Peace Corps

Michigan Tech University's Master's International Program in Forestry

About the People

Kristen Rahn Thrall

Visual Arts major, Albion College

Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay

Thesis: Cultural Assessment of Reforestation Practices in Rural Eastern Paraguay [pdf format]

November 19, 1998

"To start out with, I am writing on a computer that has a screen that continuously shuts off. So far, everything is going well. I am looking forward to the end of training, end of rigorous structured schedule, etc. A few of us in our training group have put together a band, of sorts. I brought my violin, Alec has a banjo, and others have guitars and harmonicas. We are working on learning Guarani music. Our first challenge was learning the bus schedule to Aregua. But we now have that figured out and the blue rackety "ESTEPHANIA" bus with the broken window, dashboard covered with stickers (including Master Card and Visa) as well as plastic dolls and stuffed animals taped with metallic ribbon, is our friend. The bus driver honks his horn like mad, plays funky cachaka music and takes random breaks to hang out with his friends.


There are 36 trainees, 9 in agroforestry. Each group is located in their own communities, with a main satellite training center one bus ride away (when it is working) in Arequa. We are only the second group of volunteers to live in the community of Koque Guasu (big field), and the families that we are living with are wonderful in helping learn both languages.

Learning the dances of Paraguay in Peace Corps training.

Technical training started out really slow and I felt like I didn't learn much new information until week 3. Usually we spend half the day in language class and half in technical or general development training. It is really intense - Mon.-Fri. 7:45 to 5, and Sat. 8 to 11:30. The technical topics we have covered are as follows:

  • No-Till Farming
  • Grafting of citrus and roses (including actually grafting)
  • Green manure -including planting and management (spp. macuna, pigeon pea, canavalia)
  • Gardening - we have started a small demo. garden. We are required to have one at our home when we are volunteers.
  • Tree nurseries - We have started a small nursery as well to use as a future seed source.
    Agriculture calendar in Paraguay
  • Agroforestry Systems - in particular, intercropping, alley cropping, live fenceposts, agrosylvopastoral systems.
  • Extension Methodology
  • Curvas- erosion barriers built on slopes. We actually constructed one, made A-levels to mark it, and planted with green manures.
  • Citrus Production- we talked about diseases and pruning.
  • Pruning, Planting methods- (bare root, tacone, stake, black bags) We actually practiced pruning and planting methods.

Kristen with an A-level.

Other training activities

  • Community Counterpart Project
    We each are paired up with counterparts in our communities. We are supposed to plan a project with them and then present them at the end. We only work with them five or six times with 3-4 hours at a time. In my opinion, this is not nearly enough time to plan a sustainable project, so I have just been working with him in his fields, learning the names of the trees, working on the language, talking with him about his farming practices, and learning more about the "tranquilo" lifestyle here. So far I have learned a lot. Farmers usually don't cover the soil around their crops, and tend to use pesticides. Also, trees are looked upon as a separate entity from their fields.
  • Volunteer Visit
    In week 3 or so we each visited current volunteers for about five days to get a feel of country life. I stayed with a MTU grad! Small world. Her name is Lisa Bombrowski and graduated in Biology in 1996. It was a great break from the rigors of training. I learned a lot about Paraguayan culture and especially how to gain respect from the male farmers. Basically, I need to become friends with the women first and learn Guarani. Life in the "campo" is very tranquilo.
  • Long Field Practicum
    We just returned from a four day session at a volunteers site. We each stayed with families and worked all day with local farmers using agroforestry systems. It was a wake up call that I need to learn Guarani fast. We met amazing farmers who are planting a lot of native species, as well as managing Paraiso Gigante, working with grafting citrus, using green manures. We met an amazing "genius" named Alfredo, who has too much going on to write about. He is working with natural pesticides and teaching at SEPA (mentioned later). We learned a lot about practical reforestation projects for the small farmer, management of natives especially grown with Paraiso because of its fast growth, sugar cane, and yerba mate. We looked at one farmer's field where he first planted macuna, and then after it died, planted different rows of pigeon pea, corn, cotton, peanuts, and native trees. A side note about cotton : farmers get paid a portion up front as well as the seeds and chemicals. This particular farmer knows the risks and damage to the soil, but needed the money, and in turn developed this system. The last night, we had a big community barbecue with Paraguayan music. The volunteers also did a community project where they separated the men, women, and children and asked them what they thought the community needed. I sat in on the women's meeting, whose goals focused around access to market and family issues.
  • Random other requirements
    Give two presentations, one in Spanish. I did mine on Agroforestry Systems. We also need to learn 20 native species. For this we have done tree walks (one given by the snowboard wizard).

