Several months ago I began a simple project with the school in my community: painting a map of the world to be used in geography classes and for general reference. The project was almost immediately delayed by a teachers’ strike, then put off till the next school year as summer vacation took effect, then it was further postponed by lack of materials and finally some technical difficulties. This seems to be the norm for trying to get anything accomplished in the Peace Corps. More specifically, this is par for the course for even the most basic of things in Paraguay. But after months of waiting and stutter stepping, the project is complete.
The world map project is a classic Peace Corps initiative to help broaden the world view of students in often isolated, rural communities who attend schools that lack resources and other educational opportunities. There have been hundreds, likely thousands, of world maps painted by Peace Corps volunteers over the 50-year history of the organization in countries and communities across the globe. While I always liked the idea of the project, I wasn’t sure if it was worth the time and effort in Guido Almada, seeing as there were so many other obvious areas of need. This all changed last school year when I was invited to teach a geography class with the students.
To begin the class, I asked the students to trace an outline of the continents of the globe on a blank piece of paper. This request was met with vacant stares, a few giggles, and the inevitable shuffling of papers as kids at the back of the classroom began inconspicuously searching for a picture they could copy out of a notebook. When not a single student could fulfill this request, I decided to narrow the question. Can anyone trace a rough outline of South America? Again, nothing. How about just Paraguay? This I thought for sure would yield some better results. Not so much. I persisted, insisting that they try to produce something—anything. They begrudgingly obliged.
What the students lacked in actual knowledge of maps, they certainly made up for in creativity. At the end of the class, I received papers filled with any number of indescribable forms, all of them showing a misshapen Paraguay at the center randomly surrounded by neighboring countries (Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina) and occasionally other distant nations as well (China, the United States, Russia, Germany, etc.). After this experience, it seemed quite obvious to me that the world map project was not only quaint and novel, but entirely necessary. So began the long process.
The idea behind this project is simple. For students that will likely never venture far from their homes in rural Paraguay—maybe to the capital on occasion, or over the border at some point to look for work—gathering a more realistic world view is still an important part of their personal education. It will help them to visualize their physical location on Earth, which is part of a much bigger process of understanding their position as human beings. Concepts such as historical events, global warming, and modern-day geopolitical changes (all of which affect the lives of these people every day, whether or not they notice) take on a whole new meaning when you can point to places on a map.
This is Paraguay. This is the United States. This is how big the oceans are.
Of course, as a student of geography, I am perhaps biased in my interpretation of this project. For some, painting this world map is likely just an opportunity to do something different and create a pretty picture on the otherwise dull and drab whitewash of the crumbling school building. But even that has its merit.
As students in the United States, I think we are often spoiled in our comparatively well-funded schoolrooms with seemingly infinite resources and opportunities. It is hard to even imagine not knowing what the world looks like. Once again, like all of the projects I have done and am doing in Paraguay, it seems as if I am getting as much, if not more, out of the experience than those people with whom I am working. But as far as making a small difference is concerned, I know that I have already accomplished at least that much: The students have been eager to share with me their newfound knowledge of the globe at every opportunity. —Mario Machado
On fall evenings, after the mosquitoes have hatched in biblical droves, the campesino houses of my community are thick with smoke and the smell of pine and earth. The locals burn tin pans full of palo santo, an aromatic wood, wagering lungs full of ash and bloodshot eyes in a bet to deter the hordes of bugs and flies. The dirt roads fill with smoke, like valleys full of fog, while the last strands of sunlight dance through the forest haze. It is a smell and a feeling that will forever bring me back to this place. At this time of year—after the heat of summer has broken and the groundwater has cooled to the point of being perpetually surprising on the lips—I feel cradled and loved by this country.
Summer in the Río de la Plata Basin is a harsh and sadistic time; it sucks the life out of your pores. The South American sun taps you like a maple tree and drains the sap from your veins, drinking it up one bead of sweat at a time. But once summer has faded, the breezy, beautiful days of fall lounge comfortably on the land. Then it is only the passing rains that provide a break in this pulse of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. In fall, each morning blossoms from the horizon with yellow petals that unfold between the trees. The air is cool, like crisp apples, and you can almost taste the cinnamon in your chest as you breathe.
Winter days will be cold, sometimes frosting the grass and chastising those hopeful crops either left in the ground too long or planted too early for their own good. Yet, even these days are so much more manageable than the peak days of summer. When you wake to a summer sun, you know that the already hot morning will only lead to an even more unbearably hot afternoon; in the winter, you can sip your maté and bundle up by a wood fire, knowing that the afternoon will inevitably bring with it ideal hammock-napping weather.
