History of the Peace Corps in Paraguay
The Peace Corps has been working in Paraguay since 1967, and the country is one of the oldest continuously operating posts in the Peace Corps. After the government of Paraguay and the Peace Corps signed a joint agreement on November 4, 1966, the first Volunteers arrived in 1967 to work in agricultural extension in rural areas. Before long, projects were also established in the health and education sectors. Nearly 3,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have served in Paraguay since 1967, and more than 39 years later, an average of 90 Volunteers arrive each year. Today, approximately 200 Volunteers are working in the six major sectors of agriculture, education, environment, health, small business development, and urban youth development. Many former Paraguay Volunteers continue to stay informed about the country’s affairs and assist in development efforts in the country—years after they completed their service. At the same time, returned Volunteers have contributed a great deal to increasing the knowledge and appreciation of Paraguay and its people by Americans.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Paraguay
Peace Corps/Paraguay works in the five major projects of agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, and health. The focus of the agriculture sector is to increase farm productivity and crop diversification of small-scale farmers while ensuring sustained food crop availability for families. Peace Corps/Paraguay‘s agriculture Volunteers work in two areas: crop extension and beekeeping extension. Crop extension Volunteers assist farmers in implementing new agricultural practices related to vegetable production, soil conservation, pest management, small animal husbandry, and the marketing of new products. Beekeeping extension Volunteers address crop diversification and promote beekeeping as a viable option for income generation. Beekeeping has proved to be a suitable project for any family member, including single mothers, who are often the poorest of the poor. Agriculture Volunteers work mainly with extension agents and representatives from different agencies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Paraguay suffers from an alarming rate of unemployment and underemployment. Peace Corps/Paraguay‘s community economic development project works to create jobs and increase incomes for low-income Paraguayans by providing technical training and assistance to small business owners, promoting entrepreneurship among urban and suburban youth, and helping families to better use their resources. The Volunteers work with committees, associations, youth groups, and cooperative education committees to strengthen local capacity in the areas of management, accounting, marketing, finance, entrepreneurship and educational programs. Volunteers in this sector also help community groups work well with their municipalities and work with civil society organizations, neighborhood commissions, associations, schools and high schools—whether they are connected with their local government or not. This helps to increase community members‘ organizational management and planning capacity, as Volunteers build leadership and use dynamic and participatory methodology of teaching in the classroom setting.
Peace Corps/Paraguay‘s environmental education and conservation sector has been encouraging environmental awareness in local communities throughout Paraguay for nearly 30 years. The overall vision of the sector is to raise awareness of environmental issues in Paraguay in the communities where we work and to provide practical solutions to local environmental problems at a local level, while also offering tools for sustainable development. Environmental themes addressed by the sector Volunteers are in the areas of deforestation/reforestation, soil conservation, diversification of farm use, garbage management, nature appreciation and home gardens, among others. Main community contacts are community leaders, agriculturalists, local teachers, school principals, youth groups, and women‘s groups. Volunteers work in schools, with farm families and, at the community level, through local groups and commissions. The environmental sector Volunteers‘ work complements the on-going efforts of the government of Paraguay (Ministries of Education, Environment, Tourism, and Forestry) and NGOs (e.g., Guyra, WWF, Procosara).
The goal of Peace Corps/Paraguay‘s rural health and sanitation project is to improve the infant, child, and maternal health of rural Paraguayans. Volunteers promote preventive health care and sponsor seminars on maternal and child care for village nurses, parents, and community members. Additionally, Volunteers work in schools to promote improved hygiene and dental health. Volunteers also work in select communities promoting HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. Finally, Volunteers work with the protection and decontamination of water sources, latrine construction, and the excavation of garbage pits. The Peace Corps‘ health project counterpart is the Ministry of Health and Welfare.
Until 2010, the education sector consisted of two projects: early elementary education, which concentrated on formal education in rural areas, and urban youth development, which focused on nonformal education in urban areas. These sector projects are merging into one project in 2011, under the new name of education and youth development. The purpose of this project is to work with primary and secondary school principals, teachers, students, parents, and community leaders to strengthen basic reading and math, in addition to life skills and community service. The goal is to improve student performance and enable youth to become an active part of the community as empowered citizens. Besides working with early elementary education and the first cycle of primary school, this project will now reach second and third cycles, including secondary education teachers and students in school and community settings, to promote self-esteem building, leadership skills, and values for a healthy lifestyle. Skills that lead to a successful integration into the work world and active citizenship practices will be emphasized. Peace Corps‘ counterpart agencies for this project are the Ministry of Education, its dependent office for the Sub-Secretariat of Youth, and several NGOs.
In addition to the major projects mentioned above, Peace Corps/Paraguay has four initiatives that cut across project lines and provide secondary work opportunities for Volunteers in all project areas: information and communications technology (ICT), HIV/AIDS education and prevention, youth development, and gender and development.