CRECE 2011: National Entrepreneurship Workshop

7 04 2011

CRECE 2011: Participants and Economic Development Volunteers

In early March, a team of ten volunteers from the economic development sector launched the first national business workshop for Paraguayan entrepreneurs. Planning for CRECE (Colaboración Regional de Educación Comunitario Empresarial)  began in August and culminated in a free, three-day workshop that reviewed the following concepts:

  • Team dynamics
  • Leadership styles & management
  • Inventory control methods (to my excitement included LIFO, FIFO and Average Cost methods)
  • Pricing strategy
  • Marketing
  • Market research
  • Risk management
  • Mentors

Our team brought in guest speakers from Producción Paraguayo (a 3-year project sponsored by USAID) and COOPEDUC (a large, local cooperative). However, volunteers planned and facilitated a majority of the workshop’s activities.

The single greatest challenge in pulling off an event like CRECE was communication. In-person meetings were difficult to arrange because volunteers on the steering committee lived as far as 8-hours away from the capital. Online meetings were challenging for several reasons: no electricity due to a recent storm, no computer, bad internet connection, etc. Phone calls worked, but were only effective if only two people needed to participate in the meeting, which was rarely the case. The communication barriers were small reminders that we were in fact working in a developing nation.

Maureen (PCV) welcoming the participants

The greatest achievement for my city occurred when my community participant told me that he wanted copies of the workshop materials to distribute to others in my site that would benefit from the knowledge that was shared. I trust that he was not the only participant at the end of the workshop advocating change. Whether the information covered at CRECE was shared with a community or encouraged a single entrepreneur to start documenting debits and credits at his/her own business, it is change nonetheless.

Visit the CRECE website to view additional photos of the event.

Salto Cristal

7 04 2011

Salto Cristal

To state obvious, Paraguay is not known as a heavy tourist destination. With attractions like the beaches of Rio and vineyards of northern Argentina it is understandable why Paraguay often gets left off the list of “Places to See”. That said, Paraguay offers the more adventurous travelers some beautifully undocumented sights. Salto Cristal qualifies as one such destination.

I hopped on an early bus with my friend Kevin, a fellow volunteer, and headed to La Colmena without a seat on the bus and without any solid plan. All we knew was that Salto was located in or near La Colmena, a quiet town with one gas station and a considerable Japanese influence. We had planned to hike from town to the falls and overnight at the top of the falls. This approach, we learned, was far to aggressive and bordered on impossible given our timeframe. Serendipitously we ran into two volunteers while looking for lunch in La Colmena. They introduced us to a Paraguayan contact they had, who oddly enough lived and worked in New Jersey for over ten years. She called a friend who “might be able to drop us of at the entrance”. For $30 USD, he agreed to drop us off and pick us up the following morning. Two-thirds of the amount was used for gas. During our two-hour drive through fields of tall sugarcane, out driver talked about his experience working on an auto manufacturer assembly line in


Trail from the campsite to the falls


Kevin and I walked ten minutes down a clearly marked path to the campsite that was indeed above the falls. My favorite part of the site was a latrine, surrounding by a shoddy wooden fence (for privacy) that was equipped with a handwritten sign that read “esta occupado” on one side and “LIBRE!” on the other (occupied and free, respectively). We scrambled down sharp rocks for twenty minutes to get to the bank of the river then walked upstream another ten minutes, dodging hugely elaborate spiderwebs and climbing boulders covered in moss. A 70-meter waterfall appeared around the bend. We were the only ones there, later joined by a little boy looking to catch some small fish. I still can barely wrap my mind around the fact that so few Paraguayans have ever seen Salto, not to mention the rest of the world. That was the appeal.

View from the trailhead above the falls

We took the rest of the humid afternoon to swim and cliff jump. After returning back to the campsite, early evening included a short hike to the top of the falls. The little boy was still patiently waiting for fish, which I was sure we had disturbed as a result of swimming and diving early that day. The evening concluded with dinner of canned tuna and crackers and an illegal campfire. We agreed to wake up early to hike back down to the falls, time sufficient for meditation and a handful of yoga postures.

Back to Business: Mid-Year Review

7 04 2011

Fair warning: If you do not share an interest in economic development assessment methods, you will not find this post the least bit interesting.

