A quick overview of the few highlights over the past 4 months....
*Started a new project (with the help of Lindsey, a 3rd year PCV extender) which entitled "El Mejoramiento de la Entrada de Nuestra Ciudad" (Improving the Entrance to Our City). This idea was an elaboration of the Environmental Project created by students in my school last year. The kids, along with a few key profesores, came up with a few models depicting a cleaner, healthier entrance to our city (Alberdi)- which this year has taken root and blossomed into an actual-possible- community based project! This was the perfect opportunity for me and Lindsey (who happens to be a volunteer of all trades!) to whip out the PACA tools! Yay! (Paticipatory Analysis for Community Action) We hope, with Lindsey's environmental architecture and tree skills, to make a project for the improvement of our town's entrance- based off of the wants/interests/needs of the people who live in that zone. The hope, in using PACA tools, is that the people will take more interest, ownership, and hopefully some pride in helping enable and maintain a big project like this. People seemed to really take to the idea that our town's entrance is dirty, lacking trees, unmaintained, and lacking illumination. There are many obstacles we have already had to face in starting: a lack of participation, some lack of human and financial resources, clay hard soil that makes tree growing difficult, flooding, etc. But, I hope that this project doesn't loose all steam because it's a didactic and novel way of identifying, analyzing and enacting on community needs. No more waiting for the government/the municipalidad to get stuff going!! The process is complicated and will not be completed in my lifetime here, but the hope is that the locals take enough interest in this project to keep it going til its completed! A trash-free entrance would be sooooo nice!
* My "G" had another reconnect in a very interesting location! The place was located in Cerrito (in the Chaco) and was an agriculture/micro-enterprise high school! The kids and the philosophy of this place is revolutionary in Paraguay! The concept was started by Fundacion Paraguaya as a way to "fight poverty." That said, the students and the school are self sufficient and self sustaining! The kids are taught about both business/markets and about agricultural production. In order to receive a diploma, the students present and entire project plan for some sort of agricultural production (ranging from livestock, pesiculture, lombriculture, apiculture, to agriculture!) that has a viable market and plan!! How incredible! The volunteers were asked to bring a person from their community to join. Mine ended up bailing on me, but the experience of going and learning amazing theories like "Biointensive Farming" and "Natural Reforestation" completely made up for the loss! It's the most academic stimulation that I've had in, like, a long while! =)
*Winter hits in late June as the teachers begin what ends up being a month long break from school!! First, they were on strike- asking for the Ministry of Education to fulfill its promise to raise salaries- which blended into three weeks of "Winter break". The third week was tacked on because of the cold- a freezing 3 degrees Celsius with rain! But, I cannot complain because I was not here during the harshest temperatures! =)
*VISITING THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!!!!!! Di and Matt decided to tie the not, officially, in Times Square, NYC on July 17, 2010. To say the least, this was the most emotion vacation I've ever been on for a variety of factors! Coming to NY after being in Paraguay for 10 months was quite the trip! I mean, all roads are paved, illuminated, and FULL OF CARS! You can buy a cup of coffee on ANY corner! I remember coming to NYC and not enjoying it as a kid- but this time I was taken aback by the beauty, chaos, and yes-cleanliness!- of the city! I spent a whirlwind of a week with Di + company (all my wonderful and much missed Berkeley chicas!) and met up with my family to spend some much needed quality time together with Grandma and the "other" NY Cohens! I then flew back to spend an even faster week in Southern CA with the family and friends at San Clemente Beach and South Pas! Upon my 20 hour journey back I reflected upon all that I experienced in the two weeks and can express just how very very grateful I am to everyone and everything we have, back home.
*After recovering from the mini "depression" of my return I got swept up in a gust of activities such as: Project Design and Management workshop (which was awesome, all you volunteers who may consider going!), English classes, recycling and bario charlas, the 80th Anniversary celebratory events of the Founding of Alberdi, and....helping another volunteer EE JoseLuis with his Youth Leadership Camp in Aregua. No time to mope over silly things like homesickness and Mary being gone too!
As I sit here writing and drinking mate on possibly one of the last few weather permitting days I'll have in awhile, I reflect upon the strange and yet wonderful conversation I had with someone today. This person received an invitation to be a Peace Corps Environmental Volunteer, in Paraguay. How ironic. I talked to her for almost 2 hours about everything that is my service, my experience, my time here thusfar. I can't help but feel like I may have unfairly biased her opinion with being open and candid about everything I felt. This "job" is, at the very minimum, a constant challenge. The amount of ups and downs I experience could make up a thousand theme park roller coasters. There are many luxuries that I would love to have again from back home. I miss my friends and family, a lot, every day. I don't know if this community project will ever get past level one, or if these people will remember why I spent two years of my life here. But, every time a random student smiles and yells "Yenni" at me, every time I am asked to help plan an event instead of being a "guest" at one, every time I learn that random cool places, like UNICEF, actually exist and provide tons of free information to Paraguayans- I chuck it back into the memory bank and back to that 100% commitment I made to myself, now a year ago, to be a Peace Corps Environmental Volunteer in Paraguay.
P.S. Check out new photos I FINALLY uploaded on Facebook under my Paraguay album! =)