Tapeapóvo is Guarani for hacer camino. Hacer camino is Spanish for something like to take a trip. This was the title for our technical session today. We had something like a professional scavenger hunt in Asunción. We were split into groups of two and then given a slip of paper with the name of two organizations, their respective addresses, what they do, and questions to asks and materials to gather. Then we had to make our way to the capital city, accomplish our mission, get some lunch and make it to the Peace Corps office by 1:00 PM. I was paired with Dina, a 50 or 60 something, married Municipal Services Development trainee. She’s awesome. She came to Paraguay with her husband, Arthur. They are seriously a cool couple. For example, they bought a sailboat and left the states for like 5 years to sail around Mexico, the Caribbean, and Panama. They got jobs in Panama to make some money and ended up living there for a little while. Anyway, being that Dina and I are somewhat seasoned travelers, we had no problem finding our destinations. First we went to Decidamos, which is an NGO (non-governmental organization) which provides various training materials and trainings to groups that are working to fight for human rights, increase citizen participation in local government, increase transparency, and fight against government corruption. They basically have all these little workbooks that someone can use to give seminars on various topics. They provide the workbooks for a small fee and will send out a volunteer to facilitate the seminar as long as there are at least 40 people in attendance. They won’t be a very valuable resource to me as an economic development Volunteer but would be very valuable to the Municipal Services group. Next we went to another NGO, but they were in the middle of planning a big forum, so we didn’t have the opportunity to question them. I did, however, manage to get a business card and a brochure out of them.
Next we made our way to the Peace Corps office. We wanted to just find the location and then go grab a bite to eat. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so we started walking down the street to find something to eat. I was hoping to run across a Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, even McDonald’s....wishful thinking. We ran into two other volunteers, who said they were going to this market to eat but that there was a mall a little less than a mile away. I wanted to change some money and get something resembling American food. I had the feeling that Dina probably wouldn’t want to walk that far so I suggested she go with the other two and we could meet back up at the Peace Corps office. I found a super nice bank, where I changed some dollars, which gets a great exchange rate here not to mention the low cost of living. Then I was off to find the mall, which hopefully would have some American fast food. I found that, and the closest I got to good American food, was a Pizza place. It was pretty dang delicious given the fact that I hadn’t had anything particularly tasty by this point. I had three pieces left over, so I brought them with me. I was running late so I hightailed it back to the Peace Corps Office. On the way this boy on the street approached me and wanted some Pizza...I’ll leave you to wonder what I did but keep in mind that I am in the Peace Corps!
I made it to the Peace Corps office with time to kill. The Peace Corps office is not at all like I imagined it to be, but it is cool nonetheless. It is a compound of buildings surrounded by a big, brick wall with barbed wire on top. To get in you have to go through this tiny guard office and pass through a metal detector. Of course you have to provide appropriate ID, which is a card issued to us by Peace Corps. That kind of felt pretty cool. I felt important. Haha. We debriefed the experience and shared information about the places we visited. We were registered with the State Department to give us access to the computers and Internet. We were given a tour of the library, which I have to be honest was less than impressive. The library was small, looked outdated, and had one employee, which has worked there for like 30 years. There is like 5 computers. There was one resource I was really interested in but it is kind of useless since you have to travel to Asuncion to access it, and it is housed in a few file cabinets, so it makes it incredibly difficult to quickly sift through a lot of information in order to find the exact thing you need. It would be great if they would scan it all and put it online in a searchable database. I think Peace Corps would do well to invest in host country libraries and even more so internet-based, internal knowledge sharing and collaboration tools. The problem is that we operate with a tiny budget. Peace Corps represents one percent of the foreign operations budget (about 343.5 million dollars in 2009). I was shocked to find out that our budget equals something like what is spent in a day in Iraq. If we were given even 5 percent of what is spent on the military, we could probably do some amazing things. Anyway, after the library tour we had had a session with our APCD (Associate Peace Corps Director) and her support staff concerning site selection methodology. It was really pretty inside the compound. It was kind of cool to see Obama’s picture front in center in the main Peace Corps office.