When I really center myself in this place, when my little brick hovel feels most like my home and my neighbors more like family than friends, I settle into a rhythm and a mindset that is the closest to inner peace that I have ever known. It’s a combination of the lifestyle, the pace of life, and the calm with which the bird-sung days pass into cricket-sung nights. Within this cocoon I am aware of the smallest details, like the changes in the breeze or the variable retorts of the each and every farm animal, and I sense them with my whole body. My actions are smooth, my thoughts are light, and these strange tongues that I am still learning to speak slip easily from my lips to jumble naturally with the rivers of conversation that flow around me. This place is teaching me to see, to smell, to hear, to listen all over again. It’s teaching me what is really important and daily showing me how beautiful life can be, no matter what material things I might lack. —Mario Machado
On hot days after strong rains, almost every able-bodied man and boy from my village takes to the winding cow paths that meander carelessly through the surrounding marshy lowlands. They are seeking any one of a number of calm, muddy pools, and they are willing to brave hordes of mosquitoes, poisonous snakes, intense heat, and life-sapping humidity to reach them. The prize at the end of this typically Paraguayan ordeal is a heap of minuscule fish, in the end all bloodied and tethered by the gills to a strong reed, which is then slung over their shoulders to carry home. If they are lucky, they might catch a few marsh eels.
Several days ago, on a dusty walk home under a peak noonday sun, I passed a group of neighborhood youngsters intently engaged at one of the ponds that line the wetlands. From the look of things, they wouldn’t have much to eat for dinner that night—a small catfish-like thing, a few half-palm-sized sunfish, and various other assorted pond treasures, each one seemingly smaller than the one before. Perhaps my arrival brought some good luck, or maybe it was just the heat of midday that drew better prospects for the boys. Either way, soon we were no longer dodging empty hooks as they orbited our heads, but instead foot-long marsh eels that wriggled madly at the sudden shock of being mercilessly ejected from their aquatic home.
One boy, the unusually small and high-pitched Willy, was the expert eel-smasher. The moment an eel would exit the muddy shallows, he went into action, grabbing the line and unhooking the poor creature in a matter of seconds, then quickly ending its life by bringing its head down onto a large stone. Once several eels had been dispatched in this manner, the boys seemed satisfied with their haul and triumphantly invited me to dinner.
I spent that evening hunched over a few small bowls of eel stew with the 12 members of Willy’s family, making quick work of that day’s catch. For those who have never eaten eel, it has all the flavor and texture of fish without the infinite little spines that typically irritate efforts at eating other aquatic animals. Once one has cut the flaps of ligaments around the head, the rest of the eel’s slimy skin slides off easily like a coat. Sometimes, to loosen up the outer layer so that it can be more easily stripped from the body, the whole eel is placed on the ground and rolled like a rolling pin, which not only helps to release the skin from the flesh but also to tenderize the meat.
Once the skin is peeled and the organs removed and tossed aside (unless of course, the eel is full of eggs, which can be eaten as well—Paraguayan caviar), the whole eel can simply be sliced into segments and cooked as is. The final product, a thin and salty fish soup, is a prized favorite of rural Paraguayans who live far from the riparian borders of the country. The soft eel flesh can be effortlessly slurped off the bone—a single continuous spinal column that runs the length of the creature but without the additional eating hazards of tiny ribs. In my humble opinion, and speaking with the authority of my extensive experience with other Paraguayan rarities, I must say that eel stew is quite delicious. —Mario Machado
It wasn’t an apple that tempted Eve, it was a mango. I can just see it now: that immense fruit, in all of its sun-kissed glory, sitting in her hands, barely fitting between her two palms. All the while, a calm serpent, whispering from its perch, coiled around bunches of leaves and plump fruits. Who could resist those yellow-and-red hues painted on firm, purple-green skin? The tremendous fruits, so easily plucked from low-hanging branches, as attractive in their accessibility as in their shear abundance, each one seductively voluptuous and tender. Each bite gashing open new veins that bleed with sweet, warm juice. Descended from heaven, surely—wrapped up and offered under the deliciously cool shade of heavy, twisted trees. It was a mango for sure, and she never stood a chance.
