Your Cards Live On

We treasured all the mail we received from you guys while we were living in Paraguay. We’d often attempt to hold off on opening something until we got home to make a production out of it or, if we were lucky enough to receive more than one item on a given day, we’d give our self-control a run for its money and try to space out the unveiling of the cards.

We even created a space for these special possessions: our card wall which spanned our living room and was often marveled at by each new visitor.

Card wall

When packing up our house in preparation of moving on from Paraguay, we debated what should be done with these paper items that had brought us so much joy and served as a daily reminder of our community of support from back home.

Reusing Cards of Love

We decided that carrying them with us didn’t mesh well with our strict desire to travel light and free (just one big backpack each) as we slowly make our way home. So we came up with a solution to let the magic of the cards live on.

Reusing Cards of Love

After pouring over the notes and messages one last time, we packed up the mound of cards (you guys were good to us!) and headed to the soup kitchen ready for a special craft project. After all, it was Friendship Day, which is celebrated widely in Paraguay, so it made sense for the kids to create friendship cards out of the cards we had received from family and friends.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

I underestimated what a hit it would be. Eyes lit up and squeals were heard as I laid out the cards (or at least the front covers) on the tables before the kids. They selected their favorites (quickly, before their neighbor did) and then waited impatiently for their turn with the limited number of glue sticks we provided.

Reusing Cards of Love

They cut and pasted and designed their own friendship card for someone special in their life. They asked us what the words meant and practiced repeating them. Even the cook got excited at the cards and scurried over to the work table to snatch a few up for herself.

Reusing Cards of Love

Reusing Cards of Love

She selected one that said, “For My Granddaughter” and said she would save that for when she had neitas of her own.

Reusing Cards of Love

We did this project on one of our last days at the soup kitchen, so I was well aware of the limited time I had left with these young children who managed their way right into the depths of my heart.

Reusing Cards of Love

Looking at Isaiah watching the crafting go down, I knew we were both struck by the sacredness of seeing our worlds mixing and the love of our friends and family back home being passed forward on that Friendship Day to our friends in Yuty.

Thank you for being part of it.

 

I See Paraguay

A very cool program that’s a part of Peace Corps Paraguay is called Ahecha Paraguay, which means “I see Paraguay” in Guaraní. It’s a way to bring creativity through photography to your town by checking out a camera kit from the office. The kit includes five cameras as well as some resources on teaching photography in your site.

Ahecha Paraguay

If you’re looking for one more benefit of being a married couple in Peace Corps, it’s that we were able to check out two camera kits, bringing our camera count to 10.

We decided to teach the course through Cooperativa Ycua Bolaños because they have been so attentive and easy to work with through many of our other classes. So they took care of the advertising and registration and we showed up to about 14 students (some had their own camera) who were excited to learn the principles of photography.

Ahecha Paraguay

Throughout the class we studied different techniques of photography and gave the students time to go into the community and practice them. One such theme was the use of light and shadows.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

These are all photos taken during the course by our students. Some got some great shots of the way light works with reflections in water.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

It’s been a very rainy week, so there were plenty of chances to practice snapping away at puddles and raindrops, as captured here when we focused on shooting something from up close, even using the camera’s macro mode.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

We talked about action shots and leaving space for the subject to do its moving.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

And we analyzed different perspectives from which we can take photos and what elements add to the photo and which distract from it.

Ahecha Paraguay photos

Ahecha Paraguay photos

It was a great, energetic group of students who impressed us with their desire to learn and put the topics into practice (instead of just snapping a bunch of selfies). It’s also always fun to see photos of our beloved town and how it can really come to life through the art of photography.

During our next trip to Asunción we’re going to print out a photo from each student in a nice big size and then display them in a sort of gallery in the cooperative for the community to enjoy before giving the photo (and a certificate!) to each student to celebrate their success in “seeing Paraguay” through the Ahecha Paraguay program.

Maps for the Future

Life in Paraguay is wet. The rains keep coming, although the flooding is happening in other parts of the country than where we live.

However, I feel very sunny when I look at the master spreadsheet I made with a tab for all our open projects and what needs to get done before we take off. It feels good, not because things are zooming to an end, but rather because it’s organized, there is a plan (get done with stuff), and I love spreadsheets. Especially color-coded ones like this one. (My tasks are yellow, Isaiah’s are blue.)

One project we’ve been chipping away at is the world map we and our youth group painted on the side of the soup kitchen. It actually started with the other volunteer who used to live in our town way back at the end of last year. But no matter how many months it lasted, or how many long breaks there were between work days, the map is traced, painted, and labeled. It’s done!

World Map Project Done

Now we just need to print off the above photo the next time we’re in Asunción to include with some thank you notes for all the businesses who donated paint and other items that made the project a reality.

