Tuesday, April 7, 2009

My most recent World Wise Schools letter to an eighth grade class

March 23, 2009

Dear Mrs. Valentine’s Eighth Graders,

It is great to hear from all of you; to learn your nicknames, your likes, what is happening with school, sports, the play, the science fair, your artist papers, etc.! It’s important for me to stay connected to life back in the States because sometimes I get wrapped up in my life here and don’t realize how out of the loop I am!

When I was in eighth grade St. Mary’s didn’t have a softball team! I played basketball from fifth to eighth grade; eighth grade was my favorite year of basketball. How was the St. Mary’s of Ohio tournament? I remember it so well! I loved going to watch my brother play in it and also participating in it myself. Unfortunately my eighth grade year we lost to St. Mary’s German Village. I fouled out but scored 17 points. It’s nice to hear that some of you have nicknames on your sports teams; jokes and nicknames make being on a team special and fun. When I was in fifth grade I only scored one point in basketball, ha ha. I also played volleyball in sixth and seventh grade. In the fall of eighth grade I ran cross-country for St. Michael’s in Worthington. I went to Watterson, where I ran cross country for four years, track for two years, and basketball for two years. I still enjoy running to this day; I even ran two marathons when I was in college. I also was in the spring musical, Fiddler on the Roof, when I was a senior.

My favorite animal is a tie among manatees, turtles and monkeys. I saw monkeys in Paraguay in an agricultural school not far from my house. I have also seen leopards, tapirs, carpinchos, pumas and different classes of birds and monkeys that are in danger of extinction. I saw the latter animals in a zoo near the border of Brazil and Argentina, close to the Itaipu dam on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. Most of those animals are not found as much in the wild anymore because people over hunt them.

I actually never did science fair, either! It sounds like you all came up with unique and interesting projects. If I had to do a science fair project I would do it on why/how different types of music affect brain activity or why/how different scents affect brain activity and emotions. With regard to your artist essays, two of my favorite artists is Pieter van Bruguel and Bosch; I think they were Flemish painters. I like Northern Renaissance style paintings because they are so realistic like photographs. Caravaggio is also a great painter; when I studied abroad in Madrid I had the opportunity to see some of his works in the Prado museum. Elizabeth, for your essay you can write key points that you will expand upon on a separate sheet of paper, in a brainstorm or outline. Write a sentence that summarizes the main ideas that you will talk about in the body of your essay, and then use that as your guide. To add details to the body, return to your brainstorm or outline page and write down more notes/ideas that are more specific than the main ideas. Write down page numbers of quotes or information that you want to cite.

Most of the time its fun to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, but other times it’s difficult. [To clarify, Peace Corps is not a missionary program; our mission is not to evangelize. Peace Corps is not religiously affiliated.] The most difficult part is capacitating people to change their lives for the better and getting a native Paraguayan to assist me in the effort. The key word in the Peace Corps’ mission is sustainable: I am not meant to work here all by myself, me, the American on one side and the Paraguayans on the other side. Rather, I am meant to work alongside Paraguayans, motivating them to do things themselves. My purpose is to catalyze and facilitate rather than doing things for Paraguayans. They are perfectly capable of doing most things I could do for them themselves; the hardest part is convincing them of it! Have you ever heard the quote, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”? That is the philosophy of Peace Corps in a nutshell. Because our work does not call on us to do things for Paraguayans without requiring their participation, we work very slowly. We have to convince, persuade and talk. It takes a long time to make real, sustainable change. In the long run, sustainable change is the only real change. Think of it this way: I could have my friends and family send money from the States to build a library here in my site, but if there is no one in my site to be the librarian, to manage the books, to make sure leaks in the roofs and other maintenance problems are fixed, what good is it? It’s necessary that Paraguayans be invested in the long-term work and maintenance that an institution such as a library requires.

I don’t help out specific people or just families, but rather any one I can. To be honest, the people here help me out more than I help them because I am dependent on them to explain things to me when I get confused and don’t understand what’s in the food, how to prepare food, how to wash my clothes by hand, how to get to a certain store in Asuncion, the history of Paraguay, etc. It was like being a kid all over again when I arrived in Paraguay, because everything was new to me, and I still have to ask questions. Not as much anymore, but still I do. What’s strange now is that my town is so familiar; I feel like I have lived here for ages. I could find the spoons in the kitchen in the dark, I can unlock my front door in the dark, I know which convenience stores in town are the cheapest, I know which friend of mine has the best terere and makes the best birthday cake, where the best running routes are, where to get my bike tires inflated and where all of the schools are located. I know more people in town than some people who have lived in my town their whole life. Sometimes I realize all of a sudden how cool it is to feel comfortable in a place that was once foreign to me. When I first arrived, Paraguay was a foreign country, but now I can no longer call it foreign, in the sense that it is strange and that I don’t understand it. I learn more things about its culture everyday, but I have learned a lot about Paraguay in the nine or so months since I landed in Asuncion.

I have yet to get bored being in Paraguay; there are always new people to meet. The time is flying and there is so much that I still want to do, other volunteers I want to visit and other parts of Paraguay and South America that I want to see. I am always busy visiting schools, talking with teachers, visiting the municipality (the local city government) or giving final English exams. Every once in awhile there are meetings in Asuncion for Peace Corps, also keeping me occupied. Since my schedule is hardly fixed, I don’t get into a routine long enough to get bored, either. I would like a routine at this point in time, because it’s hard to be productive otherwise.

I do go to mass on Sundays, or on Saturday evenings in my site. The church is called Santa Rosa de Lima, or St. Rose of Lima. Maybe you have heard of her? There are also opportunities to play volleyball and soccer; there is no basketball court near my house, and basketball is not popular in my town. I have never seen anyone playing baseball here, either. I like to go jogging, play volleyball, do yoga and dance. I miss basketball a lot! My favorite color is royal blue and my favorite foods are mostly Italian foods, too. I love garlic and basil flavors. I also like Thai food and Ethiopian food. Guinea pigs have never touched my plate and as far as I know they are not customary in Paraguay. In parts of Asia it is more common to eat that. I will be coming back to Ohio in August for three weeks because my brother is getting married. Then I will come back to Paraguay for another year.

When I was getting ready to leave St. Mary’s to go to high school, I visited both Hayes and Watterson to see which would be a better fit for me. It was sad to leave St. Mary’s, especially because I loved my eighth grade year so much. However, I was excited for the the new subjects I would study in high school, the sports I would play and the people that I would meet. When I was in 8th grade, I was excited to learn Spanish in high school, because there were no foreign language classes required at St. Mary’s at the time. I always loved foreign languages, so in a way that foreshadowed that my life would lead to an international destination. Being a future Peace Corps volunteer did not enter my mind in eighth grade. I didn’t have a desire to do it until 2007. When I was in the airport on the way to Paraguay, it finally hit me how long I would be gone from the States, from my family and friends. I cried at that point, especially because my parents were crying, too. I didn’t cry up until then because I was too busy packing, saying good-byes and losing sleep because I had no idea how my life was going to change.

You all are lucky that you get to go to Washington DC! We went to Chicago my eighth grade year. It was fun, but Washington DC would have been more interesting to me. When are you going?

Take care and I will write again next month!


Karen Harmeyer
Peace Corps Volunteer, 2008-2010
Municipal Services Development
Paraguayan Chaco

P.S. – Thank you for sending the photos of your class :-).

P.P.S.- I have attached a few photos for you all as well.

1 comment:

  1. Awww, what a great letter. And you will be in Ohio in August!!!! Keep me posted, I would love to work something out so I can drive over and visit!