Change Yourself…Change The World.

New Start
March 18, 2013, 2:34 pm
Filed under: Paraguay

Hope you like the new header and background to my blog. I usually change out the photos every new adventure to show a different ‘theme’ to my life, and it changes every few months. Well, it’s been 2 years since I’ve had this one, and I’m ready to see the theme change to something different. And changed it has.

For a good portion of my service, I felt half-in and half-out of my community, Caazapá. Since I was project manager of ‘Jóvenes Empresarios del Paraguay,’ (JEP) I had a hard time making steadfast commitments to a schedule since I would sometimes have to run to the capital of Paraguay at a moment’s notice for meetings with our partners or potential sponsors. It was a lot of travel. Every few weeks I would suddenly disappear for two or three days, and people in my community noticed. ‘You always go to Asunción,’ my neighbors, friends, or cooperative members would complain, exasperated when I couldn’t show up to birthday parties or community events. They seemed to think I would go to Asunción to sip mai-tais and lay by the pool. I think the hardest part was that they weren’t seeing the results of JEP in Caazapá. That, and that I was continuously broke at the end of each month.

I don’t regret for a second working on JEP for over a year, and the incredible results we achieved. We pulled off a national business case competition,  a national apprentice competition to get youth excited about entrepreneurship, and a national business plan competition where the winner won over $1,000 to start her own business, an organic lettuce company. We motivated over 400 youth to take our business course and create business plans, and we saw 10 start-ups launched in Paraguay through our initiative. And, through a lot of  pure hard work, we collectively raised over $20,000 in a year to make it all happen and continue to be successful for the next group of Volunteers who took on the project, and we got two incredible Paraguayan partnerships on board to support us. That last part- the funding and partnerships- were really pulled off by three people- me, my boss Elisa, and my co-project manager, Taylor Schrang.

THOSE are results. I feel wonderful about the work we’ve done, and it has been a highlight of my service. With that being said, I did have to make sacrifices in my community, and I felt guilty about that. I couldn’t be fully focused on Caazapá or achieving the greatest amount of success I could as a Volunteer there. So I promised myself that when we finished our last apprentice competition in February, I would stop focusing on national initiatives, and start focusing on my site.

Focused I have. With the start of the school year, I find myself teaching EIGHT classes. Three English classes at a lower school, two geography/cultural learning classes to another lower school, two business courses at two Universities (four times a week), and one photography class at my friend’s photography store. School has started in full-force now, so I’m 100% all-in and committed to teaching these classes every week until the end of my service. I’m also starting a youth entrepreneurship network with Paraguayans in my site, and we meet at least once a week about a local event we’re planning, to promote our initiative.

I never saw myself as a teacher, but I’m suddenly fully immersed in this role. I’m running around making photocopies and meeting with government institutions to get things off the ground. I’m poring over manuals and the ever-resourceful Internet for ideas, and spending hours creating Powerpoint decks. I’m implementing some of those crazy classroom management techniques, like ‘raise-your-hand-in-the-air-to-show-you’ve-stopped-talking.’ I’m buying foam board to make passports and paint to do a world map project with kids, and borrowing projectors to show movies.

In some ways it feels a little scary to be so involved. It’s a commitment, and it’s something I have to stick to. When things go wrong I can’t just run away to another friend’s site for the day. I have to sort of adapt back to the real-world and plan out specifically free time I have to do my laundry by hand, cook meals from scratch, study for the GMAT, go running, and actually relax. Basically, it feels like actually growing up and being an adult.

But in other ways it’s wonderfully liberating to spend nearly every waking moment of my life serving others. Where before I didn’t get to see the great results of JEP until we put on the event that took 6 months to create, I see great results every single day in Caazapá. Kids cheering when I enter a classroom because they can’t wait to learn English. The look of wonderment on a child’s face when I point out to them that there are seven– yes, seven- continents in the world. The excitement of my students at University, who get to come to class and discuss innovation and what it means to be an entrepreneur. The empowerment that 4 Paraguayans feel when it comes to creating a network with their own hands, and learning what it means to build an organization together.

The Peace Corps is spot on. This really is the toughest job I’ll ever love.

So with a new look on my little corner of the internet, comes a new chapter. I’m all in, Caazapá.

1 Comment so far
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Wow – impressive list of activities! Good luck as you engage in your “new start”. I’m sure that the people in Caazapa (and around Paraguay) that you’ve been working with will be speaking of you and your work for years after you’ve left!

Comment by Brian Washburn

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