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When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Appear

Bernadette Zayas Lorenzo

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” the old saying goes. As I slept fitfully underneath my sleeping bag, I awoke to the sounds of thunder, bright lightning, and rain that was soaking Barrio San Josè, the community in Paraguay where I was serving as a Volunteer from 1996 to 1998. Finally, it was 8:00 a.m. and time to wake up. My purpose for the day was to teach a group of mothers in my community how to make suero oral. This was a rehydration drink used to treat dehydration caused by anything from sunstroke to diarrhea. Dehydration results when the body loses more fluids than it takes in. It can happen with severe diarrhea, especially when there is vomiting as well. It can also happen when a person is seriously ill, too sick to take much food or liquid. Dehydration develops more quickly and is most dangerous in small children. The rehydration drink replaces crucial fluids and electrolytes lost due to diarrhea, vomiting, and other illness. Teaching the mothers how to make suero oral would make a difference.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. As a rural health educator, my job was not only to understand my community and encourage people to adopt behaviors that promoted health and prevent illness, but also to understand the cultural views and socio-political context in which they operated. After having been in Paraguay for 15 months, I realized that the rain meant everything would come to a halt. In the Paraguayan countryside, when it rains, it pours, and everything comes to a standstill. This was especially true in the campo (countryside) where the roads turned into muddy rivers and public transportation became nonexistent. There would be no buses today to take the people into the neighboring town of Mallorquin where most did their grocery shopping. Community meetings and school classes would be cancelled. The red dirt road in front of my thatched-roofed house became impassable.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I knew that no one would show up at my meeting. I did not even try to go out of my house, and I resigned myself to drinking maté (traditional Paraguayan tea) all afternoon long. Still, I was determined to make a difference. I thought to myself if only I could teach one person to make suero oral, the rehydration drink, that could make a difference.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The student came in the form of a 10-year-old boy: my neighbor, Rigoberto, walking his bicycle in the pouring rain as he passed by my house. “Bernie! Bernie!” he called out to me. “Can I come inside your house?” Rigoberto asked.

Ndaipori problema, come on in!” I answered. As he came inside my house, I had my Aha! moment. I could, at least, teach Rigoberto how to make suero oral. I sat him down on my old rickety wooden chair and proceeded to teach him in my not-so-fluent Guaranì and Spanish. (Guaranì is the indigenous language of the Paraguayans, spoken in the campo; Spanish is the official language of Paraguay.) I explained what dehydration was, its symptoms, and how important it was to replace the fluids and electrolytes that the body loses because of diarrhea, vomiting, or other illness.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. For 15 minutes, I instructed Rigoberto on how to make suero oral. “OK, Rigoberto,” I told him. “We will need 1 liter of boiled and cooled water; 8 teaspoons of sugar; 1 teaspoon of fine, iodized salt; and the juice from 1 lemon. Mix all of these together until all granules have dissolved,” I continued. “Place in a clean, covered container and get the child to take in as much as possible.” (Coincidentally, the numbers in the ingredients—1811—were also the year Paraguay gained its independence from Spain, so that became a mnemonic for Rigoberto to remember how to make suero oral.) After the rain stopped, our lesson over, he went on his merry way.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Two weeks later, Rigoberto’s mother, Doña Carmen, approached me as I passed by her house. She told me how her 10-month-old baby had been sick with severe diarrhea and how Rigoberto had taught her to make suero oral so the baby wouldn’t get dehydrated. I was ecstatic! Though I hadn’t been able to teach that group of mothers that rainy afternoon as I’d intended and hoped, I had been able to teach someone, and that had made a difference. Opportunities to teach—and to make a difference—can come in many ways, as Rigoberto showed me that rainy afternoon in Paraguay.

Bernadette Zayas Lorenzo (Paraguay)

Bernadette Zayas Lorenzo served as a rural health extension Volunteer in Paraguay from 1996-1998. She earned a master of arts degree in political science through the Peace Corps Fellows/USA Program at Illinois State University in 2001.

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