Early on in my time here I wrote an entry about the garbage dump in O’Leary, and what a struggle it is for the community to manage. Around that time I received an email from one of my bosses that had a link to an application for a $1,000 grant for environmental youth projects in Latin America. The grant was through a program called Amigos por el Mundo, a philanthropic branch of the Disney Company. The application was pretty lengthy, and took a lot of time to complete. The hardest part was that Mike and I had absolutely no idea what they money would go towards? Some of the examples of previous projects included things like buying trees or water resource cleanup initiatives. Having already finished the solicitation for our tree-planting project, only 250 left now that I mention it, we were pretty stumped. We thought of doing a recycling project, but the logistics of that were challenging because we weren’t sure who could buy and transport the recycled materials to a recycling plant the closest one being an hour away. We thought of making a playground out of recycled materials as well, but felt we lacked the expertise, and had no idea how we could spend $1,000 for that kind of project. However, that train of thought pushed us to take a closer look at the garbage situation in O’Leary as a whole.
|Jóvenes Emprendedores with some of their Sponsors|
A couple of the members of Jóvenes Enprendedores are the children of the Secretary of the Municipality of O’Leary. On several occasions he had mentioned something about trash management and the dump, but considering the amount of money needed to make a significant change to the way the dump is operated ruled out the idea of making the dump more environmentally friendly. I am not sure who mentioned it, but after about a week of brainstorming we sort of combined aspects of all the ideas to create our project called “O’Leary Verde.” The idea was to use the money towards the purchase of 21 metal garbage bins that would go around the town, and would be collected by the trash pickup service. We would also build 6 recycling bins that have separate containers for metal, plastic, and paper to be put in front of major institutions in the town like the schools, the municipality, and the local community college. We also recognized that plastic bags are the biggest challenge in keeping the trash at bay within the community. We figured if we made cloth grocery bags that the local grocery stores could distribute after a purchase of a certain amount that maybe we could get people to bring their reusable bags more than the plastic ones. That is an idea that has grown pretty popular in the states, but in Paraguay it hasn’t quite reached that level because of how useful plastic bags can be for things other than carrying groceries. Who knows if it will actually work, but it seems like a win win for both the grocery stores who won’t have to spend as much money buying plastic bags, and for the consumers not having a massive surplus in their homes that too often then not end up somewhere in the streets or fields. We also had plans to do a community wide clean up and make t-shirts as incentive in participating. Lastly, we said that we would get local support by asking the group’s sponsors to participate by donating money, resources, or volunteering, on the days we are doing clean ups or presentations in the schools.
We spent a lot of time writing the application and getting it checked over. We submitted it around mid April and were told that we would find out in the beginning of June. Well, the beginning of June came and went and we were still missing a response either one way or the other. I had pretty much put the idea out of my head that we were going to get it. Then on the 29th of June around 11:30 at night we got an email confirming that we had been one of the projects selected to receive the $1,000. I couldn’t believe it! I knew we had a shot, but had no idea how competitive it was going to be. The celebration was sweet, but kind of short lived because now comes the hard part of getting the actually project from paper to reality. This isn’t going to be easy whatsoever mainly because we have to have it totally finished by September 30th. Mike will be leaving on August 19th, which leaves little time for us to collaborate with each other. I hope we can get most of it done before he leaves, but I know that is going to be a challenge given the time needed to get all the materials together. The good news is that we won, and the kids in the youth group seem really excited about the opportunity. I am sure there will be plenty more to talk about this in the future, but for now we are just happy at the opportunity.
That is what is going on in the work world for now. All the schools in Paraguay are now on winter vacation, which means no school for 2 weeks. In some ways I am happy about that considering all the upcoming work we have with the O’Leary Verde project, but I still am struggling to hit my stride when it comes to a consistent schedule at the school. I am teaching English, doing supplementary work with the garden, and ramping up the library project. Nevertheless, all those projects haven’t occupied my full attention since coming to site. Recently I did have a really successful presentation about my ideas for the library secession with Claudio, which is leading towards a grant application. The school has started doing work to prepare the empty building on the school grounds to make it part tool shed and part library. There are numerous organizations that I can solicit to donate books, but a few of them don’t pay for shipping, so that is where the grant comes in. I will be sure to mention more about this in the future, but for now it is just nice that the community is on board. I’ll have plenty of time over the next few weeks to work on the grant, and collaborate with Kristin who sadly is leaving the 29th of this month.
In the meantime I still struggle with my house. A few weeks ago I woke up to find that there was a dead cat in my kitchen that had frozen to death. It wasn’t fun getting it out of the house one bit. Of late, I have come to discover the many intricacies of my water pump. It will not pump water when it is too hot, sometimes it won’t pump anything for days until I pull in all the way out of the well then lower it back it. When it does flow it is at a very slow rate that takes a long time to fill the tank. The most frustrating problem of being a homeowner in Paraguay has unquestionably been my electricity. The best word to describe the system is shoddy. 2 wires with metal hooks are attached to the main power line that runs down the small road close to where I live. They are about 9 meters up in the air, which means every time there is a strong gust of wind, a truck, or frankly whenever wants to it goes out. That means I take a 10-meter bamboo poll to the road to fiddle with the wires in order to reestablish the connection. It is quite the site to see, and when I first moved into my house every time it happened I would have to get a neighbor to help me out. That was until I actually saw what they were doing, and realized I could do the same. There have been many occasions that I have tried to make the connection secure, but I always run into the same problem. No one has a ladder tall enough to make it stay better. It is really frustrating that I cannot seem to figure out how to make the connection more stable. Maybe someone can help me out one of these days, but until then I sort of just have to deal with it.
My personal garden is making slow progress as well. Due to a lack of time I have spent far less time than I would want to building the fence and planting the things in my garden. I am not too far from completing the fence, but I still have about a third left before I can successfully finish it. Overall, things are good. The only sad stuff comes from the departure of my site mates Kristin and Mike who will both be gone by mid August. There is a chance that Mike will get a follow up volunteer for his community especially because of the recent developments with the Disney grant, but it won’t be the same at all without them. The coming realization that 2 people close to you are leaving has been one of the most challenging parts of my service thus far. The ability to walk to fellow volunteer’s house, speak in English, and collaborate on projects is amazing. It has made my first 6 months in site seem like it went by in the blink of an eye. I’ll probably have more opportunities to write about stuff before they leave, but I think seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of their service is crazy to me. I am sure I will go through a similar series of emotions when I am in their shoes, but for now I am sort of just plugging along. I still have a long time left to complete my service, so I wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors.