Our Story

Our Story: After meeting in graduate school at UGA, we were married in 2011 in Marietta, Georgia. A year later, we joined the Peace Corps as environmental conservation volunteers and embarked on our adventure in Paraguay!

Disclaimer: The contents of this blog are ours personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

March 29, 2013

Trash. And Culture.

Well we came to Paraguay to help with environmental conservation. Whats wrong with the environment in Paraguay? Well, upon arrival into any city or town, including ours, the answer is obvious. There is a lot garbage in the streets. There's garbage in the fields and in the parks. The stadiums at the high schools are covered in trash. People dig holes in the park and fill it up with dirty diapers. There are just giant bags of trash lying next to a flower bed or some newly planted trees in town because people didn't feel like burning it, putting it in a garbage can, or taking the time to recycle, start a compost pile, etc. etc. etc.

And why? "Being green" is just not a part of the culture yet. The general psyche, the general mindset is that there is no point. We don't really understand it. But it's just the way it is. Sometimes it makes us mad. Sometimes we're analytical, thinking of ways to solve the problem. Sometimes we laugh out loud when a guy gets a hamburguesa and just throws his wrapper on the ground, then his napkin, then his empty bottle of coke with the straw pushed down inside; all thrown right into the street with the others. We have to make ourselves laugh cause we feel like it's pointless to care.

But it's not that they hate the environment. Paraguay is a beautiful country and most people know it. It's not that they don't care; a lot of people will tell you they hate the litter. It's just not a part of the culture yet. It's just not part of the general psyche. And I think when an individual thinks of what it would take to change the status quo, they eventually come to the conclusion: "If you can't beat em; join em."

We have to remind ourselves that even the US was like this. Things were different in the 1970's. American citizens littered all the time without care until a crying indigenous north american invaded the TV and made everyone feel bad. Now there is a gigantic industry of private and federal organizations working together to make campaigns to stop littering and spark environmental awareness. Paraguay simply hasn't gotten there yet, although they are trying! Here are some Paraguayan organizations that are devoted to environmental conservation.


The Yacyreta and Itaipu dams are gigantic. They completely destroyed the eco-systems surrounding them, and in some cases flooded out communities living near the coast. There are tons of research papers about it. It's still happening. And they know it. That's why they have a sector of their corporation devoted solely to environmental protection and awareness. They have donated tons of trash cans to communities throughout southern Paraguay. They partially fund a high school here in town that is known as the "environmental high school". They have even sponsored a Peace Corps camp, complete with visits to the dam. So on one hand, it looks as if they are just trying to bolster their reputation, trying to make up for the environmental damage they've caused (which is immeasurable; the itaipu dam was placed on waterfalls that were bigger than Iguazu Falls), but on the other hand, they're actually doing more than most city governments are. 

There are several Paraguayan non-profit companies that work together to help the environment. One company is called A Todo Pulmon: Paraguay Respira (http://www.atodopulmon.org/). In Spanish, this means "A whole lung: Paraguay breaths." This is an organization dedicated to reforestation and conservation. They give away free 1-3 month old native trees by the thousands, and if they can't get them to you, they will buy trees from the tree nursery nearest you.

A similar organization named Pro Cosara (http://procosara.org/es/) owns a lot of land near a giant reserve where loggers are still stealing the trees and selling them. They try their best to protect the land, but it's hard when people just have no respect for protected areas. They plant more trees and try to maintain all the diverse species that live in the forest. We haven't visited there yet, but we really want to! 

Guyra Paraguay (which means bird in Guarani;  http://www.guyra.org.py/) is an organization that is dedicated to saving the diverse animals in Paraguay. They do a ton of research and they try to increase awareness about and protect endangered species. WWF offers Paraguay help in environmental policy, forest restoration, improving habitat for biodiversity, and watershed management. (http://www.wwf.org.py/

And there are even more organizations than this trying their best to get Paraguay up to speed with regard to environmental conservation. There is even a city that calls itself the cleanest city in Paraguay (actually, if you say that, they will correct you and say the world haha), but we went there. And it looked like all the rest (except for a super nice park area that actually was clean. But the people still had large piles of garbage beside their homes. Most side streets were still full of garbage. Most of Paraguay is. Culture is really hard to change and it will be some time before Paraguay gets there. Plus they need to take care of these serious problems like deforestation before they can even tackle the trash problem. 

So this is how we have been experiencing Paraguay as far as our work goes. We walk around town seeing another pile, another bag in the street. We brainstorm and come up with ideas on how we could change our community's attitude about trash. Then we go out and do it! 

We'll tell you about all of our projects in the next post! 

March 6, 2013

What's with Sarah and Ben wearing those Scouts uniforms?

One of the first contacts we met in site was Daniel. He is a member of the Lion's club and a part of a group of people who are starting up a Scouts group in our community. He invited us to a dinner and we met all of the leaders, and Dani said that we were already Scouts, so get used to it! Since we didn't have too many projects going on, we decided it would be a great experience.

We started by going to a lot of their initial planning meetings each week. Every leader takes turns having a meeting at their place, and we take care of business first, then we eat snacks! Yum! Usually pizza or empanadas or some kind of desert, or all 3! That's our favorite part.