Paraguay in the summer seems to ferment in mango juice. The air is thick with the sickly smell of it as the locals collect and consume as many as possible, discarding the skins and pits like bread crumbs along windswept roads as they walk to and from the fields. Still, untold numbers of the succulent fruits are missed, picked apart by bees and insects on the ground. Hundreds are left to rot, to fertilize the soil and sow another generation of the world’s finest shade tree. For every person in Paraguay, there must be a million mangos or more each season. Money might not grow on trees, but mangos do, and on the hottest of summer days, nothing could be better.
There two kinds of mangos in Paraguay. Fruits of the more common variety are small and yellow and have a tough, fibrous flesh. These typically can’t be chewed easily—instead, one simply sucks out the juices and masticates the insides of the fruit to a mushy pulp before spitting out the rest, bit by fibrous bit. Delicious as they may be, they are undoubtedly quite a menace for people in a country that doesn’t seem to floss, although that doesn’t appear to stop anyone in the slightest.
Then there are the Brazilian mangos: brilliantly colored and radiant, textured yet smooth, their flesh like soft orange butter with only enough fiber to remind you that nothing is quite perfect. Everything that these mangos boast in taste and beauty they match in size—they are enormous, some barely fitting between two hands. Watching a little barefoot Paraguayan child with a full mango is like watching a mouse trying to swallow a soccer ball. Try as they might, they still struggle, giddy with all of their big-eyed, childish delight as rivers of juice run down their chins and onto their bare, protruding bellies.
As if to add to the bounty, there are enough passion fruits, peaches, pineapples, and bananas in Paraguay to feed armies, to cure the scurvy of a million wayward sailors, to drown the entire world in sweet, juicy surrender. Such plenty is one massively redeeming quality in a country that is otherwise suffocating in unbearable summer heat. That’s the trade-off, I guess—torrents of delicious tropical fruit, the product of incredible photosynthetic production, for mind-numbing afternoons. I’ll take it. I don’t really have a choice anyway. Here’s to summertime in South America. —Mario Machado
The temperature was flirting with 100 degrees when I landed in Paraguay—more than a tad hotter than the frigid, snowy northeastern United States I had left just 13 hours before. It never ceases to amaze me how humans can traverse such incredible distances, such a vast spectrum of climates, in such a short period of time; that’s just the modern world, I guess. I was returning to my Peace Corps assignment after having spent more than 2 weeks in Pennsylvania, my first extended trip stateside since I landed in South America about a year and a half ago. My time home was amazing: the cold winter season, the holiday atmosphere, good food, better beer, and my friends and family.
But as I sit here, once again at home in my little brick shack in Paraguay, I am having trouble getting a grip on it all. These two lifestyles—that of middle-class, suburban America and that of rural Paraguay—could not be more different, yet I feel at ease and comfortable within both. Perhaps humans really aren’t meant to travel so far so fast; perhaps our psyches aren’t adapted to make sense of such complete and rapid change. Whatever it is, 2 weeks of culture shock is beginning to take its toll as I find myself enveloped in a sort of personal existential crisis. In reality, there is no time for such nonsense; the fields need tending, my garden is a mess, and now is the time to prepare myself for the myriad of projects that will get underway in March with the transition to fall.
On my first night home in Paraguay, we lost electricity. Such events are a commonplace and expected part of my daily routine here. My community finds itself powerless (and during these times, also without water) with increasing frequency. Just a few weeks in the States had spoiled me with a seemingly infinite supply of electrical energy, continuously available running water, and even the novelty of a clean indoor fireplace, serving mostly aesthetic purposes but consuming large quantities of natural gas nonetheless.
And as crazy as all of this is to consider from my perspective here in rural Paraguay, I cannot deny that American comforts are just as much a part of my life (if not more so) as the South American campo. I must admit, I might have stutter-stepped at first, but I quickly found my footing in the States, all too nimbly taking to Starbucks coffee and nice restaurants with microbrews on tap.
It’s like being two different people—not that either one is more honest or genuine than the other, but just that I have molded myself to fit into two seemingly polarized sets of conditions. The whole thing seems surreal, like an in-body, out-of-mind experience. But I am sure Paraguayans have a cure for that: a few leaves from the forest to sprinkle into a steaming cup of tea and sip slowly in the warm evening air. —Mario Machado
This week was a rude awakening—or maybe it was more like a sweaty, sticky, how-could-I-ever-forget sort of shock that brought me back to the reality of summertime in Paraguay. With temperatures consistently over 100°F, the world seemed to stop. Once-productive workdays have, in a span of two weeks, become endless afternoon hours spent sitting under mango trees, sipping slowly at tepid tereré (for any ice to be had melts faster than it can cool), mumbling little nothings in Guaraní with my neighbors. The only thing punctuating this monotony is the animated reference to our collective, obvious reality, the oppressive million-tons of atmosphere and sun weighing down upon people and animals alike. “Hakuiterei, chera’a” (It’s really, really hot out, my friend).
