Jill Katakowski

Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay.


Jill is both a Peace Corps Volunteer and a graduate student in the Loret Miller Ruppe Peace Corps Masters International Program at Michigan Tech. Find out more about this program at http://peacecorps.mtu.edu/ .


Jill has a blog and there are more photos there as well. This web page has parts of the blog and parts from other sources she sends along.


23 October 2005 - First email from Paraguay.

Just thought I would let everyone know that I made it safely to Paraguay and am now beginning to settle into my host family's community site. I am in class everyday for at least 9 hours learning two languages, Spanish and Guarani, and having lots of technical training in agroforestry.

So, I made it. Yep, after the long flight to South America, we arrived in Asuncion and were whisked away to our training center of Guarambere. After many a boring meetings and interviews on language and family preferences, we were directed to our community. I live in the community of Paso de Oro with eight other volunteers living very close nearby. My host family consists of my mom (30), dad (45), cousin (15), aunt (18), sister (7), and brother (5). And I am the only one with a room. We do have electricty and running water, although it is cold.
My days are passing quickly in the classroom format of language in the morning and technical training in the afternoon. Everyday we spend about 9 0r 10 hours learning about Spanish, Guarani, agroforestry methods, safety, health, etc. Afterwards, I try to spend time with my family communicating, playing soccer, or sleeping.

This last weekend we got to see a little bit of how our true Peace Corps experience will be like by visiting another volunteer's site for a few days. I visited a gal by the name of Sara who lived way off in the campo (country)! Her village of 10 houses way 12 km away from any real civilization. We had to walk 5 km up to her site in the mountains just to get to her house (shed) with no electricity and a drying up well. Leaving her site we had to walk the whole 12 km becuase the bus didn't leave on a Tuesday. It was great! Sara spoke Guarani and Spanish and we had a nice weekend together. We visited her other community members, saw some agroforestry techiniques, and enjoyed long conversations over tea and candles at night (no it was not romantic!). But, it was really great to see a volunteer in action and hear firsthand how her experience has been since she will be leaving in two short months.


A second month is coming to end here in Paraguay. I actually had to look at the calendar to see if that was correct because it seems I have been here much longer since my days are so filled. Good news to report my language ability in Spanish is coming along well, I can understand conversations now and don’t always have to think in English before translating to Spanish. I am told this is excellent news. Ahh, the kicker, now I get to concentrate solely on the other language, Guarani. This is really the language of the land, all of the farmers and more rural people use this language first and foremost of whom I will be working with. This language is pretty neat though, quite earthy feeling. I am beginning to understand some of the verbs and salutations.

Enough with learning though, which is an every day thing here. This last weekend was a practice for living in the “campo” (rural area with farming). It was great considering I was sick as a dog with apparently allergies that I have obtained from living in this country and defecating problems from drinking the water. Fabulous. But things are mostly under control, I have found some medicine to deal with the constant coughing, running noise, etc that comes with allergies and have put a ban on all white starchy products that is a main supplement in any Paraguayans diet. I think my honeymoon stage as they have called here in Peace Corps is over. Other than that, I was able to get a better idea of life here in Paraguay. The people were incredibly nice and there was a lot of work accomplished in this community from a previous volunteer.

But it is not all thorns in a bush of roses, yesterday we had a typically Paraguayan party for my aunt who lives with us. She had a birthday turning 19 years old, so the family and I made an experimental cake, which turned out rather well. Sangria and much dancing was to be had. Oh, also a word of advice, bulls are not friendly anywhere. One tried to charge me, while my friend clapped and the bull became scared. Really no danger for me.


26 November 2005.

I will be living for the next two years in the community off General Chamorro, 8 km near the city of General Aquino, in the poorest department of San Pedro, 6 hours away from the capital city of Asuncion, Paraguay. Did you get all that? So, what I know of my community from the little piece of paper that I hold in my hand is that yes there is electricity, no running water, and yes I will have a cell phone. There are 600 residents and 120 houses in my site.

I will also be the first time volunteer, which I am pretty pyched about and also nervous at the same time. This means that I will be introducing the Peace Corps, getting smaller projects starting, and maybe even building my own house! There is also a married couple whom live close by in the neighboring town.

I will be working with two grade schools, five different women’s and farmer’s committees, starting a vivero (tree nursery), and working with abonos verdes (green manures). Also any secondary projects that the community are interested in. I leave this next week for a 5 day visit to my future site, so hopefully I will like it. Then I will move again in another 3 weeks before Christmas.


