(The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.)

What I Reported to the Peace Corps: Volunteer Reporting Form

As opposed to the government in this freedom of the press suppressed Paraguayan oligopoly, I want to make my inter-cultural experiences, efforts and observations transparent. Minus the details of my community contact information and the code boxes checked for the Peace Corps’ statistics compiling, such as; CED-029 = “Number of individuals trained in leadership,” or HE-144-PEPFAR = “Number of young women and men aged 15-24 who both correctly identify ways of preventing the sexual transmission of HIV and who reject major misconceptions about HIV transmission,” I have for you below the ups, downs, triumphs and tribulations that I have reported about my time on this tumultuous landlocked island.

How integrated do you feel in your community? Please explain:

I feel as though I am an accepted outsider; appreciated for what I’m doing, as a teacher and youth group adviser, but in consequence for initially mis-prioritizing my time, the lack of a published press here in Santaní, and different lifestyle habits, I am still not always included or informed about events by local friends and acquaintances.  I do think this is partly because the ‘means’ of communication here. Word spreads by means of the telephone game, Facebook or the ever-present WhatsAPP, which is a smartphone messaging application and probably a main force holding the youth (which means 30 and under) in a rather inactive 2-D consciousness… but I digress. Digital addiction is more of an international imposition, but here many people use the internet only as a means to socialize as opposed to gather information. It is very common for Santanianos to have e-mail addresses for the sole purpose of getting a Facebook account.

I am trying to adapt, specifically through my recent move into a studio. I lived with families for about six-months and was spending a LOT of time within the walls of the second family’s home on their covered patio, aka my office, where I was working on developing Powerpoint slides for the Construye Tus Sueños entrepreneurial course.

I did begin teaching the CTS class ‘early’ and thus, mis-prioritized my first few months by not integrating through activities, and instead was focused on modifying lesson plans in Spanish, and through this method, improving my language skills. Also, especially as a female, my eating, exercise, communication and social habits are very different from the locals; although, with the aerobics class I started and my increased use of Facebook (to stay in touch) I have been working to acclimatize.


What challenges have you face in your project or in other areas of your Peace Corps experience?

I have encountered a few cultural characteristics that have been roadblocks to accomplishing tasks in a timely manner or communicating honestly and constructively. These include Lying, a Polychronic concept of time, a general degree of Social Phobia and Resignation in regards to the ability to trust authority or expect equality or justice.

1) Lying: Many Paraguayans will knowingly lie to appease a request, proposal or question. For example, I had 13 people in my Introductory CTS Class verify that they would return to participate in the 14-class course; 4 showed up. However, what I have deemed as “lying” is culturally acknowledged and accepted as a way to avoid a negative or unwanted answer.

2) Polychronic Time: PT was coined by intercultural researcher Edward T. Hall, and is a concept of time that involves and emphasizes the presence of a “quantity” of people to move forward with functions rather than the adherence to schedules. However, here in Paraguay it does have a detrimental effect on the timeliness and punctuality of all walks of life, students and professionals, and extends beyond the social setting. The effects are apparent at community events, in schools, businesses and, subsequently, the economy. Living on PT time results in the expectations that nothing will get done on time and no one can be trusted to be on time. Many Paraguayans complain about this but still don’t act to change it.

3) Social Phobia: The social phobia, or fear of judgment and what others will think, is blatant and greatly affects individuality. This is apparent with the culture of copying, which is evident from the imitated “ideas” in the classroom to the types of businesses that exist here in Santaní; nothing is unique. I have many notable examples, but will just touch on two.
                1. There is a fear of bringing one's attention to the quality of their work, to the extent that Paraguayans will pay another worker to complete a poorly done job. This occurred in the studio I moved into when a contractor installed window that wouldn't shut. Instead of contacting the contractor to correct his mistake, the owner of the house paid someone else to fix it. I inquired about his decision with a local who confirmed that many people would rather pay a second time than confront someone negatively about their work.
                2. I asked a 20-something nursing student about what she thought was the base of the economy in San Estanislao; agriculture, banking, education, etc. She paused as though in thought for about 15-seconds or so. I modified my question to be less vague and require a shorter response, and another 20-seconds or so of thinking pass. I then asked her to just guess and that it wasn’t important if she were right. More time passed and I never got an answer. It was too difficult for the woman to say she didn’t know or guess and be wrong. In subsequent encounters with students, the general populace, and in discussing the story with Paraguayans, I have learned that this social phobia is certainly not unique to her.

