Meeting our sponsored child, Fabiola
Trip Start Feb 07, 2006
38Trip End Aug 07, 2006
Make sure to check out Andrea's Travel Blog for more stories and photos of our trip!
Touch down in Paraguay
Flying into Paraguay we noticed a stark difference even before touching down. From high above, our window seat revealed that the terrain had drastically changed. Paved streets were now red dirt streets. A sea of concrete buildings were now lush green fields speckled with red roofed houses.
This was Paraguay, and the capital at that: Asuncion.
We were in Paraguay to first visit a child which I'd been sponsoring since 2003
I'd been in communication with Plan for at least a year arranging our visit. We'd wanted to do much more than just visit and had requested if we could volunteer in her community as well.
Although this wasn't something that they typically did, much to our content, they were happy to accommodate us.
Plan set us up in a very nice ( and cheap too! ) hotel in Asuncion. A tiny place with clean rooms and best of all, 2 pools with mini water falls draining into them. After spending a night in the concrete jungle of Sao Paulo, we were in heaven!
The yard was a shady area where parrots sang, fruit trees provided large shaded areas and lizards basket in the warm sun.
A few lazy hours by the pool catching up on sleep seemed to be just what the doctor ordered to get over our jet lag and we were more than happy to do just that
Once our strength had been regained, we decided to wander down to the Super Mercado ( Super market ) to sample some local delights which is always fun.
The market was much like in Canada, clean and big with the major difference being the price!
Andrea was in fruit heaven here. We loaded up the cart with:
- 1 x mango
- 1 x pineapple
- 1 x pack of crackers
- 1 x small bottle of Cana ( local alcohol made of sugar cane and brutally strong! )
- 1 x papaya
- 4 x buns
- 4 x slices of ham
- 4 x slices of cheese
- 2 x big bottles of water
- 1 x bottle of juice
- 2 x yoghurts
- 1 x large squeezable packet f mustard
For a grand total of $4 USD
Back at the hotel we feasted in our comfortable rooms, watched an old movie I had brought on my laptop, popped half of a sleeping pill each and slept slept slept.
Volunteering Day 1 - Plan Paraguay - Making a real change.
It was a fresh new day and it was time to meet my sponsored Child, Edith, or as we would later find out, Fabiola as she's called.
Augusto, a Plan employee and a soon to become friend, picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the Plan office. The office was based out of a gorgeous old mansion in central Asuncion which they'd just recently moved into.
"You see, you're a bit of a pioneer" Chuck, the white haired and obviously seasoned chief of Plan Paraguay told us during our 2 hour briefing.
"Many people come to visit their sponsored children but no one has ever asked to stay and volunteer, so we're not quite prepared for this."
Chuck had spent 20 years working for organizations like Plan in various countries and was set to retire in the coming year. Right from our first chat with Chuck and several other senior Plan employees it became very clear that Plan was making a real difference here
Plan's objective was to make local communities self sufficient. By training, educating, providing better, cleaner and safer facilities, Plan was helping over 22,000 children in underprivileged regions of Paraguay. Plan was also the largest organization of it's type in the country. Fabiola, was in San Pedro, a community which was extremely poor and in exceptionally bad condition 5 years before Plan targeted the community for assistance. Plan didn't aim to stay in a community for ever, they always planned to leave and move on to other communities once they had helped to a point of stability and could leave ongoing care to local cooperatives.
We would later find out that Plan would move out of Fabiola's community in roughly 2010 when their work was done. Considering that clean drinking water had just been installed in her community 2 months before we arrived, there was still quite a bit of work to do.
Chuck went on to show us a schedule they'd put together for our stay, it was perfect. Activities such as picking cotton in the fields with the family, helping with house chores and their farm animals, assisting with local Plan activities such as photographing children to send photos to sponsors and making presentations to the local school were all laid out in a neat schedule for us.
In exchange, Chuck asked us to thinking deeply about the issues in the communities and how they could be resolved. It was clear that eliminating poverty here was a complex issue with many facets
For example, Chuck explained that many children don't even have birth certificates which limits their opportunities. Plan launched a program to train mid-wives to register newborns for a certificate to help solve this problem.
