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Benjamin D.

“The highlight of my service so far hasn’t necessarily been my accomplishments or projects but rather the relationships I’ve created with my host family and youth in my community.”

Person smiling at the camera.

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the world and the myriad of cultures to be found in it. I love history and experiencing the great collage of the world through travelling. My great uncle served with the Peace Corps in Cameroon in the early 70s, so I've always been aware of the Peace Corps. It launched him into a life-long career of working in international education and at USAID, among other things. After graduating from the University of Colorado-Boulder, I decided that Peace Corps was right for me to embark upon a similar career. After some COVID-imposed delays, I am finally lucky enough to be serving in Paraguay and couldn’t be happier.

2. What projects are you working on?

As a Community Economic Development Volunteer in Paraguay, my top focus is working in the school I’ve been assigned to ensure that the youth of my community are trained in entrepreneurship skills for their future. I do this through the course “Construye tus Sueños” that has been created by Peace Corps in partnership with the Paraguayan Ministry of Education. The course covers how to start your own business and the entrepreneurial skills necessary to do so. Alongside my community counterparts, we’ll begin to teach this course in the new school year that begins in February. I’ve also been preparing a public speaking course with one of my counterparts and planning to begin a savings groups with each grade year in the school to teach the importance of saving early on.

The project I’m most excited for this year is an inter-colegio micro-business competition that I’m currently planning alongside a fellow Volunteer in a nearby town. We plan to collaborate on developing lessons during the school year with a competition at the end of the year. We hope to give a prize that will enable winners to begin their own micro-business.

Outside of teaching business skills, I’ve also started English groups in the school I’ve been assigned as well in the community at large. In addition, I’ve informally been mentoring a few local women as they work to open a chicken supply business in the community. It’s great to sit with them, answer questions, and talk through the whole process of entrepreneurship!

Volunteer Ben D. standing in front of a class teaching.
Benjamin D. teaches in Paraguay.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community?

Tereré (yerba mate) is the national drink of Paraguay, and it’s also the number one way of socializing. When I arrived in my community, I decided to go around with my thermos full of water, and a guampa (gourd) filled with yerba mate and talk with everyone I met. I'd walk up to people at their house, sit down at the local soccer game, or go to the plaza ... it didn’t matter.

I also grew up playing and watching soccer, and it’s been a lifelong love of mine. Luckily, here in Paraguay soccer is quite popular as well. I play informally with friends two or three days a week. It’s been a great way for me to meet new people around the community and socialize. But strategy #1 has always been to never say “no” to any kind of community event or opportunity to meet people, whatever or wherever that may be.

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

The highlight of my service so far hasn’t necessarily been my accomplishments or projects but rather the relationships I’ve created with my host family and youth in my community. My host family has asked me to participate in graduations, birthdays, Christmas celebrations, help with homework, and even assist with the swearing-in ceremony of my host sister to the volunteer firefighting group. With students in my community, it’s great to be invited for tereré, asked for advice, and given random gifts. I was even invited to escort one student to receive his graduation diploma. It was difficult to hold back emotions at times.

It really is rewarding to see that my service affects the people around me, even if it isn’t through my official activities as a Volunteer. My experience has helped me understand the true objectives of my service and what should count as a measure of success in a way that I didn’t expect but have come to value highly.

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

My community, while not a large town by American standards, is a relatively large community for Paraguay outside of the greater Asunción metro area. Because of that, I get the best of both worlds living here. I have no problem getting all the essentials, but at the same time, I’m only minutes away from untouched nature and much smaller communities if I want to have that experience as well.

My community is also full of history. As a history nut, I've enjoyed living in a community with a church that has existed nearly intact since the earliest days of European colonization, the house of the founder of the country, and a location that is the origin of many of the native Guaraní myths. Community members all show great pride when explaining these things to me when asked, and it’s always a treat to watch their faces as they do.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

One thing you learn quickly in Paraguay is that there is a different sense of time here. A 3 o'clock meeting doesn’t necessarily mean at 3 o’clock.

I’ve also learned that there are some things that may be more important than being hyper-efficient at work. Maybe a lunch with the family and spending time together talking should take on more importance than some other things. Perhaps some accomplishments, like a graduation, should be celebrated for what they are, instead of merely as a steppingstone to the next thing. You could say that the most important things I’ve learned aren’t hard skills, but rather a different way of viewing this thing we call life.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?

When not working on my projects, you can find me in my house tending to my budding vegetable and herb garden, drinking tereré while practicing the guitar, or at large in the community. If I’m not playing soccer, I might be at a local comedor (ice cream parlor), visiting my host family, or enjoying what the community has to offer. Being from Colorado and the mountains, I love climbing the local cerro and enjoying the view—of course, with an ice-cold thermos for tereré.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

I can’t wait to see what the new year of school is like, and helping students in my school through the year, now that we are all familiar with each other. I’m very much looking forward to realizing the inter-colegio competition with my fellow Volunteer this coming school year. We hope it will be a model that can be followed by other Community Economic Development Volunteers in Paraguay in the future. I’ve been to many places already, but I also am excited to see more of the country in my remaining time here—the Chaco, Encarnacion, and my fellow Volunteer’s sites, among others. Paraguay really is a beautiful country.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

First, and most important, I will be bringing the national drink of Paraguay, tereré back with me and making that a normal part of my life. I’ll also return from service with a different understanding, and acceptance, of different lifestyles. Perhaps I’ll approach things in my life with a more “tranquilopa” attitude as well. My experience with the Peace Corps has also reinforced my commitment to international work—whether that be continued public service, an NGO, or something else. Peace Corps has shown me that I am in the right place, doing the right thing.