Resignation: With the lack of law enforcement locals have no peace of mind of security, justice after being wronged, or support in upholding “written” laws… although, written or not, an unenforced law simply doesn’t exist in the eyes or actions of the community. Thus, many Paraguayan’s just deal with adversities with the assumption that there is no recourse. For example, if there is loud music in the middle of the night, or a car crashes into their fence, or a neighbor’s pet kills their dog, they will respond with, “Así es la costumbre.” For them, “So is the custom,” and nothing can be don’t to rectify it.

What lessons have you learned from your project, your community or yourself?

As a Type A, structurally oriented planner, I am in the midst of quite a big psychological challenge here in the Paraguayan interior. First off, I've learned that any assumptions I had mainly in regards to professionals and experts, which are obviously constructed based on my personal experiences, are completely worthless. For example, I hired a gardener to cut my lawn, which he did. But, he also left every blade of grass lying on top of where it had been growing. My cut lawn was covered with the overgrowth that I “assumed” he would have collected; lesson learned, I said “cut,” not “remove.” I’ve also assumed that agents at the bus terminal know the schedule of the buses, that the chair rental company would arrive before my presentation began, that if I put a trashcan out people would use it instead of throwing trash on the ground, that an adult business owner would know how to read a map… the list goes on. Thus, I have learned to have "no" expectations and plan for Plan B.

Provide a 2-3 paragraph success story that demonstrates a positive difference you and your counterpart(s) have made in your community. A well-written success story should cover three parts: introduction, description of the activities, and summary of the results.

As a Community Economic Development (CED) PCV with sufficient enough Spanish language skills to teach, I took the initiative to begin a “Construye Tus Sueňos” or “Build Your Dreams” entrepreneurial class before the standard February-August schedule. I began mid-November with the goal to inspire risk taking and “thinking outside the box” in a culture that is very unexposed to innovation or creative thinking. Do, however, take this observation in context with the fact that up through 1989 education was limited by a dictator who wanted to keep the people under his thumb. Lamentably, the lack of a structured education system, effective pedagogical practices, or enforced standards leave “graduates” at less than capable levels to this day. Thus, explaining and trying to inspire unique types of businesses that filled gaps in the economy, along with marketing ideas, the concept of keeping track of cost vs. price, the importance of budgeting, and basic accounting, etcetera, required substantial reinforcement.

But there was light. Through class discussions, a field trip to a workshop in Colonel Oviedo hosted by a fellow CED cohort, Asociación de Jóvenes Empresarios de Paraguay, unique ideas began to flicker and discussion began to generate. With such a small class, an average of four, the “social phobia” factor was sincerely lessened and perspectives and opinions were shared. Take into account that this was an extra-curricular class for high school and university students, thus, in a generally unmotivated culture, not only was I lucky to have a group of leaders, but satisfied to have completed the coursework with two. We did have a few setbacks with one of the four students dropping the class and another one going to Asunción to complete an internship requirement he has to graduate high school – he will, fortunately, complete his missed classes through the course I’m currently teaching at another local school. My two ‘almost-graduates’ who remain will be giving the business plan project presentations next week to a few community leaders.

So, even though the course hasn't yet been fully completed, there has already been noticeable success through my students’ more creative ideas and their interactions with other youth at an entrepreneurial workshop held here in San Estanislao on the 22nd of February. A subsequent success of the class is that, through hours-and-hours spent toiling and translating in front of my computer, I have been able to complete a nice collection of Powerpoint slides that I made available to my fellow CED volunteers to use if they decide to teach Construye Tus Sueňos as well.

What primary or secondary activities do you plan to do in the next few months?

Waste Awareness/Action Campaign: I am working with my Rotaract youth group, a subset of Rotary International, on a campaign to bring awareness to the public of San Estanislao of the effects that littering, the burning of trash and not recycling have on the environment, and to provide options to clean-up and change these habits.

Information Board: In a city of 50-55,000 people we have no published press (in print or online), which means no employment section, no classified (items for sale or services offered), no event calendar, no place to easily find public service information or a city map. With my Rotaract youth group I am working to establish this in the town’s main plaza.

Construye Tus Sueños entrepreneurial class: I am currently teaching my second CTS class on how to start a small-business in San Estanislao’s Centro Tajy; a free continuing education/vocational school. This is a very time consuming and involved activity, as I work to research contacts and assist with community investigations for my student’s new business ideas.

Aerobics Class: I currently teach an aerobics class at a local gym and started out charging a small fee to support my youth group’s community service projects. However, our efforts in promoting the class weren't all that fruitful, and undisclosed to me, the class was too hard for most participants. Although, even when asked for class criticism, they would nod, smile, say it was great and not come back. Thus, I've made it more beginner-friendly and plan to move it to a local dance center to instigate fitness and nutrition to the mothers or guardians of some of the dance students.

