WORKING FOR THE PEACE CORPS IN PARAGUAY, 1968
Here are the reminiscences of Dick Ginsburg, a former Peace Corps member, who served in rural Paraguay.
Our Peace Corps group had two months of training in Toluca, Mexico, to learn Spanish, Paraguay’s native tongue (Guarani), and agriculture. We learned to grow vegetables and to castrate pigs -- all new to me.
We arrived in Paraguay in December, 1968, at the height of summer. Getting off the plane was like walking into a brick wall of heat. Paraguay was a backwater, isolated and off the beaten track. The capital of Asunción was a sleepy city without a traffic light. Outside of Asunción and a couple of other larger cities in the countryside, there was no electrical service. Telephone service came only to a central office in most towns. The highways were unpaved and turned into an impassable quagmire when it rained.
Going to the site: I took a 12 hour, all-night bus ride to Lima, Paraguay. I had to walk the last two kilometers at daybreak to reach the mission of the Holy Ghost fathers, Fr. Sydney Chang, Fr. Neil Rodriguez and Fr. Keegan. They wanted to start an agricultural cooperative and had requested a volunteer from the Peace Corps. I was fortunate to be selected and had the opportunity to help form the Cooperativa Agrícola de Lima. The idea was not totally new, but a prior tobacco cooperative had failed due to bad seeds.
The farming in the area was subsistence-level. The farmers plowed their land with oxen. They grew the food they consumed and, in addition, small amounts of tobacco and cotton to sell. At this time the U.S. foreign aid program had embarked on a project to introduce soybeans as a market crop. My task was to learn how to grow soybeans and pass this knowledge on to the members of the cooperative. A dozen or so were willing to take the risk of planting a new crop. It was decided that each would grow soybeans on their own land and then market the crop together through the cooperative. The cooperative advanced them credit for the seeds and tools. Seeds were also provided by Caritas, a Catholic charity. Fr. Sydney Chang obtained a donation from the Chinese embassy of a diesel motor to run a thresher that the cooperative bought. It was taken from farm to farm on a traditional oxcart. The cooperative succeeded. The members had a cash income. Another Peace Corps volunteer came to Lima and taught the wives of the members to use soy flour and soy milk in their traditional Paraguayan recipes. Soybeans now constitute the most important crop in Paraguay and are a major source of export income.