15 December 2005. Excerpts from her quarterly report and blog.

My training in Paraguay involves language training almost every morning for 4 hours a day for six days a week. I started off learning Spanish, and then started integrating Guarani into the language classes, and by the end of training I am learning Guarani. It is very important to learn this second language in a bilingual country because most of the people with whom I will be working live in the campo (countryside) and only speak Guarani. I also have a wide array of technical training for agroforestry.

Technical training:
" Developed a garden and tree nursery, learning the vocabulary in both languages
" Seed identification of 13 common Paraguayan trees
" Learned to id these 13 common trees and plant in a tree nursery
" Planting with macetas, estocas, direct, out planting, and into tablons
" Explored agroforestry systems designs, 14 in total, visited a site where many of these systems were implemented
" Learned how to manage a forest in regards to utilizing the forests
" Learned of the environmental problems in Paraguay
" Conservation of the soil using green manures and planting nitrogen fixing plants
" Implemented a series of days working with farmers and using the strategies learned
" Using curvas de nivel
" Pruning, woodlot management, forest enrichment
" Discussed the commonly used abonos verdes in Paraguay, with seed identification and the benefits and disadvantages of each
" Used the rollo cuchillo, a farmer's equipment for no-till farming
" Siembra directa
" Worked with mango and citrus grafting with hands on experience
" Learned of the geographically different eco-regions of Paraguay
" Visited an agroforestry faculty/university
" Learned how to use pesticides correctly and how to make homemade remedies for treating plants against disease
" Explored the infamous Yerba Mate (tree that is popular in Paraguay because of the drink terrerre and mate used daily) and agroforestry systems that work with yerba
" Explored beekeeping with an introduction
" Utilized environmental education strategies in the schools
" Also had the option to explore fish farming, bio gas digesters, nutrition

My job site is located in General Chammorro, General Aquino, in the department of San Pedro. From what I have read thus far, the department of San Pedro is one of the poorest in Paraguay, a heavily deforested area, and only one main route that are paved. The road to the capital, San Pedro in the department of San Pedro is not paved either. My community is rural with 120 houses and 600 people in the area, although the houses are very spread apart giving it an even smaller feel. The nearest village is only 8 km away in General Aquino, which has a university, stores, a terminal for buses, and it has been rumored that it also has internet. The capital of Asuncion is located 6 or more hours away depending on bus travel where the office for Peace Corps is located.

I am a first time volunteer in my site for the environmental sector, although 6-10(?) years there was another volunteer in my same site, so my site is familiar with the Peace Corps. From my initial site visit the people did not seem to understand the idea of agroforestry so it seems I have a lot of work in store for me. I will also be able to pursue cross-cultural work. My community has two grade schools and apparently five different farmer's and women's committees of whom I have not yet had contact with. There is initial interest in the community to start a vivero (tree nursery) and use abonos verdes (green manures) to recuperate the soil.


Today [30 Nov] is the day I am off to find out what the next 2 years of my life is going to be like. Taking the night bus to my site in San Pedro with my contact. I'll meet my community and find out what kind of work I'll be doing for the next two years. It also looks like I am may be able to get a horse because it is quite popular in my area of the country. My site is also close to the Rio Paraguay which does have piranhna! Also my contact really likes to speak this funny other national language called Guarani, so it looks like I might get pretty good at it. Here's an example below for all you linguistics out there. Mbae'chapa. Mba'e la porte. Cherera Jill. Che voluntaria Cuerpo de Pazpegua. Amba'apo agroforestalpe General Chamorrogua. Fun eh?


In other news, soon I will be getting a furry four-legged friend, an adoptee from another volunteer who is leaving after her two years. Luna is her name and I hope to goodness she like's 6 hours bus rides in foreign countries. Although she is part Paraguayan.


16 March 2006

Beginning as a new volunteer, I have spent a large part of the first two months in site visiting people, introducing myself to the community and agroforestry, and living with a different family every two weeks. This I have laid down as the groundwork to better be able to work in my community. Since I arrived in the prime of time of a heated summer in Paraguay and the children were on vacation, as my first project I created a kids one hour day camp for the upcoming weeks before my boss was going to come and give my site presentation. I enlisted the help of a friend to translate into Guarani for the children, while I explained in Spanish a little introduction to agroforestry. We played games for two weeks in a row and drew pictures of trees. It was helpful to get to know some children and families, and have the families more comfortable with me later on. It also, as I might add, gave me a higher level of attendance at my site presentation.

