Alumna getting to know Paraguay as Peace Corps volunteer

Varnadoe-Russ with high school students at an environmental camp in Paraguay.

Kirby Varnadoe-Russ ’10 wrote to her alma mater recently from Paraguay, where she is working the next two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in community health. She’s living in Nueva Alborada (“new sunrise”), about 18 kilometers from Paraguay’s second largest city, Encarnación, at the southeastern tip of the country. She’s just moved into her own place but is sharing her home with Hachi, a stray dog she adopted.

Among many things she’s learning, Varnadoe-Russ has adapted to drinking terere, a cold tea, and mate, the warm version. Several times a day, in conversational groups with others, she takes a sip of the drink and passes it to the next person while talking.

“Paraguayans are very tranquilopa: everything’s chill,” she writes in a newsletter account of her first six months.

She notes President John F. Kennedy’s three goals in creating the Peace Corps in 1961:

“All three goals are equally important,” Varnadoe-Russ writes. That can be a challenge for Americans who are accustomed to checking tasks off a list, she says. “The Peace Corps really stresses that sitting down with people and talking over a cup of terere or mate, exchanging interesting stories and nuances about our culture and theirs, and forming relationships are equally important if not more important than completing projects or building things.”  

Projects that Peace Corps volunteers do take on need to be sustainable in the broadest sense. “The ideas need to come from and be important to the community.”

Her work is open ended; she didn’t come to Paraguay with any particular agenda from the Peace Corps. She will be working mostly with the health post and the local high school on projects, which may include English language and literacy proficiency along with community health projects such as advocating for dental health and sanitation practices; encouraging wellness and vegetable gardening; and teaching sexual and reproductive health education.

Recently she worked with the high school principal and students to make EcoBricks — plastic soda bottles packed tightly with inorganic trash. “They turn into very sturdy ‘bricks’ that you can use to build anything from benches to houses. And they’re free! And saving the environment!”

Varnadoe-Russ will be visiting the Triangle in July, then returning to Paraguay. She welcomes emails:

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