SEPA is a non profit organization organized by RPCVs one year ago. They have leased a plot of 30 hectares for 30 years to teach agroforestry. Currently they have Paraguayan farmers teaching other Paraguayans sustainable agroforestry practices. I have met one of the volunteers, Jose Luise who will be a part of the group next year when I will be a volunteer. It is a good place to bring farmers for excursions."

Kristen's Site.

"My site assignment is Novireta, in the District of San Estanislao, Department of San Pedro. It is about five hours north east of Asuncion by bus, without rain. I will be the first volunteer at this site, however there is an Environmental Ed. volunteer in the next town who has done some work in the community. The community is 100 years old with degraded soil and forest. About 500 people live in the community and there is little or no access to market. There is a very ambitious hard working farming committee who has been desperately asking for a volunteer for a long time. The specifically requested a woman to possibly help organize a woman's group. I most likely will be involved with reforestation, citrus grafting, soil conservation, and especially using green manures. They have already started using green manures, but need technical assistance. It is located near an old Paraiso Gigante experiment that went wrong. Apparently it was struck by a disease, so the people were told to leave it alone and that it would die. Well, they didn't die, but because of neglect they are disfigured and overcrowded. None the less, people are aware of how fast Paraiso Gigante grows. I have heard wonderful things about this site, and am excited to visit!"

Dec 9 1998

"It's getting hotter and hotter ... My site visit went really well. A few people are working with green manures (mainly macuna, canavalia). They learned it at a "Dia de Campo" (Day in the Country) led by an agroforestry volunteer 10k away. High interest in green manure, grafting, organic gardening, reforestation. A lot of natural regeneration to work with. Most of the people I met thus far seem to have a lot of land. I don't think this is true for the whole community. I will be staying with a family while my house is built. Most of the community only speaks Guarani. I am excited to head out there! Only 1 1/2 more weeks of training. Never thought we'd see the end - it seems to go on forever. Most of the training group (Alec and I included) walked in a traditional yearly religious pilgrimage to Caiacude. Alec and I took a bus with his Paraguayan family for most of the trip and got out to walk the last 12k. It took 4 hours by bus that usually takes 45 minutes. (The driver took a detour to the capital city (opposite direction) to pick up some more customers. An angry woman called him crazy and then broke the door window on her way out.) There were so many pushing people at the church that we headed out soon after arriving. It was a good experience but I don't think I'll participate in any more religious pilgrimages!

January 28, 1999

"I have heard a lot about the snow in Michigan and I am very jealous, especially those days that I can't move from the shade without an attack of heat stroke. … Everything is going really well. It took about 2 weeks to normalize from the intense training, but it feels good not to have every minute of my day scheduled. It is really ironic that training is completely different from how you work and live as a volunteer (thank goodness). My first month in site was challenging but went well. I am still living with a family which makes it difficult to have any time to myself. I am eager to start my garden and cook for myself. There is a somewhat undisturbed forest near my house - that is amazing. I am going to do drawings of trees at germination and sapling stages for one of the Peace Corps Books "Trees most used in Paraguay" so this will be an excellent source for seeds as well as trees to outplant. The volunteer before me that lived 7 K away did a session on outplanting for the farmers in my area, and most of the trees are still doing well. Not all followed the directions of cutting the roots and tops before planting (tacone method). they planted them in hopes of getting money for the reforestation act, which unfortunately they will never see because the money isn't there. they haven't asked me to be involved, which is great. people seem very eager to learn and work, but the whole gender and language barriers will require a lot of drinking terere and gaining trust. I am doing an abonos verdes (green manure) experiment that is run by a German organization GTZ. a few volunteers are participating from different areas of the country. It involves twelve 2 by 2 meter plots with 9 abonos verdes species, millet, a local bean and a control. Every week I measure the plant heights, coverage, weed infestation, and bug or animal problems. The idea is to leave the plots unmanaged and observe the results. The farmers are excited to learn with me, and helped me clear the area. (They probably thought it would take me a month.) These first few months everyone is / will be testing me in my community. Hopefully my house will be done this month. The farmers in my area work together in groups and are very hard working. My town threw me a birthday party, complete with bad Paraguayan music and dancing, and all the traditions. I was given eggs, milk, bananas, two chickens for the dinner, crackers, cookies, soap, and shampoo as gifts from various families in my town. It was really wonderful! Another volunteer in my training group also showed up. There are 4 volunteers in a 10 K radius of me so I will be doing a lot of work with their communities as well. My thoughts seem to be a bit random in this email, my brain is not working in any of the three languages. "

