Elizabeth Escobar, a Peace Corps volunteer who served in San Salvador, Guaira tells about her experience working with a train station and grant funding in 2011.
La Asociación del Centro Cultural y Comunitario “La Estación” de San Salvador invited me to be apart of their group right at my one year point in Paraguay. La Asociacion had formed because they wanted to preserve the history, culture and beauty of the station. Their history is pretty awesome, I may butcher their story, obviously they tell it way better…
When the train stopped running, they say the last train went through in 1991, the owner of the trains was selling off everything. The actual trains, machines, rails were being sold, basically all parts metal because they could sell it for a good penny. The city of San Salvador was so proud of their train station, their livelihood was the station, it broke their hearts to see it stop and were not about to let it be destroyed. A group of people decided that they would not let their station be sold off and destroyed. A man moved into the train station and was in charge of alarming the town if any one came in at night to steel metal, he would light off a “bomba” and the towns people would run out of their houses and confront whomever was at the station and literally chase the person away.
Years pass…2010 rolls around, I join the group. The group at this point has opened a museum and library at the train station. The have preserved the station and still have two actual train engines at the station. The sad part was that very rarely did people visit the museum and the library was only open about once a month when activities were held.
SINEFOCAL, a Paraguayan agency, came in and taught a Tourism class to about 15 people from the town. The goal of the course was that the participants would become more knowledgeable in how to be a “tour guide”. I ended up taking the class and it met about every other week for 3 months. It was super fun and I feel that the participants learned how to tell the history of the town, they planned “excursions” for the tourists that would potentially visit. The main focus of all of the visits was the train station. They imagined making the station a place for church and youth retreats.
I loved being at the station so I offered to hold English Class at the station and really pushed the association to hold more events there. The Assocication also worked with the mayor to get a salary for a librarian so it was open 4 days a week. Guitar and painting classes were then offered at the station. After more activity started to happen at the station, I started assessing needs and with help from GTZ (a German development organization) and the association we decided to apply for a grant of $1,700 and received the money.
The grant was used for chairs, lighting and bathroom and after everything was installed a few months later the station did end up getting used a lot more. The association was so excited they started planning weekly events including plays, concerts, dances, festivals an more! Since I’ve left I believe that they are still working together. I know they were working closely with the municipality to get full rights to the station. They have since fenced off the property so the cows and sheep don’t destroy the grass.
Since the train stopped running in San Salvador it’s almost turned into a ghost town. There is no work and no small businesses which forces all of the youth out of the town once they finish school. So sadly, the only people who continue to be apart of the association are the retired train workers and older member of the community who had some connection to the train.
Thank you, Elizabeth for sharing your story! The way the train station evolved into a cultural space is inspiring! Thankfully, Paraguari is located on a ruta and still a very active city with surrounding hills and attractions that bring tourists through. I think that taking the best case practices from San Salvador and applying them to the reality of Paraguari this train station is poised for success. Help us make it happen! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009