Another item that got crossed off the list is our English tutoring class. For the past three months we’ve tutored three kids twice a week in English. We tried to keep it hands-on and interesting like with numbers bingo – complete with colorful bottle caps and a random number generator (and saver – to check answers at the end) that Isaiah quickly programmed for the purpose. I like being married to a handsome tech man.

English students Bingo

Wednesday was our last lesson, so we served chocolate chip cookie bars and presented the students with certificates for their dedication and hard work.

English students with certificates

Isaiah also finished up some 1-on-1 tutoring he was doing with a young man in town with a family business who wanted to learn about network security, and then programming, and then web design. Isaiah was a great teacher, providing his student with resources and acting as a guide in his quest to conquer the world of informática. In the end, the student was able to create a basic structure for a website for the family business, and sure seemed happy to to be in Isaiah’s presence for all those months.

We will miss working on some of these projects, but realize that there is a time for everything. We realize, accept, and even delight in this current “season” of Peace Corps work where we are handing things off and seeing how they fly on their own.

Teaching Business Skills (& a Special Guest)

Every Tuesday and Friday you can find us in our local cooperative, facilitating discussions on fixed versus variable expenses, how to know if your business idea is a good one, and where in the world you might find the money to truly begin the entrepreneurial journey.

CTS Entrepreneurship class

It’s a class put together by Peace Corps volunteers working with the Paraguay Emprende program, and called Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams.) Similar classes can be found in other Peace Corps posts across the globe.

CTS Entrepreneurship class

We have around 15 students regularly attending and are thrilled to be co-teaching this course with our good friend, Elva. One class we even made guacamole since avocados are in season. Usually Paraguayans eat avocados with milk and sugar, so guacamole is a whole different thing.

Making guacamole with CTS class

They were good sports and everyone tried it and many even really liked it! (Even if they were a bit camera-shy.)

Yesterday, however, we had an extra special guest among us. Can you spot her?

CTS Entrepreneurship class

Isaiah’s mom is here visiting! It is wonderful! (And not just because she brought us coffee and chocolate.) She arrived on Wednesday and we’ve been showing her the sights and sounds – and tastes – of Paraguay ever since.

Alice visits Paraguay - with coffee

She’s able to see us interact with our community and friends here and has already been served up many little opportunities to flex that “go with the flow” muscle as plans or details have fallen through, twisted, and changed. Such is life in Paraguay. Or anywhere, really. Here we seem able to get over the idea that we’re in control a little faster than we did in the US of A, though.

Isaiah and Alice

Like her son, Alice knows how to stay light on her feet and keep her spirits high. We can’t wait to spend more time with her and show her more of our beloved Paraguay.

Making Fancy Bracelets From Toilet Paper Rolls

We have fun at the children’s soup kitchen. I used to dread going because it took so much energy and I felt I was constantly having to discipline the kids.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

Now things are calm and I enjoy being there!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

A big change is that Isaiah and I have loosened up, but I do believe the kids are more used to the routines and expectations at the soup kitchen and there isn’t constant fighting or blatant rule breaking.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

We often read books or play frisbee.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

At least once a week we plan a simple activity or craft project. On my birthday, we made fancy bracelet cuffs, which were a big hit with everyone!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

We made them out of empty toilet paper rolls and decorated them with everything from stickers to old Christmas tinsel to stamps that I cut out of envelopes from letters you guys have sent us in the mail!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

What a big treat it was for everyone to choose their special decorations and create a bracelet just to their liking.

Want to try it out? Here’s how!

Supplies needed:

Toilet paper rolls
Markers
Glue
Yarn
Hole punch
Stickers, old stamps, magazine cutouts, wrapping paper, glitter, anything for decoration!

Process:

1. Cut each toilet paper roll in half.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

2. Then cut a slit in each cuff so it can be placed around a wrist.

3. Punch a hole in each side of the slit. These will be used to tie bracelet shut so it doesn’t fall off.

4. Decorate the bracelet to your liking. Go crazy!

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

5. Place on wrist and thread yard through the hole punches. Tie yarn in bow so bracelet stays on wrist but can still be removed.

How to make a bracelet with toilet paper rolls

What do you think? Around here, it’s the newest fashion trend. Have some fun and try it out! I’m sure you already have the supplies on hand. Happy weekend, everyone!

What Do You Want Most?

In two days I devoured Adam Braun’s inspirational book, The Promise of a Pencil, and then stole an idea from him. I used it on our little friends at the soup kitchen. I don’t think he’ll mind.

The book is Adam’s story of finding his passion for helping people, which leads him to quit his high-paying corporate finance job and start a “for-purpose” business called Pencils of Promise which has now built over 200 schools across the world. When he started traveling in other countries he decided instead of trinkets, his souvenir would be to ask one child in each country what they want most in the world. One little boy, dirty and impoverished and without anything to his name responded, “A pencil!”

When Adam handed him a pencil, the boy’s eyes lit up like the world was his oyster, anything was possible, and Adam had perhaps handed this boy hope of getting an education. This is how Adam chose to put all his energy into building (and locally training and staffing) schools, as education can unlock so much for a child’s future.