March 16, 1999

I have spent time learning the bus schedule, locating the nearest phone, and familiarizing myself with Santani, the closest town. I continue to study Spanish, and especially Guarani. I have visited many families, establishing relationships with the women, writing down names, and attempting to learn the local politics. As mentioned before, I have been building my house and two close volunteers came and we built a sanitary latrine! I have visited two of the three volunteers that live within 10 K of my site. Rafael, a cooperative volunteer, Duke, an education volunteer, and Luke a beekeeper from my training group.

  1. Work with the Reforestation Committee
    When I was assigned to my community, it was mainly due to a group of farmers asking a nearby agroforestry volunteer who was leaving to send a volunteer to work with their committee. The group formed in September, hoping to receive money from the government for planting trees (The Reforestation Act). However, they along with many other small farmers have had little success in collecting the money. They are very hard working and have a strong interest in soil conservation and reforestation. They meet every two weeks and I have attended every meeting this quarter. They speak in Guarani, so I am gradually understanding the conversations. I have spent time talking with the farmers about what Brad, the previous agroforestry volunteer 10 K away, taught them and what seeds they were given. We planted Crotolaria and Canavlia for seed sources. Nine members of the committee and myself cut the thatch for my roof with our machetes. I have visited many fields, talking with them about what they want to learn and work on, and looking at current agroforestry systems.
  2. Work in fields (Establish credibility and learn)
    I have harvested sesame, corn, beans, mantioca, and cotton. I have observed huge areas of regeneration in abandoned fields, most interesting an area of new forest that was undistinguishable a cotton field five years ago. I am learning the agricultural calendar and the crops in my area. I did early stage pruning with my neighbor. I have been learning about pesticide use, especially with cotton crops. I am monitoring the GTZ green manure project every week as well, measuring plant height, weed infestation, percent coverage, and noting any problems with pests or infections.
  3. Working with Women (Possible future women's group)
    I have been baking bread, traditional Paraguayan food, cakes, and making shampoo with three different women in my community. I have visited and talked about gardens. (most families do not have summer gardens, forcing them to buy vegetables and lower nutrition in this season) Through living with a family and visiting women I have been learning their daily work schedules, responsibilities, interests, and outside income source (if any). For example, I have learned that a few women feed their chicken, feed for better nutrition, which is very rare in rural Paraguay. These women must travel far to buy this product, which could be made locally if they had a large grinder. Balanciado (feed) is made with soy (which could be replaced by the fast easy growing pigeon pea that is already grown in my site), bone meal, and corn. I am looking into this as a future project and many have shown interest.

Walking into the forest and finding my neighbor with a Husquevarna chainsaw cutting down a huge tree to build my house. My house is being built completely by hand (except for the Husquivarna). I was determined to finish my latrine, and needed to dig another meter down, so I went to my neighbors to borrow a bucket and ask them to come over in an hour or so and throw down a ladder. This of course shocked (and probably horrified them to imagine me, a female, digging my latrine) them so much they sent their 13 year old daughter to help and watch me. I was almost done when the farmers came in from the field, shocked, they laughed, called me "incredible", and proceeded to talk about their crazy volunteer in the bano for a week!

May 11, 1999.