Workshop: With the Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) of the San Pedro Department I am assisting in organizing a workshop in a local high school on self-esteem, gender and domestic abuse.

Finish this sentence: The one thing I wish Americans knew about my country of service is...

How repressive and manipulative the central government and local municipalities remain even 25-years after the 1989 fall of the 35-year military dictatorship, and how difficult they make it for international NGOs to come in and lend a hand. I will offer a few examples, since detailing this general statement could fill a book:

TRANSPORTATION: Driving laws are not enforced. Companies are using tactics to sell motorcycles for “no money down” to a population that has limited financial education in regards to interest and indebtedness. There is no check on whether the buyers of the motorcycles have licenses, and even if they do, there is no driving test required to get one. This leads to drunk driving, children driving, 3 to 4 people riding on one motorcycle, an estimated 95-plus percent of the drivers driving without any protective gear (here in San Estanislao), and thus resulting in a sharp increase in traffic related deaths since motorcycles began to flood the market in the mid-2000s.

EDUCATION: Many public schools, especially in the interior, do not comply with the Ministry of Educations’ curriculum or standards, meaning “functionally illiterate” students are receiving diplomas.

POLITICAL AFFILIATION: When the Colorado Party, the “righter” of the two main right wing parties here in Paraguay, retook control in 2013, many “replaceable” government employees who were affiliated with the outgoing “liberal” party were let go from their jobs BECAUSE of their political affiliation. This was exemplified to me through a conversation I had with a woman who used to work in a public hospital in Asunción. She told me that this was happening to hundreds of her ex-coworkers who worked in maintenance, as office staff and other non-professional positions. This injustice was confirmed by many other Paraguayans I shared the story with.

Did your community or hosting agency/organization provide you with housing, furniture, building supplies, utilities, or permanent work space in your site? If yes, please indicate what type and estimate the value of this contribution.

No. Being the first CED volunteer in Santaní, there were no shoes to fill, nor any plans made for exactly what I would be doing or where I would be living. I found temporary housing through a youth group contact and decided to begin teaching Construye Tus Sueňos soon after.

Report any challenges or success carrying out your Community Needs Assessment (CNA)

I was already teaching the Construye Tus Sueňos entrepreneurial class based on personal inquiries into the needs of the community through conversations with my contact, the municipality, university directors, my youth group, and staff at the local branch of PLAN Paraguay. Thus, before the Community Needs Assessment was more formally assigned, I was already deep into work. At this point, I haven’t completed the Community Needs Assessment interviews, but plan to complete it at time allows.

Volunteer Activities

1.       Día de los Niños Article for Plan Paraguay, Rotaract and the Secretaría Nacional de los Derechos Humanos de las Personas con Discapacidad (SENADIS)
·         English: http://brienne.yolasite.com/childrens-day-santan%C3%AD-paraguay.php
·         Español: http://brienne.yolasite.com/d%C3%ADa-de-los-ni%C3%B1os-santan%C3%AD-paraguay.php

2.       Weekly Rotaract meetings: I meet weekly with the Rotaract youth group to discuss plans and organize events. Currently in the works are two ideas I recommended based on community desires and youth group interest.
·         One is a campaign about making the public aware of the effects their trash dumping and burning has on the environment and options to dispose of it properly. Through radio, high school workshops, challenges and a "Recycled Treasures" fair, we are also informing them about options to reuse, reduce and recycle items, like beer cans and batteries that they usually throw out.
·         The second project is an Information Board that we're working to build in the main town plaza to post information that the community lacks. Without a printed press, online presence, or yellow pages, there are no classifieds, employment postings, event calendar, community map or emergency information, etc. This is step one in the hopes that this city of 50-55,000 will eventually have its own press.

3.       Aerobics Class: I teach a free aerobics class to promote fitness and nutrition and to meet new community contacts. I have also detailed the structure of my class in a document in Spanish that is available for other PCV to use. NOTE: There are a lot of slang terms and unique names for exercises here in Paraguay, so the Spanish version can be very helpful for incoming volunteers.

4.       Volunteer Advisory Committee (VAC) Health Workshop: This Health Workshop on the topics of AIDS, STDs, Myths of Condoms, and locating Body Parts was compiled by San Pedro Volunteer Advisory Committee member Karen Sierra and given at three rural high schools in the southern part of the Department of San Pedro.

