Week 1: June 22-June 29
Hola! I received an Ambassador Corps scholarship from the University of the Pacific's Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship to travel to Asuncion, Paraguay, where I am working with AVINA. As a requirement for receiving the scholarship, I must keep a blog entry at least once a week. That blog is located at another site, but I wanted to keep a more personal, less formal blog, too! Some entries might sound a bit "clean and formal", but that may very well be that I just used my same entry from my "formal" blog. Haha! Enjoy!
AVINA is a Latin American organization, whose mission is to contribute to sustainable development, encouraging the building of ties of trust and fruitful partnerships between business and social leaders, and articulating agendas for action. (Refer to their website: www.avina.net) AVINA was founded in 1994 and has 21 offices in Latin America. It fosters bonds of trust, shared values, and common agendas between civil society and the business sector. AVINA focuses on the following areas: Equity, Sustainable economic development, Conservation and management of natural resources, and Democratic government and rule of law. I am working in the area of conservation and
management of natural resources, specifically the vision of water as a public good.
Latin America has a wealth of water in both quantity and in the distribution throughout its geography and year. The problem is that at least 50 million people do not have adequate access to water. Many communities have put many financial resources into constructing water systems, but many are decaying or have already collapsed. Also, the people of those communities have not all been properly educated in maintaining the systems. The water boards (sanitation boards) need financial mechanisms to access credit to be able to update their tanks and improve their systems. The juntas
(boards) are democratic, because the people who benefit from each junta vote for the leaders (president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary). This way, the people are active and have a say in who handles their water.
I left home after a CRAZY final week being in the States. I had to wrap-up some research before I left, see some friends and family, finish unpacking and organizing stuff from having moved completely back home a month before, and pack for my 10 weeks in Paraguay! Then, it was time to say good-bye. I
love and miss my ENTIRE family and ALL my friends. Thanks to mom and dad for taking me to the airport for the first leg of my trip! I flew from Sacramento, CA to San Diego, CA on June 18, 2011 to stay with Carlos for 2 days before I left because my flight was out of Los Angeles. We drove at 1:30 am from SD to LA so that I could catch my flight Tuesday morning at 7:30 am. (HUGE thanks to Carlos and his dad for driving me!) My trip finally started! I flew to San Salvador, El Salvador to Lima, Peru and finally to Asuncion, Paraguay, and made it in the early hours (almost 3am in fact!) of Wednesday June 22, 2011.
So my first flight was perfectly smooth and on time. My second one (from El Salvador) was delayed, by what we thought was only 20 minutes...until they made us sit on the plane til about 4;20pm even though our departure time was 3:05 pm. Ugh! And so many people had connecting flights. It was a mess. They told us we'd be fine, but when we arrived in Lima, Peru, we were running and had
to pass security AGAIN! I grabbed my stuff and ran to the terminal with other people, as they were saying on the intercom "last call for flight 44 to Asuncion, we will departing." I almost missed my flight to Asuncion! Crazy! Glad I didn’t have a heavy carry-on!
I reached where I will be until the end of August! I am living in El Rinconcito, a house owned by a native Paraguayan woman (Celeste) in which international guests stay. It is pretty much a family business, as her nephew (Tava) takes care of the handy-man work and her nephew’s wife (Noelia) runs the household duties. Tava is the person that picked me up from the airport EARLY Wednesday morning. The airport isn't far at all from where I'm staying. I am very well taken care of, and I have access to anything in the house. The owners speak some English, so I can ask questions easily if I get stuck with my Spanish. There are three men (a professor from the United States, a veterinarian from Columbia, and another man from South America) that stay in the main house, and I get my own little house (basically a master
bedroom "pool house") in the backyard behind the pool. I have a huge bed, a closet, and a bathroom. Along with me, came the cold. The night I arrived was the start of some rain and the COLD weather to follow only days later. Since then, it has been getting colder by the day! I am missing my summer! Ahhh! I did NOT prepare for it to be THIS cold. A few days after my arrival, Asuncion reached record lows (negative a few degrees celsius during the night and early morning). Oh boy! Most people here say that this is an especially cold winter. It didn't used to be this cold.
On my first day, I was so tired and was confused about the hour change that I didn't wake up til 12:30 pm Paraguay time. Oh my! haha! So I got ready really fast (I had already showered the night I landed, luckily, cuz I felt gross from the plane) and unpacked a FEW things, then made my way to the main part of the house, where there was a lady, Noelia, who works here and she fed me toast and chocolate milk, and she gave me the
internet code. She's really nice. Then, my supervisor, Paula, came to pick me up and showed me around some of the city and took me to the AVINA office, the mall (to exchange money and get a phone), the grocery store, her house (she's pretty well off! It was nice! And that was just a duplex!), and her parents' house (even nicer and bigger than Paula's!).
My second day was my first real day of work, and we drove to other cities to visit three juntas. It was great to see some of the people/places that my work these next few months will benefit. It also helped me to visualize the conditions that I will be working with to place myself in the right mindset. Other than that, I have mostly been getting familiar with the office and reading many documents about AVINA and AVINA’s partners. Also, much of the week is full of meetings, both in and out of the office, so time sure seems to be flying by FAST! I have enjoyed meeting new people and familiarizing myself with who and what I will be working with.
My first weekend in Asuncion, I went to visit
downtown and see many historical buildings. My day wasn't the typical "fun" cuz i'm not goofin around with someone my own age...BUT it was cool nonetheless! I left with the Professor, got driven downtown for $15 round trip (which we split), and walked all around...it was cool and we saw lots of stuff. I liked it! And today was a celebration called Festival de San Juan (an annual festival on June 24, but many celebrate for at least a week) so there was a fair in La Plaza Central, lots of people selling comidas tipicas, and performers, too! I was able to experience much of the culture that day and try many foods (which, by the way, are very tasty)! I'll post pictures of the food eventually, but for now if anyone is curious to look pictures up online, here are typical foods: mbeyu, chipa, chipa guazu, sopa Paraguaya (a solidified soup!), asado, empanadas, and bori bori. I also went to mass at 11 am cuz it just so happened one was starting when we walked in to see the church. It was a good day and the Professor treated me to lunch for interpreting for him all day. Haha!
I liked being the one speaking Spanish, cuz I practiced a lot and met some nice people. This lady in a museum-ish place started talking to me and she was hecka nice! Most importantly, I got a free map today! Yay! We ran into a tourist info place on the "tourist" street (La Palma) downtown. And I bought a couple little souvenirs :)
The challenges that I have come across are differences in the vocabulary (which isn’t too hard to overcome as long as I ask questions!) and transportation. I have had some trouble figuring out the bus system, because there isn’t an available schedule, and many people I have contact with drive cars, so they have a hard time explaining the bus lines. I have, however, mastered getting TO work by bus and I have seen a lot of the city through trials getting back from work. Haha! My first day taking the bus was my first Monday here, and Tava went with me so I knew where to get on and off and how to work it. The problem was, I took another line home that was supposedly gonna take me to the church by my house,
but it didn't....So I had to spend some time figuring out how to get back home. Trial and error: the only way to figure it out!
As for the next couple days, we had tons of meetings and Paula and I went to a cafe to chat about the meetings, to bring together everything about AVINA, and to talk about the projects I will be working on. There are many options because there is a lot of work that needs to be done! I will be deciding in the next few days. I get a choice of what I want to work on...pretty cool!
I am enjoying the city, my housing, and my office. I look forward to the weeks ahead to discover which projects I will be working on and what I encounter next! As they say in Paraguay, ciao
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