After a bunch of planning meetings, it was time for all of the founding leaders, including us, to swear-in as Scouts. We adapted ours a little; we had to say I will serve my countries instead of country. We thought we were really smart for adding that. We had just swore-in as volunteers about a month before, and here we were swearing-in to another organization. I wonder how many we can swear-in to in 2 years. The ceremony was again in Cristina and Albertos living room. We went one by one saying the promise, then we all say down and watched a movie about helping motivate people who don't feel like they belong. It was called The Butterfly Circus. Then we got snacks again! Here's the oath we took:

Prometo hacer cuanto de mí dependa para amar a dios, servir a mi países, trabajar por la paz y vivir la ley scout.

The Scouts group is the same as Boy/Girl Scouts in the states, except, you know, everything is in Spanish. In our community, they started a cub scouts group (lobatos) for the younger kids and a Scouts group for the 12-15 range. As they already had 2 guy leaders for the scouts and 2 girl leaders for the lobatos, they decided to put Sarah with the scouts and me with the kids. All the leaders wear the official grey uniform shirt with the official uniform badges of the World Scouts organization, the Paraguay Scouts organization, and Troop 99 of Coronel Bogado. We also get to wear a bandanna around our necks. Each troop designs their own bandanna. The red, yellow, and green colors of our troop bandannas mimic the colors of the flag of Coronel Bogado.

After a few weeks of planning, we had our first meeting. We started with a lot of scouts basics, we all stood in line, wearing our uniforms, as the Scouts flag was raised along side of the flag of Paraguay. Sarah and I sang Mami Loro for all the kids. The kids were really enthusiastic and everyone seemed to like it. The next meeting I read the story about Robert Baden Powell and how the scouts was founded. Sarah's group practiced Scout formations and played a few team-building games.

The leaders are all really excited to get our name out there. Our town had a big event called the sounds of the world and a bunch of school orchestras came from all over the world. Our Scouts group volunteered serving food to people and cleaning up afterwards, in our uniforms of course to show a connection to the community. Sarah and I even went around collecting all the plastic bottles so that we can reuse them for eco-ladrillo projects. Everyone was asking us what we were doing and what are uniforms meant. Some people even recognized us as scouts and greeted us with the Scouts salute.

After several meetings of helping with icebreakers and generic Scouts related activities, we have worked out a different niche in the group. While we enjoyed being leaders, we have decided to shift gears and act more as the environmental experts of the group. Sarah and I are going to be working together presenting environmental activities to the kids each week. We will present twice each meeting, once with each group for about 20-30 minutes. This change to our role in the group came right after we had our site presentation and our bosses finally brought all our training and activity manuals that we had put in long term storage. So, good timing! Now we can use our manuals to plan environmental activities for both the Lobatos and the Scouts.

All-in-all, we love working with the Scouts, and we hope to support them throughout our entire time here. We can't wait for our first camping trip! Siempre listo!

You can keep up with our Troop 99 on our facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/ScoutsDeCoronelBogado?fref=ts.

March 1, 2013

Painting the World in Jesus

The day before Camp Itapua, we headed up Ruta 6 to visit our fellow environmental conservation volunteer, Anna, in the city of Jesus. Anna has been working with students to grow a school garden and has been helping the community develop sustainable tourism. To get to Jesus, you can take any bus heading to Ciudad del Este from Encarnacion. Make sure to ask the driver if they can drop you off at Trinidad. Buses that say "Rapido" in the window will not stop for you. Jesus is about 12 Km from the ruta once you get to Trinidad. Here you can either wait for the little bus (7 mil/person) or take the taxi (6 mil/person). We piled in the taxi with three Paraguayans and a baby in the back seat, and I sat on Ben's lap in the passenger seat. Since the first half of the ride in downhill, the taxi driver will get out and push the car until it begins to roll. Then, jump in for the ride and off you go! Our driver didn't turn on the engine until we were well underway.

In town, we met up with Anna, packed our gear, and headed to the primary school. There, Anna had arranged for us to help the students paint a map of the world on the wall of one of the classrooms.

Here's how we did it:

1.Paint the entire area of the wall light blue (the lighter the blue the less coats you will need for the countries).

2. Use a projector to display an outline of the world on the wall.

3. Trace the outline with permanent markers

4. Decide what colors you will need to paint the countries (Look online for examples)

5. Mix the paint to make the colors you need

6. Mark each country with a dot of the color it needs to be painted (This will save you a lot of trouble if you are working with kids.)

7. Delegate one color to each kid. Pour the paint into a smaller cup to minimize spills. We cut up egg cartons to make little paint trays.

8. We painted the outside of the world black to look like outer-space.

9. Once the paint drys, use a permanent marker to trace all the borders and label the countries.

10. Add details: compass rose, label the oceans, have fun!

All the paint for the project was donated by local hardware stores. It took us about 4 hours to complete steps 2-8 and it looked amazing! Painting the world map was a great opportunity to teach the students about geography. While we painted, we talked about the countries we wanted to travel to, which ones were the largest in size and population, and where major landmarks were located. We had a blast! We can wait to bring this activity to the schools in Coronel Bogado.

After a long afternoon of painting we cleaned up our supplies and walked down to see what Jesus is famous for, the Jesuit ruins. The ruins are considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Although the park was closed, Anna convinced the security guard to let us take a quick look around. We arrived just in time to see the sunset over the ruins. Beautiful shades of orange and pink softly illuminated the giant pillars and walls of the old church colony. The view was breathtaking! We will definitely be returning here with my parents in May.

Paraguay Photos