I have been a Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay for over a year now (14 months) and have run the gauntlet of all four seasons. I use the word “seasons” loosely: Each year can more accurately be separated into incredibly hot summers followed by cold, wet winters with an awkward and unpredictable few months on either end. Still, it’s funny how easy it is to forget the burning intensity that comes with a noonday sun in the Southern Hemisphere. When you spend the winter months in front of a space heater, sipping maté, looking for every excuse not to shower in frigid water and a wind chill around freezing, one’s perspective gets a little confused.
In the States, life proceeds normally from season to season. Some people salt their driveways and put different tires on their car for winter, or prep their lawn mowers and clean the air conditioner filter for summer, but to a large extent, the pace of life remains the same. There is always talk of the “dog days of summer,” but Paraguay’s peak summer months make those look like a vacation. The reality here in the heart of South America is that it simply gets too hot, too dangerous to do anything. Farmers wake up at first light and get into their fields for a few hours, but by 9:30 they turn in for the day. Working any later is not smart and Paraguayans know it.
The pulse of life in my community is strictly set to the weather. This is most evident when a big storm rolls up and whole families huddle together under their thatch roofs to watch the rain. But it goes beyond that: Each farmer knows exactly when to plant what, what winds are favorable for what crops, the cycles of the moon, the number of possible mornings with frost in winter, the prospects of good rains. I guess that when you live so directly off of the land, when your livelihood and well-being are intimately tied to the natural world around you, the need to be keenly aware is inevitable.
Farmers and gardeners in the States must evoke this to a certain extent, but it is also very different. A typical U.S. farmer relies on crops for income; successful harvests translate into financial stability in the following year. For my Paraguayan compañeros, this can also be true, but on an even more fundamental level of subsistence. Successful crops mean a steady flow of calories into the bellies of the farmer’s family. Failures spell disaster for household nutrition, livestock, and prospects for saving seed to plant the following year. For that reason, it seems as if life in the Paraguayan countryside moves in lockstep with even the slightest changes in the weather.
And so as I sit and sweat, as I will be doing for the indefinite future, I am trying to appreciate the days for what they are: a break after a long season of sowing and clearing land, a chance to rest, relax, be with family and friends, read, write, and catch up on community gossip. At times like these, you really learn to understand the value of a good shade tree in your front lawn. —Mario Machado
The seasons are changing. The mild winter has long since passed and the fickle months of spring—one day boiling hot, the next crisp and chilly—are now on the wane. Here in the southern hemisphere, what comes next is a brutally hot summer. For those plants and crops already in the ground and well established, the summer months are like a hedonistic binge of photosynthesis, so long as the rains keep up, rushing in to break the tension of the heat just before things start to wither and die. Sugar cane sprints towards the sky, mandioca persists in its slow yet steady trajectory, and tobacco makes the most of those beautifully sticky, broad leaves.
Late November through March are typically months of rest for Paraguayan farmers. They have already put in the hard work of clearing land, preparing fields, and sowing crops. As the average temperature slowly rises, peaking sometimes at the unbearable, unworkable highs of 110°F or more, the only thing to do is wait out the heat in the shade with ice-cold tereré (an herbal tea) and chilled watermelon—never together, of course, for Paraguayans believe wholeheartedly that the combined refreshment leaves one liable to explode.
Needless to say, this is not an ideal time to start a garden (in my case, an herb garden). Almost anything that is planted now needs a media sombra (a half-shade structure), ample watering, and almost continual vigilance. But clearly, even after spending more than a year in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer, I still find the need to push the envelope. Maybe this heralds to my inherent propensity to rebel against authority that my mother always scolded me for, or maybe I just want to spice up my food a bit. Either way, the takeaway lesson from this horticultural experiment is that the sun is no force to be ignored. I stand humbly corrected.
A few weeks ago, I began digging a bed along the side of my little brick house for an herb and flower garden. The moment my spade hit the soil, however, challenges seemed to emerge. The soil is unusually porous and sandy, the sun/shade ratio caused by my tin roof is far from ideal, and the chickens—those darned chickens! It soon became evident that this small, simple project would require a fence if it were to succeed (if for no other reason than keeping out lots of curious chickens). So I cleared the small parcel, double-dug and formed the bed, built the fence (this alone was a week-long effort that involved bringing bamboo from 5 kilometers away via ox cart), and constructed a gate.
