Peace Corps History 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 now 40 years later, an average of 90 Volunteers arrive annually.
Today, approximately 160 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. See tables
The Peace Corps Context: The Agency, the Volunteers
Peace Corps is an organization from the Government of the United States of America. Its origin dates back to the presidency of John F. Kennedy. The Peace Corps was created by Executive Order on March 1, 1961. Since then thousands of Volunteers have had the daily opportunity to serve in diverse development programs in Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Pacific.
The Peace Corps' mission has three simple goals:
Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
Who are Peace Corps Volunteers?
Any American citizen between 21 and 80 years old with technical skills can be a Volunteer. The individual characteristics of the Volunteers vary extensively in their beliefs, traditions, racial origin, and personalities. The basic and essential condition is they have to live inside a community and to work with its members. The Volunteers receive three months of training before initiating their service. In this period, they study both languages, Spanish and Guarani, they learn about cultural aspects of Paraguay, and receive technical orientation. After this, they move to their assignment sites, where they live and they work for 2 years.
During their first months of service, they have to live with Paraguayan families; some remain with those families during their 2 years, while others prefer to live independently. Peace Corps provides its Volunteers with a modest living allowance for their food, lodging, internal trips and other basic expenses, so that they live like the as members of their communities.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Paraguay
Peace Corps/Paraguay has projects in agriculture, education, the environment, health, municipal services, rural economic development, and urban youth development.
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 sector Volunteers work in two projects: 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 the issue of 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. The Peace Corps’ counterpart agency is the Dirección de Extensión Agraria within the Ministry of Agriculture.
Paraguay suffers from an alarming rate of unemployment and underemployment. Peace Corps/Paraguay’s rural economic development project works to create jobs and increase incomes for low-income Paraguayans by providing technical training and assistance to small business owners, rural farmers associations and rural cooperatives. They work to strengthen local capacity in the areas of management, accounting, marketing, savings and loan services, educational programs, and administrative and organizational functions.
The municipal services development project began in 1999 to address needs that have arisen as national reforms have led to greater government decentralization. For the first time, local governments have more responsibility, greater fiscal resources, and the potential to improve public services in their communities. As part of this project, Volunteers work with municipal governments to improve the planning and delivery of services to underserved communities.
The environment sector promotes the conservation and sustainable use of Paraguay’s rapidly declining natural resources through an agroforestry project and an environmental education project. Environmental education Volunteers assist elementary teachers in integrating environmental education into their regular curricula and into community-based projects, as mandated by the country’s educational reforms. Volunteers also promote the incorporation of environmentally sound practices and activities in their respective communities. Agroforestry Volunteers help small-scale farmers implement soil conservation practices and promote farmer-to-farmer interchange as both a motivator and to spread the adoption of new practices. The Peace Corps’ counterpart agencies in this sector include the Ministry of Education and Culture, the Ministry of Agriculture, and several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
The goal of Peace Corps/Paraguay’s rural health and sanitation project is to improve 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. They also focus on 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.
The education sector consists of two projects: early elementary education, which concentrates on formal education in rural areas; and urban youth development, which focuses on nonformal education in urban areas. The goals of the early elementary education project are to improve the basic skills (reading, writing, math) and health of Paraguayan children during their most formative school years—kindergarten through third grade—through teacher training and support. Elementary education Volunteers train teachers in improved teaching methods and promote a gender-neutral environment, which, in turn, improves the reading, writing and math skills of Paraguayan boys and girls. The Peace Corps’ counterpart agency in this project is the Ministry of Education.
The urban youth development project helps at-risk youth build their self-esteem, better integrate into their communities, and strengthen their employability. Urban youth development Volunteers live and work in marginal urban areas. They involve at-risk youth in educational programs and activities that promote and foster leadership and the development of job skills. Peace Corps/Paraguay’s counterpart agencies in this project include the Subsecretary of Youth of the Ministry of Education and Culture and a number of 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.