), so we are sitting under the shade of large mango tree. The breeze from the south is amazing, so you forget all about the heat. The meeting begins with "Mba'eichapa"... followed by besos and hand shakes. There is always ice cold Terere (, and you don't have to wait long for it to be passed around to you. Chickens, dogs, and pigs are wandering around. And there is always music somewhere in the background; not loud enough to hear the lyrics, but enough to add a lively beat to today's meeting. The meeting starts, and everyone is listening to the speaker intently. una buena punta is followed by an applause and smiles.

"We need to unify all the committees... there is potential for comercialization of our products. There is funding from Asian and European organizations, we do not need to wait for the Muni..."

"We need basic services here. We should not have to go to Santani (about 20 Km away) for medical support! We need to invest in our youth. They are our future, and deserve more than what we have."

The women here are the heart and soul of change. They literally and figuratively give birth to the future of Paraguay. I will give men credit too, where credit is deserved, and attribute to them the role of backbone. It takes a strong man to work these fields. Back breaking labor, to provide for their families. They are the physical strength, and provide the physical substance of life (food, clothing, shelter, etc.). But the women, the women, they are the soul, spirit, blood, faith, energy, and all of the above that drive this community, and all of Paraguay.

I am so excited to work with them, and Raquel, and will keep you posted on all of the changes yet to come.

1 comment:

Dianna said...

Hey Court Court, It's UC and AA. The blog updates are great! And, what's even more inspiring are the life experiences being woven into the fibre that's uniquely yours. We are so very proud of you! It would be great to visit you in 25 de Diciembre.

Love always,
#1AA & UC

ps: What's this about having meetings under a mango trees, with cool breezes blowing! AA is jealous! :)