I have continued to visit families and informally gather information about their family and community resources. To get ideas, I am using a form Melissa McDonald, our APCD, wrote, outlining information on each families' crops, land, animals, family size, natural resources on the property or nearby, forest area, forest products they use and where and how they gather it, fruits, soil conservation practices, water source, and garden information. I have also made several trips to the forest to gather firewood with the women and to identify trees. So far, the informal approach of asking questions while hoeing in the fields or drinking terere has helped me learn each families resources. I am more comfortable now with Guarani and my neighbors themselves, so I can feasibly start more formal, interview style information gathering. I am learning more about the knowledge of the people that can be used as a local resource (For example, the traditional herbal medicinal knowledge of the older women in the community).

Unfortunately, as I expected, no one from the Ministry has come, as promised, to assess the trees that were planted in hopes of receiving money from the Reforestation Act. Some of the members of the Committee want to wait for the engineer before they plant more, or replant dead trees in the field. This has been frustrating because two members, Tito and Petin, previously came to me and said they wanted me to help them transplant more natural regeneration this month (transplanting is done in the fall and spring, after it rains) and now want to put it on hold. I gave a presentation to 11 of the members on winter green manures, in Guarani. Everyone seemed very interested and we have since planted two demonstration parcels. In Nemio's field, Nemio, Tito, Herman, and I planted a 10 meter square of Black Oats mixed with Lupino. In Roman's field, Roman, Luis, and I planted a 5 by 20 meter parcel of Black Oats mixed with Lupino and a 5 meter square of Nabo Forraje. I also planted a small section of Lupino and Oats in my garden. All parcels will be cut approximately 90 days before the next planting season and the crops will be directly seeded. Unfortunately the group has started to meet on a less regular basis. I am trying to present a different aspect of soil conservation or agroforestry to try and steer the group's focus from the Reforestation money.

At a recent meeting of the volunteers that live in my area, 12 volunteers and 8 Paraguayans ate 15 kilos of meat. Afterwards, dental floss was brought out, somehow made itself around the room, ending in a group flossing session. The floss was new to our Paraguayan friends. A new take on doing dental presentations.

I got electricity and a water line in one week, putting me into culture shock. I didn't make it out of my site before it rained, so I had to ride in a truck for 5 hours (only 20 kilometers) with a driver who told me he wants to marry me in two years, and he has no problem waiting. how lucky.

2 August 1999

"Everything's going well here in Paraguay. Had a few meetings that no one showed up to. Things are slower than normal (which is pretty slow)here in the winter. … Also, one of the farmers that I work with (Valeriano Cristaldo) had a quarter hectare of a field cleaned last year , leaving all of the natural regeneration. He happened to transplant a hectare right next to this area. The difference in growth is amazing. We did some pruning on the natural regeneration and he is going to clean it once again. Is there a way to tie this into what I am working on? Maybe in the end when I discuss how this can help farmers, management, etc. I am interested in setting up a plot or two just to see the difference in growth from this year to next."

20 August 1999

How was the eclipse? The end of the world did not come, nor did it turn dark for four days here as some of my neighbors had believed. I am really settled and very much acculturated here. The actual "work" has been slow, but I can now say I am very close to a few families, and we are starting to talk about needs. We are at the point where they may ask questions and really listen and believe the answer that I give them. This is a big step in a culture that is very untrustworthy. Unfortunately, I learned that many still burn their fields in my community.

What I have been doing (May, June, July) The winter months have been slow. We have not had rain in over a month, so no one has been able to do their August planting of corn, beans, mantioc, popcorn, and groundnuts. Too add to that, we just had the first frost in ten years, which killed my tomato plants full of green tomatoes. I never expected it to be this cold in South America. Washing clothes by hand in freezing water is a new experience. (Unfortunately, dirty clothes are looked down upon here.)


I have been working at the school once a week. We made a seedbed and planted the common lemon to prepare for citrus grafting the following year. In addition, we made planting bags out of used paper and planted the ornamental tree, Sombrilla de Playa and rose clippings. The nursery area is located within the school garden, which I help with as well.


At the end of May our Agroforestry group brought members of our communities to a Peace Corps In Service Training. Luis Gonzales, a young farmer, came with me and was pretty excited about the things we saw and learned. We made a contour line, did a pruning activity, looked at many examples of cover crops, saw a fish pond, and talked a lot about direct planting. In June, the committee had planed for me to do a pruning demonstration in Valeriano's field, but only two people showed up (Valeriano and Luis). We pruned both natural regeneration and an area he transplanted a year ago. I let Luis take the floor and he taught what he had learned at the IST. I learned a lot about their complete knowledge of the nutrient cycle (something that I ignorantly had planned to, but didn't, talk about at the beginning of the session). As far as the committee is concerned, we have not had meetings on a regular basis. Many of the members are just concerned with getting their money, so I have just been focusing on the farmers and their families who have a genuine interest in improving their fields.

