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Team Tobati: Todo Es Posible
This past Spring Break, I went on the Team Tobati Trip to Tobati, Paraguay. This trip is a community service trip to one of Paraguay’s poorest regions; Tobati. In Tobati, the average family lives on two dollars a day. The trip is sponsored by my school, Kingswood Oxford and was started by a teacher whose mother grew up in Tobati.
During this trip I traveled with a group of about 130 other students and faculty from my school down to stay in Paraguay for about two weeks. We all stayed with host families in Tobati, Tobati. The host family I stayed with was a very affluent family in Paraguay (although in the United States they would be considered a middle class family).
In my host family there was the mother, Theresa A., her daughter Claudia, and her niece Lili. Lili and Claudia were 17 and 18 and we all had a great time spending time together. While in Tobati I was amazed by the generosity of this family, as they reached out and became exactly like a family to me while I was away from my home.
The main focus of the trip is the working aspect, and twice a day every day the students and faculty on the trip are assigned work. These different tasks were given to our divided work groups and were mostly manual labor.
One day, my group was assigned to help local men build an extra classroom for some of the students at the school Team Tobati has set up. This school is called the Macchi School, and was completely funded and built by the Kingswood Oxford community. This was an amazing experience to see the school my own classmates had built with their own hands, and even more impressive; how much of an impact this school had on Tobati. It is an independent school which only selects 10-15 applicants from the entire Tobati region for each grade. These students come from the top of their classes in the public school system and are given free tuition once accepted.
This school is providing opportunities for the children in Tobati that were never possible before. Most of the children in past generations were unable to continue school as their families needed them working to support the family; and it was impossible for the families to pay costs associated with schools (i.e. books and uniforms). However, the Macchi School is now providing a free, top-notch education for these kids; and is helping them gain opportunities outside of manual work for their future.
Most importantly however, the school provides hope for the kids. It gives them something to work hard for while they are still in public school. An the opportunities they gain while in the Macchi school (such as the transfer program to stay and learn at Kingswood Oxford and live in the States for 2 months in the winter, for the best three English students).
While we were working on the school, and building a classroom; we worked with many Paraguayan kids. These kids were working the same, or harder as we were working and were from the ages of 8 all the way to 18. While working that day I met an amazing girl named Anna who was 11 and her sister who was only 4. Although conversing was difficult (they only spoke Spanish and Guaraní; the native language of Paraguay) my seven years of Spanish classes came in handy. I learned that their father was very sick, and money was incredibly tight in their family.
The story of these kids broke my heart while I was there, because this incredibly bright young girl (who had luckily been accepted into the Macchi School and was attending it in the upcoming 6th grade class) would have had no opportunities besides being a housewife without the Team’s effort.
During the trip I formed a very close bond with the girls who started after buying each of them an ice cream at the corner store, and then playing on the playground during our siesta hour. On the last day, they waited outside my host families house to say goodbye to me, and I had tears in my eyes as the truck pulled away carrying me to the Asuncion airport.
During the trip I also got to go on a one day trip to one of the poorest villages in Tobati, San Francisco. I got to accompany Harvard Medical Student Alyssa Rosen on this trip as she went from house to house to deliver basic medical care to the residents.
My trip was scheduled to be me and one other student, but we were surprised when the headmaster of our school decided to join us! As we went from door to door we saw the extreme poverty the people had to live in.
People lived in one or two room dirt-floored shacks, to house a family of eight or nine people. One of the biggest problems of the poverty was the fact that the children couldn’t afford to wear shoes, and the dirty water.
Although wearing shoes in the US may only provide you with a couple of calluses, in Paraguay parasites or “bichos” burrow under the skin of the foot and into the body of the child. These parasites then eat the small amount of food the children are ingesting, leaving the children malnourished and very sick. Although getting rid of parasites is a very easy and harmless procedure (just ingesting a banana-flavored liquid which paralyzes the parasites, and allows the body to pass them) none of the families had time or money enough to take their children to the one hospital in Tobati. However, with the new program established by Team Tobati, the doctor was able to administer this to the children free of charge.
The other major problem, which is very small at first but goes untreated until it is life threatening are small infections. These infections are mostly on or under the skin of children especially. They usually start out as small cuts while playing but with a lack of clean water and antiseptic to clean the cuts, an infection soon manifests itself. While on this one day trip I saw many infections that were now devouring entire limbs; that had started out as a small cut.
The most important thing I saw on the trip was how much of a difference some hope could make to people. Before this program was in place many parents felt abandoned by the healthcare system and turned to alcohol for comfort. This left their children hopeless and on their own. However, with the Harvard medical students simply visiting this town and providing some help, people were making efforts to better themselves all because of their renewed hope.
I saw people who had absolutely nothing, and yet they were much happier than the majority of people I see in my everyday life. This trip was an amazing eye-opener and made me appreciate all of the wonderful opportunities and luxuries I have in my everyday life.
Going to Tobati, Paraguay was one of the best experiences I have ever had; and a trip I will never forget.
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