Not unlike the private sector, Peace Corps Paraguay policy stipulates volunteers submit a report and participate in a mid-year review. While the program in which the report is written in is cumbersome, it filters quantitative responses to Washington, D.C. Items like “How many youth between the ages of 10-16 are affected by this project?” and “Does this project incorporate entrepreneurial education” are included. The qualitative portion of the written report asks how well you feel you have integrated into your community and explaining the components of challenging projects. This leads me to the question, how does the Peace Corps agency define success? Does the Paraguayan government agree with Peace Corps Paraguay’s goals and standards of  measurement? Or do the two entities work together to define both? What about NGOs and non-profits working in the field of economic development? Impact analysis is an interesting, yet basic consideration for anyone pursuing a career that involves development work.

PC Paraguay’s economic development sector has four clear goals for 2015. Under each goal is a list of multiple strategies and objectives, each of which quantify the number of volunteers, community contacts and community members affected and/or involved. For example:

  • Goal 2: Current and future entrepreneurs will manage successful businesses through the use of improved organizational and operational management techniques.
  • Objective: By  2015 150 entrepreneurs will be trained to develop business plans and establish 20 new businesses using the resource “Construye Tus Sueños.”

The mid-year review portion is an in-person meeting with Paraguay’s economic development sector director. I choose to do it in Spanish. For anyone who has worked in big business the meeting is identical to what you have experienced: What have been your biggest successes? Explain. Challenges? Where can you improve? Explain a time when X occurred. You know the questions, but imagine fielding each in a language you have only been speaking for 9-months – humbling.



7 04 2011

Carnaval (or ‘Carnival’ if you’d prefer the English spelling) is observed throughout many South American countries, Paraguay included. The two-week long festival starts 46 days before Easter. It is said that the beer consumption during Carnaval accounts for over 75% of the country’s annual consumption (note: source not verified). The two cities renowned for over-the-top celebrations in Paraguay are Encarnación and Villarrica. Each year the two local municipalities and respective businesses spend enormous amounts of money and time marketing the event. Streets are repainted with the highest bidder’s corporate logo and seemingly unsecured bleachers are constructed. My friend Andrea lives in Villarrica, so I decided to pay the festival a little visit.

Carnaval is everything you expect it to be…and maybe a little too much more. Floats, sequins, foam, glitter, nearly nude performers (and in some cases, attendees), music, dancing, parade, beads, giveaways, liquor, beer and more foam. Much more foam! I have included a few pictures to illustrate the madness that surrounds Carnaval. 

For me, the most controversial part of the festivities was watching (but trying not to) six year old girls dressed in costumes that not even an of age Vegas Showgirl would wear. They paraded down the street on floats, dancing like their protégés. Perhaps this is a piece of Paraguayan culture that is socially acceptable. Perhaps the parents of these little girls are proud. Nevertheless, my cultural tolerance cannot reconcile their role in the parade.


7 04 2011

Like most Sunday’s here in Paraguay I had plans to go climbing in Tobati, a neighboring town known for its brick exports to Argentina. My town was slammed by thunderstorms the night before. Electricity was out. That meant no morning coffee. There was no way the rock would be dry, ready to climb. Dale, my climbing partner called me 15 minutes outside my town, “Linds, we’re climbing. Clouds have cleared. Throw [gear] in a bag. See you at the light in fifteen”.

Monica and Victor joined us. Both are Paraguayan and Dale wanted to introduce them to the world of climbing. Great, selfishly this meant that I could practice my Spanish. After they each attempted to top rope, Dale ripped the rope off the route to prep for what would be my first lead climb! Meanwhile four guys from AventuraExtrema, a local outdoor ecotourism group, found their way to the wall. Got the first quick draw up, reached for the second draw and the tiny rock foothold crumbled off the wall, forcing my first fall. “Again,” I yell! I led the whole route…twice.

At some point, Dale and the four guys participated in a rapid-fire exchange of Spanish words. So rapid that all I understood was, “…si, si a las cinco” (yes, yes at five o’clock). I quickly dismissed the exchange as a missed opportunity to add more Spanish verbs to my repertoire. After exploring natural pools tucked between palm trees and large boulders and second failed attempt at my beloved project route (name: Canadian smoked salmon) which warrants a separate post to explain how that route earned its’ name, we trekked out.