5.       Health Workshop in Centro Tajy: This Health Workshop on the topics of AIDS, STDs, Myths of Condoms, and locating Body Parts was compiled by San Pedro Volunteer Advisory Committee member Karen Sierra and given at three rural high schools in the southern part of the Department of San Pedro. Due to demand and the importance of the topics, I organized another workshop with fellow PCV, Andrea Novosad, in Centro Tajy, a continuing education/vocational school in my site, Santaní.

6.       Construye Tus Sueňos UTCD: Construye Tus Sueños course taught at the Universidad Técnica de Comercialización y Desarrollo (UTCD) in San Estanislao, the development of Powerpoint presentations for the course and to share with other teachers; both Peace Corps Volunteers and Paraguayan professors, and the development of a Construye Tus Sueňos Introductory Class to promote the course

7.       Safarí, Inter-High School Tournament: Safarí was an inter-high school tournament organized by my youth group, Rotaract, with three categories of competition: 1. Group work/timed community scavenger hunt, 2. Athletic/physical activities, 3. Intelligence/quiz show questions. My role was the photographer and as an organizational assistant.

8.       Desafío al Emprendedor Taller: The "Desafío al Emprendedor Taller" or Entrepreneurial Challenge Workshop, was quite a task as the in-site PCV. My tasks included:
·         Securing the space with the municipality and ensuring it was clean and unlocked
·         Radio promotion, which I organized with some of my then current Construye Tus Sueňos students
·         Distributing flyers to local universities and speaking in university business classes to promote the workshop
·         Working with the local Cooperativa Universitaria to organize a budget and responsibilities; chair/table rental, CU pens/folders distribution
·         Locating a balcony across the street to use for the egg-drop exercise
·         Printing materials since the CU’s machine wouldn't accept a pen drive
·         Organizing catering
·         Downloading digital materials and using my computer, speakers and projector for the workshop
·         Organizing the Asociación de Jóvenes Empresarios de Paraguay speaker, Katrina Benitez
·         Organizing other PCV to assist and provide a place for them to stay
·         Taking photos of the event and posting them on Facebook and Google Drives for the Paraguay Emprende team
·         Follow-up with attendees with information about my Construye Tus Sueňos class that began just over a week after the workshop

9.       Construye Tus Sueňos Centro Tajy: Construye Tus Sueños course taught at the continuing education/vocational school, Centro Tajy in San Estanislao, beginning with promotion in the form of flyer distribution, organizing an Introductory Class with students and the school staff to promote the course and confirm a schedule, registration, etc.

10.    Promotional Meeting for Entrepreneurial Activities and Skill Development: This Promotional Meeting for Entrepreneurial Activities and Skill Development involved Plan Paraguay, the local representative from the National Ministry of Youth and members of Centro Tajy. The goal was to invite youth from San Estanislao and the surrounding communities to inquire about the skills needed in their communities to fill gaps in the demand and to provide them with a questionnaire of courses that could be provided by the Ministry of Education. My role was to talk about the need for youth to create business instead of leaving the city and/or country to find jobs and to promote my Construye Tus Sueňos course.

Volunteer Feedback to APCD/Program Manager: 
Please use this space for anything you would like to share with your APCD/Program Manager or other staff at this time.

General Notes: As PC Volunteers our time and budgets are limited. In order to be most useful and valuable in our communities through cultural exchange and activity involvement, we need to be able to socially integrate. We do this through our local contacts, the skills we have to offer, and most crucially, our language skills.

In regards to moving forward with community participation and subsequently the comfort of a new volunteer in site, I strongly suggest volunteer overlap. If, as it is in many cases, a volunteer is a follow-up, their requirement of staying with a family for the first three months should overlap with the outgoing volunteer. During these three months, the new volunteer can familiarize him or herself with the community and cultural specifics through contacts already made by the outgoing volunteer and simply get to know some of the intricacies of the town. As trivial as this may sound, it took me two weeks to find out where to buy peanuts, and many more to understand the “water schedule” the town was living with. After this expedited integration, the new volunteer can choose to move into the outgoing volunteer’s house, which saves substantial moving costs and time to find a private home. In my case, for example, there was no previous volunteer, but in order to not live on the “water schedule,” which means to have access to running water 24-hours a day, I purchased a water tank and paid for installation. I would rather this investment and all the money I’ve spent on household goods be used by an incoming PCV.

In regards to language, our sector, G-42, has already lost one volunteer to an inability to communicate. She was basically stuck teaching English and thus, not able to integrate into the community. Learning a language, especially in a short three-month time period, as many PCV need to do who arrive with no language skills, is of utmost importance. The best way to learn language is through immersion, which is why I strongly suggest that training is taught in Spanish with extra classes in Guaraní. The general lectures can be level segmented just like the current language classes.