After a few weeks, the garden was ready. I transplanted some basil and cilantro that I grew from seed, as well as a hot pepper plant and a few sunflowers. Everything, save for the hot pepper and basil, proceeded to promptly die. The other herbs I planted—thyme, lavender, rosemary, chives, spearmint, parsley, and more—have yet to germinate in their containers (it’s been over a week already) and I am beginning to lose faith. I have tried using some wonderful compost from a pile that has been going since I arrived here in Guido Almada, but so far, to no avail.
Watering is a constant concern. Considering that I travel to other volunteer communities and the capital of Asunción as part of my work, getting a reliable neighbor to take up the extra work in my absence is a must. Unfortunately, despite my lavish offerings of compensation to neighborhood kids (money, food, and candy), this has proven difficult as well. I am not sure if this speaks more strongly to the neighborhood children’s adversity for watering my garden or to the unfortunate quality of my food. Regardless, I now have a garden with almost nothing growing in it. The stubborn part of me wants to keep pushing and see if I can trick some of these seeds into bloom. The rational part of me knows that this is an endeavor that is best served by waiting for the cooler autumn months. Perhaps I should take the Paraguayan high road and just sit under a mango tree sipping some tereré in the meantime. —Mario Machado
Of the many projects that comprise the Peace Corps volunteer’s agriculture extension handbook, one of the strangest and trickiest to sell is lombricultura (worm composting in English). On the surface this might seem like a bit of an esoteric endeavor, seeing as the worms need to be of a particular species and the conditions under which they must be kept tend to be rather specific, but the reality is that lombricultura is perfectly suited to helping poor, rural farmers get a quick and lasting boost in production.
The concept is as follows: Certain species of worms (in this case, California red worms) can live entirely within organic material. While other species require soils containing varying quantities of organic material, the good old California red is snug as a bug (or a worm) in a bed of 100 percent organic matter. This means that its digested product—worm excrement, or as it is more scientifically called, worm castings—is itself entirely composed of organic matter. This creates a sort of supercharged compost that can be used in a household garden or, if the operation is big enough, with field crops.
Worm compost has several advantages over regular compost. While both are wonderful and can complement each other greatly, worm castings package the nutrients in a way that is more readily available to plants. The process of worm composting can also be faster than regular composting (this, of course, depends on your methodology and zeal for both).
So the question becomes, how do you sell this type of project to rural, impoverished Paraguayan farmers? In a country where governmental health agents have been warning for years against the harms of intestinal worms, the first challenge is to convince my Paraguayan neighbors to distinguish between parasitic worms and earthworms.
Luckily for me, I have several neighbors who have taken to the concept like fish to water. In particular, Don Garcia, with whom I have been working for quite some time, is enthusiastic about raising worms. We have begun constructing a worm box, a long trough made of recycled brick, concrete, and wood protected by a fence to keep out pests. Soon, a thatch roof will guard it from the sun and excess rain. Upon seeing the care and effort he was putting into this worm project, I joked that his worms were going to have the nicest hotel in all of Paraguay, to which he responded with his typical hearty and soul-lifting laugh.
The worm-farming project won’t change Don Garcia’s life. It won’t help him escape from poverty, something that seems to have a particularly strong grip on him and his family. Still, it will help him improve his daily situation. From helping boost the production of his garden, to helping him increase his livestock quality (worms can also be used as a protein-rich animal feed), to increasing household income (through marketable garden produce and direct selling of worms for fishing bait, a common pastime in my community), this project will help Don Garcia prepare for the future.
The other day he said to me, “People have been asking me ‘Why are you doing this, why do you want worms?’ and I tell them, I am not doing this for me now, I am doing this while I am young so that when I am old I will be able to receive the benefits.” As always I am astounded at his wisdom and perspective, which is rare among Paraguayan campesinos. And so, with that in mind, I continue to plunge knee-deep into smelly worm castings as we endeavor to make his humble vision a reality. —Mario Machado
I have started a new project here in Guido Almada. This project is coming from a newly gained perspective: I realized that the key to successful development (at least here in my community) is through encouraging shared experiences and support among members of the community.
My neighbors are incredibly knowledgeable and unbelievably capable, but their reluctance to pursue change comes largely from lack of tangible motivation. Therefore, I have decided that whatever project I implement next, it would be best served to tap that potential within the community itself—an “auto-catalyzed” process of internal development.
