Sorry we haven’t checked in a while, but the Paraguayan community is still around. Ashley and I are doing well, but practically melting in this HEAT!
We finished the work year in December and the “Obra Social” where we work closed down for a couple of weeks, and recently we just opened again. Ashley and I are super excited to start work because with the new work year, we now have the opportunity to create our own programs. We are going to begin teaching English, sports, and start a choir.
As we start this 2011 on the right foot, we have also reflected a great deal on the “new year” we began in September. For me personally the conversation Ashley and I had was really funny, because we realized that although we believed we did not feel vulnerable and lonely, like everything Julie told us we were going to feel during international orientation, we experienced all of those feelings! Looking back now, Ashley and I are in much better place and I know we are going to continue growing from this experience.
Throughout my time here in Paraguay I understand how important community is for the volunteer`s experience. Ashley and I are each other`s biggest support when we encounter problems--whether they are with friends/family back home, cultural, language barriers, job etc. From the beginning we have always been open with each other and we constantly express and reflect on the problems we are facing and what we can do to solve these issues. Because we have done that from the very beginning, it has helped us to trust and feel comfortable around each other. When you hit rock bottom in a foreign country, with limited access to your friends and family, it is great to know that the other person living with you in your house is a good friend that completely understands you. It makes the experience a lot more beautiful!
By the way, I forgot to mention that we have a new community member—Nala Mala Martinez, our new puppy the Sisters rescued from the streets. Nala is also very supportive and loves us unconditionally!
Beyond the community within our homes, there is also a much larger community that we have gotten to know. In the neighborhood we live in, everyone knows each other as well as the different problems that each family faces. Unfortunately, there is a family in our neighborhood that struggles with numerous problems and the most affected are the children. It’s difficult to see what the children in this family go through and wanting to help, but knowing that you can only do so much. However, the community has stepped in to do whatever they can to help this family. They see them struggle and together they help take care of their kids by giving them clothes or food and even giving them guidance. It’s not just one family that helps, but all the families in their neighborhood look out for them.
As the community looks out for each other, they also look out for Ashley and I. We tend to go to their homes and sit under a mango tree while drinking tereré (cold maté) for hours, laughing, playing the guitar-singing, and talking. The conversations we have with the community members are really helpful for our wellbeing. When we are struggling with a certain issue they will always listen to us. They will also advise us about what to do or not to do, what is safe or what is not, and give us insight into the culture so that we can take care of ourselves.
The best part about bonding with the community besides the great advice they give us is COOKING! During vacation we spent a couple nights cooking at a friend’s house. Everyone chipped in with different ingredients and we cooked dinner at night and it was a great way to bond with them. There are also these 3 sisters that we have become very close to and last night we finished a cooking lesson with them. We cooked for hours in our very hot kitchen, but it was so much fun as we learned how to make a new Paraguayan dish and showed them pictures of our families and friends.
There have been many challenges we have faced, but what makes the experience amazing and beautiful are the moments where Ashley and I support each other, or when we witness the community coming together to help the families in the neighborhood, or even the simple moments we have while cooking with our new friends. There is something truly beautiful about being somewhere completely unknown, yet, being able to have people in your life that are caring and supportive.