Tag Archives: 30daysoftrains

Open Station

26 Apr

The Cultural Conductors are chugging right along and they held their first major event on my birthday: Estación Abierta.


Thanks to all of the people who donated to my Peace Corps partnership grant, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers who came to help out, community groups who collaborated, and the hardwork of the Conductors, the event was a major success.


We had 150 people move through the train station during the event with 106 people present at one time during our peak hour.  We had musical acts, mimes, a live Zumba demonstration, my Vamos Chicas Vamos girls presented their Rainbow Fish play, rock painting, handicrafts for sale, a bounce house, photo displays, a frisbee workshop and more!



People who missed our first edition are already pleading that we do it again.  So we said, okay, we’ll do it again on June 8th.



Check out the rest of our photos and give the Espacio Cultural La Estacion’s Facebook page a “Like” here: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.549451738411402.1073741833.543046729051903&type=1&l=85dc7df0d2


Biking the Distance

31 Jan

`I saw the existence of the train as the real patriotism of their people that is really far away from institutions and even flags. The train was, and still is, their real flag. And this stands for every remembrance, no matter if it is the boiler of a locomotive, a brick of a station or a story told by any peasant.`

Almost a year ago I was with a big group of friends (other volunteers) when we met 2 Spanish guys who were traveling through planning for a trip to bike the length of the Paraguayan train rails.  We invited them to dinner, which turned into beers and stories, and when they asked for advice on where to pitch their tent, we assured them that on our tile floor was just fine!

A few weeks after that meeting Pablo biked the Paraguayan distance.  Here is what he had to say about his journey-


What impressed you the most on your journey?

The thing that impressed me the most along the way in Paraguay is the feeling of ownership that every person that was anyway involved with the train still mantains. There is a kind of legend about how the train was, but this is still as important for their current life, as it is with the Paraguayan Great War (La Guerra Grande or the Triple Alliance War). It is a sort of event that affected a much longer time than the one it really lasted. So the general lack of infrastructure and movement possibilities underlines even more the importance of a rail system that bring people options to share their goods and prevent isolation. The solution is motorbikes. Invididual and cheap transportation. But it is unsafe and unable to bring goods to markets, i. e.

What was your favorite station?

My favourite station, that’s not an easy question. According to the space and current emptiness, San Salvador, the ancient railway junction, is really impressive to see now. There, Francisco Báez, an old locomotive driver is the key to understanding the past times. Sapucái is really nice, especially the way they tried to preserve the heritage with the English Village nearby, too.

But my favourite, the really charming and sad story happened to me in Isla Alta. There, a random neighbour that finally hosted me (8 of 9 nights people who I had just met took me into their homes.  I had never seen such hospitality, even across Latin America) told me that the issue was not closing the railway, but the uninstalling of the rails. I asked why and then he told me that the government had sold them to a Chilean businessman. He came and brought every rail to an Argentinian buyer, and the very few isolated peasants lost their last emergency exit. The local bus comes so scarcely through those muddy paths (once every 2 days, if it doesn’t rain) that in case of necessity, a grandpa who has health problems at night, for instance, as ex railway workers, they knew how to set a hand-motion little carriage on the rails and push it to Coronel Bogado, the closest hospital. And now they simply can not.

Well, preserving is not putting the rails down again. But, I realised how important the railway was for them. Every single person assured me that their railway was the very 1st in Latin America. This is not true, as New York, Cuba, Chile and a pair of other areas had it first, but it became a truth for them. And sadly, it really was the last steam train in the continent, and this is not romanticism, but lack of investment and poverty. Anyway, I saw the existence of the train as the real patriotism of their people that is really far away from institutions and even flags. The train was, and still is, their real flag. And this stands for every remembrance, no matter if it is the boiler of a locomotive, a brick of a station or a story told by any peasant.

Help preserve the stories– https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009

Pablo Zulaica Parra is a Spanish author, journalist and photographer who, through a combination of train and bike, has traveled his way through 30 countries.  He completed 30 interviews with Paraguayans about their train system and is in the process of trying to publish a book as a result of his work.  You can learn about his other projects here- http://pablozulaica.wordpress.com/

Because I wrangled a sheep for the birth of the babe

30 Jan

In December, things really began heating up, both literally and figuratively.

Summer was in full bloom and the commission at the train station was motivated to clean up the neighborhood and the area around the station in time for Christmas.  Much thought was put into what Christmas lights would adorn the station and the kids of the neighborhood were busy rehearsing lines for their living nativity scene.


I was generally around for the practices and all of the kids know me, so at some point the kids began to look to me as the official costume consultant for the play.  I figured this was not the time to mention that I have never previously attended a reenactment of the birth of Jesus, nor am I entirely up to date on all of my Bible stories.

The fateful day approached and the costumes looked great, the lights had been hung, and all of the neighbors gathered their chairs in front of the steps of the train station.  The only problem was that there was a missing sheep!

Somehow, it became my job to wrangle this sheep from the back of the train station to the front of the presentation.  It belonged to one of the girls in the neighborhood who was a shepherd in the play and she was trying to help me as I woke it up from it’s intermittent naps on the walk around the building (SO tired!).  We pushed and pulled and lifted and grunted and cheered this little sheep up to it’s place in the spotlight with the shepherds, making it just in time for the 2nd minute of the play.

The train station made a great back drop for the live nativity scene, but what was even more beautiful was looking out at the big crowd from the neighborhood and all of Paraguari that had formed to watch.  Neighbors who had never spoke shared Christmas treats, kids from all different types of families played together, and Clerico (the traditional Christmas beverage) was shared by all.