Women's group

There has been a lot of interest from women in my community (Novireta San Juan) to learn more about gardening, cooking, and especially making soy milk. Unable to get enough soy to make milk, I decided to have the first meeting on making bread. Everyone seemed to be excited, but on the day of the meeting no one showed up! I had even cleaned up my garden. Many people were sick or their kids were sick, and I began to think that it wasn't a good theme to start out with because most women do not have ovens and have to go to the nearest town 25 K away to buy the yeast. Since the planned meeting disaster, some of the women have approached me and said they want to learn, so I have decided to do it on an individual basis and also try out some solar ovens. I am also going to bring soy to cook with and to plant in November.

General Field work

I have continued to do follow up with the winter green manure cover crops that we planted. Most were cut before seeding and left to lay for 2 to 3 months until the time to direct seed. My neighbor , Nedi, on his own last year planted Macuna (a prolific green cover crop), we cut it in March and he transplanted pepper plants direct seeding! The results have been great, he has only had to hoe one time, and has been able to sell them out of his house. The cover crops I planted in January for the GTZ experiment are seeding. I am looking forward to rain to plant corn, beans, peanuts, and popcorn.

On August 28, a beekeeping volunteer, Luke, 7 K away and I are planning a joint excursion with the farmers in our communities to S.E.P.A. I think I have mentioned this NGO before. It was started by RPCV's who used their readjustment allowance and rented land for 30 years to make a demonstrative plot. In the past five years it has grown and currently all classes and excursions are taught by Paraguayan farmers. They even have a women's group as well. The hope is that we will be able to bring both men and women to the day long excursion. Many other volunteers have done this same excursion with excellent results.


In September, weather permitting, we will do more transplanting of natural seedlings onto the school ground. Also tree seed collection to prepare for February.

Women's group

Continue trying to hold meetings or some group collaboration. Make soy milk, as well as work out a trade or buying of soy to plant.

Field Work

I will be promoting a lot of summer cover crops, as well as working in the fields planting. I really want to focus on preserving the natural regeneration in the fields. I may do a presentation or work individually talking about the importance with the soil as well as being a free, low work future money supply. I will be working with interested families in starting a seedbed of lemon to prepare for citrus grafting.

Forest Enrichment with Banana, SEPA

Parasio gigante in an agroforestry planting at Sepa.

Meat !

26 November 1999

Due to the drought, tree planting was not possible this season. The usual September and October plantings of food crops, cash crops, and green manures were put off until November when it finally rained. Many wells have dried up and almost all gardens have died. The technical excursion to SEPA took place the end of August. Five farmers from my community, and six from nearby volunteer Lucas Ward's community visited the agroforestry and agriculture demonstration site. The farmers said they learned a lot from the Paraguayan technicians leading the discussions at each demonstration plot. I have since done work with the participants that were not interested in soil conservation before the excursion. They especially loved the private bus with music that took us three hours away, but were disappointed that we didn't provide free beer for the ride home.


Planted Green Manure plots for seed and conservation

  • Crotalaria- 3 families
  • Pigeon Pea - 8 families
  • Cananvalia - 2 families

Harvested winter green manure seeds with one family.


Lack of rain!

Two family tree nurseries with three families were established. The endangered species Trebol, a rare native specie Urundu'i mi, and exotic Pairiso Gigante were planted. Lemon seeds were prepared but not planted for citrus grafting. Established an integrated crop system with pineapple, pigeon pea, squash, and green manures.


I brought ten families one kilo of soy to plant for future seed and food source. This is following up the interest the families had in planting soy after making soy milk, bread, and cheese.


I have made bread with almost every family in my community and the next! Many plans for next quarter.


My house has been visited by a rat, snake, and three lizards.

My pig ate my homemade soap.

I was asked if Clinton knows I am here and if I talk to him. Wow.