Other issues such as government financial support, corruption, land ownership and the availability of good road and clean facilities plagued the country. Many of these issues were not obvious at first glance and that's exactly why Chuck wanted us to put serious thought into the situation and to write up our impressions to leave behind.
Chuck also asked that we make notes on how they could improve our volunteering experience so that they could make this possible for others should they want to.
After our chat, we saw the rest of the operation. One room contained many boxes where gifts arrived and letters from sponsors were translated and sorted for delivery. The entire process of sending a gift to a child was a lengthy one, to the point of actually having to deliver the gifts themselves
Because the poorest of communities do not even have addresses, let alone mail, Plan had setup a delivery system to bring packages to the children.
Overall, it seemed to be a well staffed, well organized and well run system which Plan was running in Paraguay.
After leaving the office, we headed for Guica. into San Pedro province where, Fabiola's village was. Within a few minutes drive, paved roads and luxury residences vanished, in their place, small shacks and fields speckled the country side.
Augusto, our English speaking Plan representative, explained that in Paraguay, the middle class was almost non-existent. 90% of Paraguayans where very poor and the other 10% where very rich. Plan focused on helping not the sponsored children specifically but rather the children's communities by putting in clean water and other badly needed facilities which all residents benefited from.
Money from our monthly contributions, $30 USD, was never given to Fabiola or her family directly
By helping the entire community, they were making a real and more importantly, a lasting, change.
"That's her!" I could tell even before the van stopped.
When we arrived late in the afternoon at Fabiola's home, I was getting nervous. I didn't speak Spanish and had no idea what to expect.
We drove up the long muddy road leading to her home where the family sat in the yard waiting for us.
I spotted Fabiola's cute little face right away. We poured out of the van and slowly walked over to greet them.
"Ola" we said, to the family as the attention focused in on Fabiola.
She squirmed a little, half hidden behind her father
The family ushered Fabiola and her sister, Camilla, over to greet us and they relunctantly tip toed over to meet us with their chins shyly tucked in.
We weren't sure what was going on. Two little girls stood in front of us with their hands clasped together as if they were praying.
Augusto jumped in, "You have to do the sign of the cross" he said.
By now the girls had already started to scatter wondering why their new guests wouldn't even bless them as we should have done.
Apologetically, we restarted the process and did the sign of the cross towards them.
I have to admit, I'm not 100% kid-savvy, surely not as much as Andrea who teaches children back home. The first 5 minutes, which seemed like 1 hour were very awkward. We sat around, not able to speaking each other's language and stared across at each other.
Chickens and their tiny little chicks pecked at our feet and clucked all around us. It seemed that live stock lived amongst the families here. Pigs rummaged for food, their pony walked freely and stray cows wandered over into their yard from time to time as we sat flipping through our English to Spanish dictionary looking for things to say
We brought out some sweets and gifts we had bought in Canada which helped break a little ice.
"Let's play with the kids, play breaks any language barrier" Andrea suggested.
A seemingly simple idea which completely eluded me, thank God for Andrea! I picked up the Frisbee and we spent at least an hour tossing the disk around with the girls and other local kids who'd stopped in.
Between playing with the kids and a very long photo session, which the kids absolutely couldn't get enough of, the ice had successfully been completely broken.
The family's home
Their home was a very modest one. It consisted of one room with a straw roof, an attached kitchen with walls made of loose sticks contained a brick oven. The oven was a new addition. As with other projects, the oven was built by the locals ( the father in this case ) but the parts were purchased by Plan
The father and mother slept in one bed and next to them, in a second stray mat bed, slept Fabiola and her sister.
The yard was shared with the animals. A small water-well, was their main water supply before the Plan water-supply was installed 2 months before. Their home's well wasn't deep enough to provide clean water. Next to their well was the new clean water tap which they were happy to show us.
By the end of our visit we were exhausted and headed back to check into our modest hotel in Santani City a small town 1 km from Edith's home. Santani only had 2 hotels and compared to our digs in Asuncion, this place wasn't much to write home about. A bed made of a long piece of foam which would reek havoc on Andrea's back, a small TV and a closet. The shower had a heater mounted on it for hot water with electrical wires precariously dangling from the shower head.
It wasn't much, but it would do just fine.