We arrived at the car at five o’clock and headed out. But, instead of leaving, we drove deeper into Tobati. This is where it hit me that everyone I was with spoke far better Spanish than myself; consequently, they probably understood the remaining part of the, “, si a las cinco” conversation. For the first time in as long as I can remember thoughts such as, “where are we going?”, “how long is this detour going to take?”, “Ugh, I could be at home completing some non-time critical report for work” never crossed my mind. Victor’s car sped over the dirt road, passed a soccer field as I peered out a small window in the back. We stopped in front of a small home, were we met the AventuraExtrema guys. An older couple, who I assume were the home owners, greeted the group. The woman picked me out of the crowd, smiled then gave me a giant hug. Paraguayan’s don’t hug. They greet everyone with one kiss on each cheek, everyone, at all times. No hugs.

The four guys led the four of us down a poorly cleared trail through palm trees and tall grass, until we arrived at a clearing. Wow! This was a place that even my wildest dreams could not construct. Presumably, this is the way surfers must feel when they discover an untouched beach yielding a good break. Walls and walls of virgin rock appeared in front of our eyes. Before Dale and I could even scout for routes, the guys were leading us up a trail in between these huge towers of rock. Some of the rock was formed so that only the width of a small person could pass between the base of the giant formations. We scrambled up the back of some of the formations before I found myself overlooking the field we just crossed. To describe the view wouldn’t do it justice. There we stood- six Paraguayans, one Canadian and an American. Because we were met with dry rock earlier in the day, conditions perfect for my first lead climb, it was only fair that Mother Nature carefully placed a cloud above our heads. Not a moment too early it started to pour. The drops were heavy, but warm as we stood overlooking the entire valley of Tobati. Below my tired, wet feet future routes await- await the first generation of Paraguayan climbers. That day was a gift. That moment, in the rain, was a gift.

Pilgrimage a Caacupe

14 12 2010

Basilica de Caacupe

Over one million Paraguayans make an annual pilgrimage to Caacupe (pronounced: ka-a-cu-pay) for Dia del Virgen de Caacupe on December 7th for midnight mass.

Early in evening on the 7th, as I began packing a small backpack for the four-hour walk, the sky broke with heavy rain. Thunder rattled my windows every few minutes. Nonetheless, I met two fellow volunteers and a young Brazilian man who quit his job to write a book about Paraguayo-Brasileños in the plaza in Ypacarai. To me, participating in the pilgrimage was not about religion, but rather to experience the solidarity of Paraguayans.

As we tread over the top of each rolling hill, the sight was remarkable. It looked as if there were thousands of ants walking in perfect form, filling the road ahead of us. Blinking fireflies lined the roadside until a light rain picked up.

The plaza in front of the church was bursting with people lying on blankets with family and friends. It was illuminated by the glow of small blue and white candles held carefully by each pilgrim. Mass lasted an hour- it was beautiful, maybe more so because it was in Spanish.


Anticipating the limited capacity of the micros (buses) to return to site after mass, I met up with another volunteer to drink terere (iced mate tea). I finally jumped onto a bus leaving Caacupe around 4AM. I nudged my way onto the first step of the bus, half of my right foot was hanging off the edge as I pressed my face close to the glass of the windshield and clutched the door handle tightly for the hour journey home. My mother’s old rosary, wrapped around my wrist, was tapping the dash as we sped over the bumpy dirt roads. A young Paraguayan boy, standing in the doorway behind me, was pressed up against my back. An older gentleman sat closely on the dash to the left of me. With every turn, his leg nudged me further out the door…

I jumped off the bus an hour later and walked home around 5AM as the stars faded and dawn turned the sky a rosy pink.

Un Internacional Jam Sesión: Mis Cinco Mejores

14 12 2010

Artist: Bomba Estéreo ; Title: Musica Accion ; Reminds me of the electronic sound M.I.A. would produce after vacationing in Bogotá.

Artist: Ana Tijoux ; Title: 1977 ; Poetic Chilean hip-hop.

Artist: Mala Rodríguez ; Title: Patito Feo ; A story about sovereignty and growth sung in the most beautiful castellano.

Artist: Federico Aubele ; Title: Tan Dificil ; Second glass of red wine on the sidewalk of an empedrado street in Buenos Aires.

Artist: Brenda Ntombi ; Title: Hoyaya ; Everyday my yoga practice starts with this song. It is grounding and reminds me of a dear friend living in Africa who introduced me to yoga and provoked me to just “imagine”…a life full of adventure complemented by an international career. Saludos Ash!