Volunteer: Justin Mog
I served in the Peace Corps with my wife, Amanda Fuller, in Paraguay from 2005-2008 after completing a PhD in sustainable rural development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.
I served as a Crop Extension volunteer and my wife was an Environmental Education volunteer, but we did everything together and would tackle any problem or opportunity we discovered in our community. That meant we worked on everything from food security to soil fertility to crop diversification to school gardens to nutrition and sanitation to beekeeping to agroforestry to community radio! All in the indigenous language of Paraguay, Guarani.
In our third year, we worked very closely with the international charity, Plan International, to enhance their work in sustainable agriculture and environmental education in rural Paraguay.
Upon returning from the Peace Corps, we took a six-month train journey around North America to reconnect with a very changed nation and our many loved ones around the country. Eventually, we settled in Louisville, Kentucky, where I now work for the Provost at the University of Louisville integrating sustainability into everything the university does - from what we teach and research to how we manage our facilities, people, and finances. My wife is an urban farmer, spreading the joy of sustainable food production to impoverished communities in Louisville.
The context, culture and communities have changed, but we're basically doing very similar work and applying similar skills and knowledge as we did in the Peace Corps!
Contributions from Justin Mog
Even most rural Paraguayans now have power lines connecting their homes to the massive Itaipu hydroelectric dam built in the early 1970s across the Paraná River between Brazil and Paraguay. At Itaipu, which means "the sound of a stone" in the native Guarani language spoken throughout Paraguay, massive volumes of water pound through immense turbines on the way down toward the sea. Itaipu’s spinning turbines produce over 90 terawatt-hours of electricity per year. That’s more than any ...
Just thinking about the sound of the pounding mortar and pestle at the corner “weed ladys” stand makes me thirsty. My wife and I served in the Peace Corps for three years in the hot South American country of Paraguay and we both came back hooked on the undisputed national beverage, tereré, a bitter green iced tea made from the native yerba maté shrub. Aside from the social nature of the beverage, which is always drunk from a common cup and metal straw that’s passed back and forth around chat ...
Amongst the many crops we promoted for crop diversification in Paraguay, sesame was one of our favorite cash crops because: 1. It generally had a high market value, but even if farmers couldn't sell any of it, they could still use it as a valuable protein source for their animals or themselves; and 2. It grows extremely well without need of chemicals or irrigation, even in Paraguay's hot, droughty summers.
Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is all about helping local people value the resources they have and coming up with creative ways of sustainably exploiting the ever-present "under-utilized resources in the community." Our friend Neni mastered this principle by using the abundant citrus rinds lying around the farm as seed-starting pots (a "maceta casera").
Imagine living in a place so isolated and remote that your only physical connection to the outside world was a boat that came once a week. That's what it's like in the town of Bahia Negra, Paraguay, on the Rio Paraguay. Boat Day in Bahia Negra is a total bonanza of activity. A rush of people and goods pour on and off the boat for a couple hours before it floats back down the river and life in this sleepy town returns to its slow pace once again.
Though the Rio Paraguay is massive and carries a huge amount of freight, it can also be incredibly serene. This is especially true up in the extremely isolated northern town of Bahia Negra, Paraguay, on the southern edge of the amazingly vast and biodiverse Pantanal wetland.
Peace Corps Volunteers even demonstrate personal sustainability practices in the ways we get around. We navigate Paraguay's dusty countryside on bicycles, which can be a source of amusement for machismo men on their motorized bikes. Or maybe they were laughing at my huge sack of peanuts? (As vegetarians in a very meat-based culture, people were always giving us delicious treats from their "emergency" storage of plant-derived protein!)
As Peace Corps Volunteers, we took advantage of every opportunity to teach Paraguayans something. During a dull moment in the truck on the way to an agriculture training in a rural community, Kiko asked us to teach him how to say "I want to wish you a merry Christmas"...and then we made Roberto try it, too. The language you hear them speaking is the native Guarani which we did most of our work in. 12-9-08