16 Feb 2000

Work since last report

Soil Conservation

  • Collected seeds of winter green manure, Nabo, with Roman Cristaldo (Nov.)
  • Discussed planting summer green manure macuna (velvet bean) with corn when the corn flowers, allowing the macuna to climb the corn husks and create organic material for the following planting season with Nemio Cristaldo (Dec.) We were unable to do this due to the drought.
  • Continued visiting farmers with established systems, monitoring growth, exchanging ideas and observations, especially the families of Emilse, Roman, Louis, Mavel, and Nedi. Unfortunately most systems did not survive the drought, and after the rain in February we replanted what we could. Valeriano (Roman's son) and Louis' fields have relatively newer soil with higher moisture content and have a higher success rate.
  • Planted macuna after a light rain in an old cotton field with poor soil with Louis Gonzales. (Dec.) He is planning to plant heavily with green manures, small sections at a time to recuperate the soil. He is fortunate to have another area of newer soil as mentioned above for his food, cotton, and trees.
  • Replanting of pigeon pea with Emilse, Nati, and Mavel (Feb.)
  • Planting of green manure canavalia with Emilse.(Feb.) We will transplant onion seedlings from a germination box into rows between the canavalia.


The schools were on summer break until Feb. 14.

  • Visited two local schools with PCV Duke to invite children to the summer camps Duke was preparing(Dec.)
  • Participated in a three day overnight camp with Environmental Education volunteer Erica and Education volunteer Duke. 90 children were expected for the day camp and night camp combined, but only 11 kids came to the overnight camp and none to the day camp. I lead two sections of art with a focus on forestry. In one section we made playgdough and created creatures and trees from nature and then discussed their importance. In the other section we painted scenes from our environment. I was also a cook and guitar player. It was the first time the children had participated in an activity away from their community, without their parents. (Jan.)


  • Established a single seedbed nursery with my two neighbors, Nedi and Saturnino. We planted the endangered species trebol, Astronium cearensis, rare species urunde'y mi, Astronium urundeuva, and Pairiso gigante. These species can no longer be found in my community. We also watered with a non copper based fungicide. The two men did not feel that a shade structure was necessary nor did they want to water. The trebol germinated and is still growing well, but the others did not grow.
  • Planted the above species in my garden with a shade structure and watering, with the same success rate. (I was gone for a two and a half week vacation, and the area was not watered as I had hoped)


Successfully made a solar oven from cardboard, aluminum foil, glass, newspaper and black paint. It cooks rice in about two hours and my neighbor is both scared and intrigued. I plan to publicize it more!


  • Discussed transplanting seedlings to fill in spaces of an established agroforestry systems, as well as creating a new tree plantation, with Louis
  • Presented mango grafting using the common Paraguayan mango as root stock grafted with Brazilian mango, as well as the common peach with plums. I did this presentation to see if my community would be receptive to this type of presentation of information. I spent a significant amount of time going door to door as well as posting a drawing with a date and time on the local store. A large amount of people seemed interested and said they were coming, but in the end only six people showed up. Two teenage girls showed up because they wanted to make bread with me at a later date, a man and his wife because it was held at their home, my counterpart who was genuinely interested, and a neighbor woman who is my friend. This demonstrates to me that I work more effectively with individual families.

Working with women

  • Baked a large amount of bread, cooked in brick ovens in a similar fashion as the traditional Paraguayan corn and cassava bread, chipa. I met informally with groups of women in both my community and another community.
  • Discussed rose grafting with many women, most of whom already have roses in their yards. We discussed how to take cuttings to later graft onto.

Also 16 Feb 2000

My neighbor killed my pig, with me holding the legs. It became expensive to feed her with the drought, and my neighbors were tired of her eating their eggs, soap, and chickens. The truth of the matter is, all my neighbors wanted to eat her, so the excuses just got bigger and bigger! It was tasty! It is funny to think that I refused all of the pork during fall camp!

