Award-winning Government/Plan II graduate, Julie Wimmer, finds adventure and challenges in Paraguay
Posted: April 8, 2008
I arrived in Paraguay in February, 2006, to begin an 11-week program of training in spoken and written Spanish and Guarani (I had the luck to be assigned to the only officially bilingual country in Latin America), the history, economics, and cultural norms of Paraguay, and technical training in the area of youth development. I also lived with a wonderful Paraguayan host family who was patient with me as I stumbled through countless linguistic and cultural mistakes.
Along with about 30 of my fellow trainees, I swore in as a Volunteer on April 21, 2006 and moved to the community of Caazapa, a departmental capital city of around 10,000, for the duration of my 24 months of service. Upon arriving in my new community, I conducted several months of participatory community analysis, utilizing such techniques as neighborhood surveys, observations of youth in schools and community groups, roundtable discussions with teachers and other community leaders, and community mapping. Based on the results of this analysis, I centered my work in three areas: vocational education, health promotion, and life skills development.
Some of the projects I worked on included a College Fair and Career Day event for area junior-high and high-schoolers; a youth-led civic education campaign in preparation for municipal elections; a series of workshops on reproductive health and HIV/AIDS awareness, as well as a peer-education HIV/AIDS awareness youth group; a mentorship program benefitting local at-risk middle-school students; training teachers in participatory didactic techniques regarding basic health practices like dental health, nutrition, and parasite prevention; summer health and leadership camps for youth; and various classes for students and teachers on techniques for the promotion of self-esteem, values, goal-setting, and other important life skills.
Apart from my actual work as a Volunteer, one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Volunteer are the personal challenges and successes inherent to the experience: learning to function in 2 foreign languages; integrating into a new community; learning the societal norms and subtleties of a culture wildly different from my own; drinking traditional teas like tereré and mate; taking public transportation that makes the 40 Acres bus look like a limousine; adjusting to the a climate that makes Texas summers look mild; living life at the rhythm of those around me; appreciating the kindness and hospitality of strangers who eventually became like family.
I will finish my Peace Corps service on April 18, 2008, and, after traveling around South America, will return to Texas in the summer for a few months of reintegration (I've been out of the country so long I barely even know what YouTube is) before migrating North to begin law school at Harvard in the fall.