Also, every week I attend a men's farmer's committee meeting. Thus far, I have been listening on to the Guarani, which I do not understand yet, and giving helpful suggestions when asked for my advice. This group seems quite into it, because as of this week, they are starting a tree nursery to be able to graft oranges in the future. I prepared a calendar to show how long the process of grafting would take and helped them prepare the soil to plant the seeds. They really wanted to jump into this where I am hesitant and still want to be able to communicate first in their language.

I also have a woman's committee meeting that I attend every Sunday. This women's group seems to be raising money a lot with no real goal in mind for what it wants to accomplish. They sold cake at my site presentation so that was a success. In the past they have made homemade soap. There is another women's group that split apart from this group when it became too large, or so they say. I have yet to attend these meetings since it does not seem to ever be on the same day of the week.

There are also two other men's committees but I have yet to see a meeting with these groups yet. This time of the year is not promising for group meetings because it is officially vacation for teachers, children, and on the whole, hot as heck.

I have found a place to live and also a parcel of land nearby next to the road. I have cleared all the weeds in this area to begin a demonstration garden. The plan is to plant tree seedlings, a vegetable garden, green manure (tree and plant species that give Nitrogen to the soil), and remedies (plants associated with medical properties here in Paraguay used in their national drink, terrere or mate).

I have also worked with a university students group of agronomy to prune, weed, and shovel around the trees planted in the trees in the nearby town. I really just wanted to do some physical labor, but in the end it was a great opportunity to make more contacts and have the community spread the word through word of mouth that I am here to work and that I am an agroforestry volunteer.


15 June 2006 - Excerpts from the quarterly report.

I now work extensively with a farmer's committee group. Every week I give a presentation about an agroforestry system, presenting both new and older ideas. I also adequately explained the process of grafting and the planting times for seeds and preparation for grafting. The group has decided to wait until this spring to begin the process. They are going to start a nursery of citric trees that they will be able to graft in the future.

I speak every Wednesday on the radio about an agroforestry or environmental education topic. I enlisted the help of another volunteer for a short time with the language, but now feel comfortable speaking and it goes well with the DJ. There are plenty of environmental topics and agroforestry/agriculture topics to be discussed. There has been a lot of response in my community and surrounding areas after a given topic. This leads to a lot more projects and helping to actually implement the ideas that I just talk about. One topic was called homemade remedies o use in the garden and fields to get rid of and prevent insect damage. It was a hit and led to me working with new faces in my community after hearing the program. So, I am very happy with the success of the radio program. Even after the 13-km bike ride each way. One topic was based on nutrition, since the other volunteer that I was working with was a health volunteer, this topic also generated a lot of success with calls in wanting the recipes.

I am going to start having lessons bi-weekly in Guarani. My understanding of this language is going slowly and I have not set aside time in my schedule to just study, so hopefully this twice a week lesson will help speedy the process. Plus, at the same time I am trying to improve my Spanish for the radio program and other professional meetings. My new rule is to speak in Guarani with community members, excluding my house, and speak/practice Spanish in the towns close to me. Hopefully, at the end of my 2 years it won't be so difficult!

My job description also entails telling everyone that I meet that yes I eat meat, yes some people in the United States do not eat meat, and yes meat is expensive there. Other than that, I am a radio hostess and avid bicyclist now.


22 September 2006 - excerpts from the quarterly report

I attended a water commission group and was put in charge of raising money along with the youth group. I have been working with a few other youth from the community to raise money to bring running water to town. We have this idea to show a DVD on the big screen in the community on the weekend and charge a minimal fee to come and watch it. All money will be given towards the running water project. I have been working with the local municipality to use their projector and speaker system. Recently the running water project has begun.

Radio Programs: I have been consistently speaking on the radio about agroforestry topics and getting a lot of interest from the community. Two topics that have struck a cord with the listening audience is how to graft citric trees and how to make homemade poisons. Others have been hints in the vegetable garden, the uses of the coco palm, how to prune a tree, and winter green manures.

I have been able to do some pretty cool stuff lately that I wouldn't have been able to in the states. For example going to an airplane show and be able to ride in a hot, stuffy plane with 30 or so Paraguayans, half whom looked like they wanted to puke, another quarter that didn't look out the window, and those few like myself whom enjoyed it. There were also parachuters, old military planes doing flips in the sky, and helicopters giving tours over the community.


* CIA Factbook on Paraguay.

* The Lonely Planet Guide to Paraguay.

* The Chaco of Paraguay.

* Images of Paraguay.

The Paraguay National Anthem, courtesy of David Kendall, The National Anthems Reference Page.


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Page maintained by Blair Orr.

Page created: 9 August 2005.

most recent update: 22 September 2006.