March 2000

In February, two farmers and I planned an activity in our community. A dia de Campo is an opportunity for farmers to show their fields and work to other farmers in the community and/or other communities. It is a wonderful opportunity for farmer to farmer exchange and teaching. Luis and Valeriano, the presenters from my community, demonstrated the soil conservation and agroforestry systems we have developed over the last year and a half. They both went to the excursion to SEPA in August and were eager to do similar demonstration plots and exchange in our community. Valeriano explained his pineapple field planted with two kinds of green manures. Luis explained management of natural regeneration, green manures with crops, cutting green manures as cover crops and direct seeding food crops, crop rotation, and revival of an unusable area of land degraded by years of cotton by planting macuna. They both talked about the importance of trees and soil conservation. We did a pruning and tree transplanting demonstration. At the end we gave out free green manure seeds and a book about the native trees in Paraguay. Participants came from our community as well as the communities of nearby volunteers Luke and Erica. It was a huge success!

March 2001

After Paraguay Kristen spent some time in Brazil.


The introduction of tourism in a small economically strained community can have a variety of effects. Tourism brings in outside money, helping the local economy, but it also causes people to examine the problems in the community in order to make it a more attractive place to visit. The interests may not lie with the people in the community, as much as the potential economic benefits. Barra Grande, located in the northeastern Brazillian state of Bahia, is a perfect example. The small town is accessible only by boat or a rough drive through 45 kilometers of sand is surrounded by 50 kilometers of clean deserted beaches making it the perfect stop for the traveler in search of tranquility.

Tourism has been on the rise the last two years in Barra Grande. Previously, the area was filled with cacao plantations and inhabited mostly by small farmers and fisherman. Cacao, which grows wild in the understory of the Amazon, has been under cultivation for over a century, and served as Brazil's main export during this time period (Stewart, 80). The plantations on Barra Grande failed, most likely as a result of the fungus Witches broom (Crinipellis perniciosa), which wiped out most of the cacao production in the early 1990's (Stewart, 81, 119). Currently in Barra Grande outside of the town center, small farmers and peasants survive by farming the sandy nutrient poor soil and fishing. The town center has an ill- equipped school that only teaches to the fourth grade level, and is lacking health facilities as well as a police post. Running water services the central area but sanitation is not regulated.

The new tourist industry is drawing Brazilians as well as Argentines and Uruguayans to the area for summer vacations as well as an interest in buying cheap beachfront property. As a result, the local businesses and hotel owners, most of which do not live in the community year round, have been holding meetings to figure out ways to improve the economically profitable tourist industry. A government official from the Bahian Office of Tourism located in the capital came to hold similar meetings. They have first focused on environmental and health problems such as proper waste disposal, clean water, and the possibility of Petrol Brazil, the country's main oil company, drilling offshore. Unfortunately, it appears that the lifestyle of the local people has been targeted as the root of most of the problems. Carlos, a hotel owner from Sao Paulo who lives in the area only during the summer tourist season, claims the main environmental problem is the burning and dumping of trash in the roads. He blames the local people for the "ugly distraction" and calls them "uneducated and dirty." He even went so far as to say that there "shacks" are an "eyesore." The municipality provides trash pickup at a high cost, which most people cannot afford.

Petrol Brazil found oil off the shore of Barra Grande, which has sparked great controversy. Some see it as a potential economic boost whereas others view it as an environmental disaster and eyesore. It has attracted the interest of an environmental non governmental organization from Sao Paulo, Brazil. They began working with the Japanese owners of a hotel in Barra Grande. This group has determined that stopping the drilling is an impossible task so they are focusing on pressing Petrol Brazil for monetary compensation for the community. They are planning to start a community center which will focus on environmental education for the children (and tourists) of the area, as well as to bring in a staffed health post. The group is in the beginning stages of development. While they claim to want to work with the community members, they did not seem to be interested in doing any form of community needs analysis, and are concentrating on working with the business owners. All of the people heading the group are from outside of the community, one as far as the United States.

Through my experience as a non-participating observer of the situation, I have concluded that the tourist industry in Barra Grande has created a new interest in environmental awareness which may not fit the needs of the community as a whole. They may receive improvements on the school as well as the proposed education center, which would be of great benefit, but the constant pressure to beautify the area may force these families out of the area.

Kristen's wedding: August 2003

PCVs and RPCVs at the wedding.

Cutting the cake.

Jorga: February: 2007

Jorga one

Jorga at 7 months.

After the Peace Corps

Currently part of the USDA Forest Service Recreational Solutions enterprise management team as a recreation forester in Troy, Montana.