Click here if you think this sounds fun and/or would like me to continue to wrangle sheep: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009

Let’s go girls!

29 Jan

On Thursday of last week I started a new club for girls ages 8-12 at the train station.  We’re calling it Vamos Chicas Vamos and it’s just for fun (as well as slipping in a little bit of self-esteem and leadership training whenever possible).

We filled out sheets with drawings of ourselves that included things we know and things we want to learn, things we know how to do and things we want to learn how to do, want we have achieved and what we hope to achieve, and who we carry along with us in our hearts. (Shout out to my G-mate Estee for this idea!)  Between the 6 girls and I there were dreams of learning about clouds, how to bake a cake, becoming a veterinarian, and playing the ukulele well.


If listening to the “put-down” language between the girls and about themselves (my drawing is ugly, your handwriting is bad, your stomach is big and sticking out, you’re a witch for not giving me a pen, I don’t know how to do this…the list goes on) wasn’t sufficient proof of the necessity for having meaningful conversations about self-esteem, the extreme lag time in coming up with the things they knew about, how to do, and what they achieved, certainly was.

A great case could be made about the necessity for self-esteem training for boys, girls, men and women of Paraguay.  However, it’s especially needed for girls and incredibly rare to find spaces only for girls in Paraguay.

Besides, you’ve heard about the Girl Effect, haven’t you?

Help create more spaces for youth to build self-esteem in Paraguay: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009

Conductors of Culture!

28 Jan

The majority of the funds collected from my Peace Corps Partnership Grant will be utilized to fund a youth capacity building program called Conductores Culturales, or Cultural Conductors.

It will kick off with a one week intensive training on important job skills such as: customer service, communication, teamwork, and leadership, with an extra special focus on 21st Century skills and methods like critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving and creativity.

Eight youth who are ages 16 or above will be selected for participation after an application and interview process.  They will train as a team and then be assigned a mentor with experience in their particular area who will help complete their training as well as create and monitor a work plan for their following six months of service.

They will work in the following areas (Areas of work are flexible due to interests and talents of participating youth):

• Literacy Conductor- responsible for the organization and management of the Reading Room at the train station. Also responsible for holding story hours for children. 

• History Conductor- Responsible for formalizing the tour process at the train station and giving tours to tourists. Also responsible for coordinating the effort to collect personal stories related to the train station and the time period when it operated in Paraguarí. 

• Communications Conductor- Responsible for the online presence of the train station (website, Facebook, etc.), radio and television appearances, and other local communication including a monthly newsletter for the neighborhoods nearest to the train station. 

• Tourism Conductor- Responsible for increasing the train station’s capacity as a tourist attraction, this will include: creation of promotional materials, networking with the tourism movement on the national level, etc..

• Finance Conductor- Responsible for researching and applying to funding possibilities, most importantly for identifying funding or income-generating activities for the station to help maintain the Professional training program in future cycles. 

• Recreation Conductor- Responsible for increasing the train station’s capacity as a recreational space for youth, including the natural spaces around the train station. 

• Culture Conductor- Responsible for planning Community events in the train station related to culture, including music, theater, film, and music. 

• Art Conductor- Responsible for managing and organizing the recycled art studio space and programming art events for youth.

I’d love to hear feedback and ideas on this set-up.  Have you ever participated in or ran a similar training program?  What suggestions do you have to make it successful?

What’s so special about trains?

28 Jan

Earlier today I hiked up a big hill/little mountain in the city of Yaguaron with a group of friends and fellow volunteers.

One of them asked, “But, what’s so special about trains?”

“Well, they’re interesting and people like them…actually, Paraguayans love them.  It’s a source of national pride. A snapshot of another time…” Another volunteer and I went back and forth defending our trains (she also has a train station in her community).

“Yeah, but I mean still…why trains?  And 30 days of trains, do people really want to hear about it?”

Maybe you’re in the same boat and another day, another blog post is just another reason not to support this project.  But! I’m going to keep writing (even including the extra hurdle that my computer took a fatal tumble earlier today and I will be without steady computer/internet access for an undetermined amount of time).

Maybe trains aren’t your thing, so trains aside, the train station is a public space in Paraguari that can be utilized for the public good.  There are currently no community or cultural centers in Paraguari.  There are currently no libraries that are used for reading.  The most important part of this project is what needs to happen in the space of the train station.  Coincidentally, it just happens to be a train station.

Although, I couldn’t think of a better space than the train station.  What once was used as a place to encounter friends, family, and visitors, where people awaited news from Asuncion and the world, and where people listened for the chug of the steam trains as the signal that new travelers and new stories were about to roll through town, is being re-imagined as a modern space that will continue to do all of these things.  It will also work to preserve the stories of common Paraguayans, beginning with stories associated with the train.

And if all of that’s not enough, the train station of Paraguari is nestled into the foot of a big hill/little mountain and when the moon is full and the breeze is just right the place still feels pretty magical.



Help make the magic happen! https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009

I think I can, I think I can!

27 Jan

Day 3 of 30 Days of Trains!

Doubting I’ll make it to the end? Or more importantly, doubting we’ll reach our fundraising goal of $2,840?

Honestly, I have my little pangs of worry as well, but my overriding feeling is I think I can, I think I can.  I think we can together: https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=13-526-009 


That’s one great phrase to have come from a train as a cultural icon.

What’s your favorite train?

Thomas?  The one awaiting you at Platform 9 and 3/4? The L in Chicago?


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