I loved the book. I also was curious to see how the kids at our local soup kitchen would respond to that same question that Adam asked. “What do you want most, if you could have anything in the world?”

By far the most common answer was this:

If you could have anything in the world?

Hogar. Casa. Home.

If you could have anything in the world?

Another common response was a camioneta. A truck.

If you could have anything in the world?

If you could have anything in the world?

If you could have anything in the world?

What Karina wanted more than anything was to see her mom, who moved to Buenos Aires seeking work to support the family, a story we hear time and time again.

If you could have anything in the world?

And Antonia simply wanted her family to be happy.

If you could have anything in the world?

What about you? If you could have anything at all in the whole world, what would you choose?

Entrepreneurship Workshop

It’s official. I am no longer the coordinator of the Paraguay Emprende entrepreneurship initiative. Although it was quite enjoyable work, it is wonderful to know it’s now in the ever-capable hands of the new steering committee, which is made up of the newer group of volunteers from our sector (Community Economic Development). That doesn’t change the fact that Isaiah and I still believe strongly in the initiative and take part in its programs.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Gabe

For example, soon after returning from our visit to the US, we helped put on a 1-day workshop in the border city of Encarnación. The main purpose of the workshop was to both spark entrepreneurial interest in Paraguayans, especially youth, and also promote the business planning course that many volunteers, including us, will soon begin teaching in our own towns.

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Isaiah

We woke early to make the 3-hour bus ride to Encarnación in time for the start of the event. It was held in the Cooperativa Universitaria, who is one of Paraguay Emprende’s main supporting partners. A number of people from the coop as well as a handful of volunteers who live in the region worked together to execute a successful day of learning and fun with the group of around 25 participants.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Isaiah

In true Peace Corps fashion, we kicked off the day with an ice-breaker to well, break the ice. Groups had to think of creative uses for everyday objects, whether realistic or not. I believe creative thinking is a learned and developed skill, not one that people are simply born with and there’s not much evidence that it is a strong focus in the Paraguayan schools in which I’ve visited. Therefore, it’s an important concept to practice as innovation and problem solving are key skills of any entrepreneur.

Paraguay Emprende workshop in Encarn

The groups also put their creativity and problem solving to practice in designing a contraption to carry a raw egg down a story-high drop so it would land unharmed for their starving Marilina, a famous young Paraguayan singer stranded and hungry at the bottom. (Yep, for this activity she loved to eat raw eggs!)

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - egg drop

Over half of the teams’ contraptions were successful! Then those teams put together a brief marketing campaign in an effort to sell their product to the clientele, also known as the teams whose egg broke. While the marketing plans were schemed, the broken-egg teams reflected on what they would do differently next time, being reminded that a small bump in the road of entrepreneurship is nothing to fret or shy away from.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - egg drop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - egg drop

After lunch, which was generously provided by the Cooperativa Universitaria, we heard from two entrepreneurs. They inspired us with their first-person accounts of the life of an entrepreneur. One reminded us to take the moral high ground and not simply chase the biggest profit. He spoke of the importance of entrepreneurs in creating solutions to problems that exist and combining our passions and beliefs with our work.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - AJE speaker

A saying that has stuck with me is “Creo lo que creo.” Creo (como crear) lo que creo (como creer). Although the verbs are conjugated the same in first person, the first creo (as in the word crear) means to create or build. The second creo (as in the word creer) means to think or believe.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Allison and Isaiah

In English we’d translate the phrase something like “I create what I believe” meaning that in building our businesses our thoughts and beliefs will be mixed in, for better or worse. If we believe in honesty and doing good, being open and loyal, those are the things we will and should incorporate into our business. Walk the talk, if you will.

Paraguay Emprende workshop

We ended the day with groups analyzing a mock situation and coming up with solutions to any problems they identified. As each group shared their analysis I felt proud of the work the participants put in for the day. They showed up, used their minds, and had fun doing so, all on a Saturday free day.

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Paraguay Emprende workshop - group photo

The event was a success, thanks especially to Aleks, the volunteer from Encarnación who coordinated all the details with the coop and volunteers Jon and Gabe who led their Paraguay Emprende committee in designing the curriculum used for the workshop. And all the other volunteers and Peace Corps staff and coop staff who chipped in time and effort to make this event – and the seven others like it that took place in other cities across the country – a reality.

Paraguay Emprende workshop - Aleks

Paraguay Emprende workshop

Isaiah and I are currently advertising our business planning course, named Construye Tus Sueños (Build Your Dreams), and plan to begin teaching it with our friend Elva starting on April 1. As we teach the lessons on deciding on a business and planning for its success, I think I’ll play both the teacher and the student role as it’s often on my mind to launch a small business of my own someday. I guess you could say I’d like to creo lo que creo.

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