“Nostoros somos pobres, pero estamos lleno de carino. (We are poor, but we are filled with kindness).”
My host ‘abuela’ said this to me during my first week in rural Paraguay this past summer as a community development volunteer through an organization called Amigos de las Americas. I didn’t believe her at first because I thought being poor was stressful, especially in the U.S where there are many expensive bills to pay, and I thought that reaction to poverty wouldn’t be different anywhere else. I soon realized that material things such as running water, a TV, and electricity were of low importance to my host family and community, because as long as they had friends and family, they were the happiest people on the planet.
I began to believe this after two events. During my 4th day, my host family and I were sitting in a circle drinking mate and talking about why Michael Jackson became ‘white.’ My neighbors heard loud laughter coming from our house and decided to come join us. Then, two days after, I had my first of three barrio fiestas, a town celebration of catholic saints. As I walked timidly towards the town plaza, almost the entire town greeted me with hugs and kisses. I sat down and continued to talk over sausages and mandioca the whole day. After they included me into their circle of friends, I became more comfortable than when I walked in. Since they had their loved ones present demonstrated they had no other worries except for having fun. Unlike in the U.S where relaxing with friends isn’t emphasized, Paraguayan culture places a high importance on building friendships through sitting down and spending time with others.
As I became more immersed in the idea of being happy and building relationships, my work became more successful. The community entrusted me to teach their children at school, lead the construction of the latrines and Community Bridge, and even allowed me to kill their ducks for lunch. Even though I left early, the work kept going. I called my host family a week later, and everything was finished due to their strong beliefs in the projects and they’re trust in me because we were friends.
Although my community lived with the bare necessities, they were still able to live life to its fullest as well as work hard to accomplish goals. This experience enabled me to be grateful for the privileges I was blessed with here in the U.S. I remember taking a shower the first night back thanking my parents for providing me with the convenience of indoor plumbing, a bedroom, and all the material products they gave me. Not to mention paying for my college tuition: something my host parents could only dream about doing for their children. Along with that I now take time out of each day to relax and enjoy talking with friends because I learned that success stems from strong relationships with one another.
Also despite how many latrines I donated, classes I taught, and the bridge I “gave” to my community, the amount of love, affection, and lessons on life they returned will never be surpassed. From learning this amount of knowledge of another culture, I realized that I want to travel more in my career and learn about different places to gain a broader perspective on life.
My sister noticed a change in me the day after I arrived home and asked me why I seemed content. I thought for a moment and replied in Spanish, “Hermana, Estoy lleno de carino (Sister, I am filled with kindness).”
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