Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Land of Opportunity

Next week I will be returning to Guarambare along with the other volunteers in G27 for our 3 month In-Service-Training (IST) and Reconnect. IST gives volunteers the opportunity to come together, after months apart, to share our experiences, recieve additional language training (kind of like a language booster shot), and the chance to meet with our Peace Corps Medical Officer, Security Director, and CHP staff as a group. IST is a milestone in PC service. We have made it through one of the most difficult periods of our two years here, "becoming one" with our community. However, while this is a time of self reflection and, in most cases, re-evaluation about our roles and our futures, we have also gained the experience and, therefore, the right to have and share opinions about our new homes and Paraguay as a whole.

I have to start by saying that I truly do love Paraguay. Within the 6 months that I have lived here (3 months in training, and 3 months in site) I have grown to regard Paraguay as a second home. I have even caught myself having conversations with other volunteers about retiring here, down the road! But, unfortunately, under the smiles, hugs, and kisses exists serious political, economical, and social issues.

Now I have to switch gears, and speak only of my site, my home, 25 de Diciembre. This is not to say that these problems are not prevelent in other areas of Paraguay, and even the world, these are simply my observations from my time in 25.

My community, when compared to many others in Paraguay, is no where near "impoverished." While there are barrios in need of extreme changes, the majority of families have solid homes with all of the basic utilities (some even have washer machines and satallite dishes). Few families are unable to clothe and feed themselves. They follow the "tranquilopa" attitude to a T, and are quite content with life, possibly at the expense of their future generations. I honestly believe my community has the means. What they lack is the proper education and motivation. The generation of los padres grew up under the Strossener era, where public oposition could mean your life. How are the older generations expected to teach the new generation about freedom of thought and public participation when they have little to no experience?

It is interesting being a Municipal Serivces volunteer in a community that has never had one before. 25 de Diciembre has had all sorts of volunteers in the past; from beekeeping to health, and education to agroforestry. But never MSD. So everyday I have to explain to the community what it is exactly that I am doing here for the next 2 years. To the best of my ability, I think I give good/ optomistic answers, despite the fatc that I know my community has little faith in thier municipality (Muni) and intendente (Mayor). But I cannot help but feel like my words are going in on one ear and out the other. And somewhere in the midst of this lack of understanding, dollar signs appear in thier eyes.

It is simple math really when you think about it:

The Muni handles money

Americans have money... lots of money


American + Muni = more money $$$!!!

Now, after 3 months of expalining to people that I am not a blank checkbook, I have come to the realization that (while yes, of course more money would always be wonderful) it is not the amount of money my community should be concerned with, but the way in which it is spent. More funding from the government and private organizations will do 25 no good if it is wasted on the same "things" it is now. So, I am trying to send a new message... create a new stereotype for America that developing countries like Paraguay can look up to;

"America is the land of opportunity..." where anyone, no matter thier race, religion, or socio-economic background, has the opportunity to improve thiers lives, and that of thier family, if they choose to.

What my community lacks is opportunity,and the first step to providing this is education. I fear for the future generations of Paraguayans. Here is a generations with parents that grew up under a dictatorship. Here is a statistic for you: 40% of Paraguayans are under the age of 15. Under 15! If you ask a child in the US what they want to do when they grow up you will hear all sorts of answers, from doctors to lawyers, firefighters to cops, teachers, etc. You would smile and say something warn and encouraging. I have been affraid to ask children here what they want to be. I think 80% of the time they would say futbol player, or farmer like mom and dad. Obviously, I am exagerating. But you get the point; when there is little education, there is little motivation.

Whenever I meet a new person in 25, or any of the barrios, they ask me the same questions about America, and my life there:

A. You are American, why would you want to live in Paraguay?
B. You must have lots of money?
C. There are a lot of jobs in America... and no poverty like Paraguay?
D. After 2 years, you get to return, verdad?

These questions make me not upset or angry, but sad. It is almost like they dont know how much beauty there is right here. I think that is the problem with many developing countries. Things like the media fill thier heads with visions and thoughts about what the good life is, and what it should entail. But what about all of the amazing traditions, customs, and history right here?

So that is what I try to do; remind Paraguayans of the wonderful country they are so fortunate enough to call home. You are probably tired of hearing me praise Paraguay, but I can´t help myself! It really is an amazing place, and full of so much potential. The people are beautiful, the traditions are fun and exciting, and the food... let`s just say I might have gained a couple since coming here in May!

I digress, Paraguayans, or maybe just those here in 25, need to be reminded of what they have and what they could have. So, aside from my professional responsibilities as a volunteer, I am trying to be a "Paraguayan cheerleader" so-to-speak. I know that sounds cheesy, but you haven´t seen the looks I get from grown adults when I praise their country and all is has. It is a truly wonderful feeling.

When you enter thier hearts, you are home forever.


Sanctuary Wholistic Arts said...

love you. can't wait to see you in virginia.

check this link out, the chick is in paraguay and is pretty crafty, motivated, interesting.

maybe you can reach out to her and tell her what you're doing there. visit with her and her family and find out how they manage to keep a perspective in the country that allows them to be in business and thrive there.

one note on your post- consider that the education in public/ government spending isn't so far off from the one that america needs to learn. you've heard/ read about the bailout happening here?
also consider that b/c of the leadership that has been in place there, much like in this country- there are groups of people that are oppressed more than others.
I'm not sure, but i would guess that the darker skinned folks have it tougher?- well, consider the usa.
when systematic oppression traumatizes (b/c it does) a people, there is a healing that has to be done in conjunction with other forms of behavior modification or training or learning (whatever you want to call it).
so... that being said, girl- keep giving the people your love. because they are you.
as black women, we come from a history of magical and monumental triumph and wisdom, and the bittersweet reality of pain and heinous acts of violence are still very real and must be addressed for us all.
create safe spaces for people to talk about their pain.
don't sugar coat the american experience, and don't deny your privilege and help people identify where they actually have agency inside of the poverty that they may be experiencing.
you are such the right person for this work my love.
romanticize the experience and fall in and out of love, all the while, DON'T you dare forget to plan smart for the next steps of your journey. put it in the universe and breath in the fresh air.
also, check out a woman named francis lappe- she's written some good stuff on development in the "economic south" and has an interesting analysis of they ways that america, et al. controls the development that can and does happen globally.
love you always.
miss you so.


p.s. if you send me instructions, i can skype you (that is the way to call huh?) i got a new computer and i think i do it on this machine :)


Erica said...

WOW! Looks like you have found one of your life’s purposes; I can feel your passion and love for these people and your discovery of the true quality of a good life. You also understand about money and where did I hear those words before, its not how much you have but how you spend it that matter.
You make me proud!