To do this, I want to stimulate communication and ideas between my Paraguayan neighbors. They all have experiences with a variety of organic techniques (partly from working with me, but also from years of farming and work with other governmental and non-governmental groups). The goal is to create a forum and a platform for them to engage with these experiences, share them, and motivate each other to implement them.
I am currently developing a manual that covers a variety of organic and sustainable gardening and farming techniques. As opposed to being a detailed technical manual, it is a very general reference packet that is written in Spanish (most of my neighbors, though they speak Guaraní, cannot read Guaraní) and relies primarily on illustrations to communicate basic organic techniques and principles. After I complete this book, with help from Peace Corps friends who are far greater artists than I, the plan is to hold a community workshop to teach and demonstrate the basics of the manual. The manual will include topics such as deep-bed methods, companion planting, homemade pesticides and herbicides, composting, worm composting, crop rotation, green manures, and several others.
After the workshop, my idea is to give every neighbor a copy of the manual. I will then spend several months working with many of them on a variety of these techniques. Using the manual as a communication platform and their personal experiences as a sort of currency for them to share, I hope that the notion of cultivating these practices will be automatic among community members.
Of course, it won’t be perfect, and I am going to continue spending the next year of my Peace Corps service working with families one-on-one and trying to convince them that my ideas aren’t crazy. Hopefully, as this collective community experience grows, more and more will be willing to accept and attempt such organic practices—especially when the encouragement and stimulus comes from their own neighbors instead of some long-haired, strange-sounding North American in desperate need of a meal and a shower.
This is the plan at least. I have learned enough by this point in my experiences with development (and life, for that matter) to know that the reality will likely not be even close to this ideal. Still, I hope that this project and the concepts I will try to instill along with it will create some sort of dialogue among my neighbors. Maybe that is the key to getting though this communication barrier: to side-step it altogether. Jahechata (which means “we will see” in Guaraní). —Mario Machado
I am not going to lie, and hopefully this won’t sound like a complaint, but sometimes work in development (especially as a Peace Corps volunteer) seems completely unfeasible, mind-fuddling, and just absurd. Communication is an obstacle in almost every job or human endeavor, but here in Paraguay, it seems to be the Achilles heel of not only every developmental effort, but even daily interactions. It is an unavoidable challenge of cultural and linguistic boundaries. With time, however, the picture usually gets less hazy and I have at least begun catching glimpses through the fog.
In the village of Guido Almada, I have been working with many neighboring families one-on-one in the past few months, specifically with implementing organic techniques in the garden and the field. The work I do with these family seems to really “take” about 50 percent of the time; that is to say, people are able to demonstrate understanding and repeat the processes on their own in the days or weeks following our initial session. In some cases, I am amazed with their grasp of complex ideas and proud of their enthusiasm and willingness to accept new things. Other times, I realize that many people just want me around as an extra hand of free labor (and I can’t blame them).
The other day while drinking tereré with a neighbor after working in the garden, he shared with me an incredibly insightful and profound perspective. “Mario,” he said, “It’s not that we don’t know the stuff you are teaching us. We’ve seen all these practices in the past from extension workers from the government and non-governmental organizations. The problem is that it is difficult for rural Paraguayans, who are already doing so much, to find the motivation to put in the extra effort to actually implement these changes. Your coming to our homes to work with us, that makes the difference.”
In a way, I think most people already know the truth of this statement. Surely this is one of the major problems with development work anywhere. What my neighbor offered was not a revelation for me, but an acknowledgment of self-reflection. The foundation of knowledge already exists in Guido Almada and in so many other impoverished rural communities across the world. The difference between progress and the status quo is just being able to be there to work with the people, to offer motivation and support. It’s an unconscious economical analysis for them, but one that is tipped favorably when someone shows up with a shovel in hand.
Ideally, however, these things need to be self-sustaining enough to last when there are no Peace Corps volunteers or extension agents there to break that initial barrier. In the end, there is a need for communication to connect the dots between resources and individuals within the community. That way, even when there are no external motivators, community members can self-catalyze by finding that force in the neighbor next door or down the street.
These people are smart—incredibly intelligent in so many ways that most Westerners might not appreciate fully, but could never deny. With a lack of financial means and governmental support, Guido Almada’s greatest asset is its people. If you can tap that reservoir properly, the potential is unlimited. Which leads me to discussing my newest project for Guido Almada—but I’ll save that for next week. —Mario Machado