Monday, July 20, 2009

How the PC thing works

So I realized that most people probably don’t know how the PC program works…so here is an overview:

Staging: 1 day orientation in Miami, Florida
• 18 trainees from all over the US, met each other for the first time, completed some paperwork, did a few ice breakers, learned the basics of the how the next few hours and months would work, and then boarded a plane for Asuncion, Paraguay via Sao Paulo Brazil.
• Upon arrival in Asuncion we were taking to the CHP via van to their training center. After a few hours of activities, and an interview to determine host family placement, we were driven to our school, CHP’i, located in another community where we would live with our host families and attend most of our classes.

11 weeks of training through CHP
• CHP, which used to stand for ‘Center for Human Potential,’ is an international language and technical training program the PC uses in many of their countries to transform trainees into high performing volunteers.
• A group of volunteers is given a letter and number. Our group of 18 volunteers is G30. I think the ‘G’ stands for ‘Guarambare’ which is the name of the city that CHP is located in, but we use in the same way we would use the word ‘group’. There are 3 G’s per year. A sister G is the group 1 year behind/ahead of you.
• My group of volunteers, G30, is divided into 2 areas: Rural Economic Development [RED] and a subsector of RED called Municipal Services Development [Muni].
• During training, trainees live with host families who are paid a small about per day to cover meals and living expenses. Muni live in J.A. Saldivar; RED live in Paso de Oro.
• Trainees are given 15,000G [$US3] per day as spending money to purchase personal items, take the buses [2,100G], buy snacks, etc.
• Classes last from about 7:45am to 5:00pm Monday-Friday; 8:00am-11:30 on Saturday.
o The morning session lasts from 7:45am-11:30am and usually consists of language classes.
o The evening session from 1:30pm-5:00pm is usually technical training. Usually RED and Muni have these classes separately, however on Wednesdays we go to Guarambare for sessions together.
• During these 11 weeks, trainees complete two face-to-face interviews and one final questionnaire in order to help determine what is the most appropriate future site. During Week#9, trainees are assigned their official site and visit it for about 5 days. After the visit they return to their training communities for 2 more weeks.
• During their future site visit, trainees also meet their Community Contact. Ideally the Community Contact is someone who works in the Muni who will first helps the volunteer find a suitable place to live and then helps them identify community needs and start working on projects.

Final Site
• After the 11 weeks, the trainees are sworn in a ceremony at the US Embassy and become official volunteers.
• After swearing in, the volunteer must then pack up their belongings, leave their host family in their training community, and move to their new site.
• Volunteers are committed to working in their site for the next 2 years.
• After 2 years the volunteer can choose to return to the US, or they can extend their service. If a volunteer chooses to extend they can continue working in their site, they can start working for an NGO, they can work in the PC office in Asuncion, or they can become a site coordinator [the people who go out and find and evaluate potential sites as well as place volunteers in those sites.] Extensions are for a minimum of 3 months, though 6months-1 year is more common. However some volunteers have been known to extend for 2 or more years.
• Extending is a very popular option for volunteers in Paraguay and our Country Director, Don, highly encourages it.

G30-RED vs Muni

Rural Economic Development [RED]
RED volunteers will be working in rural areas with small businesses and cooperatives to help them start new businesses and improve the existing ones. Their training community, Paso del Oro, is a slightly more rural community which will help them prepare for their future living conditions. There are 10 volunteers in the RED group.

Municipal Services Development [Muni] *My Group*
Muni volunteers are supposed to work with local governments in cities ranging from 2,000 people to 100,000 people. Technically Muni is a subsector of RED, though the programs are completely different. I suspect that the Muni program will be taken out from under the RED umbrella within the next few years.

The official goal of this group is to 1) increase transparency 2) improve public services 3)increase public participation in the community. However the actual trend is for Muni volunteers to work less and less with the local government itself. Even though the communities have specifically requested to have a volunteer help at the Muni, the reality is that many local governments are not really ready to make the kinds of dramatic internal changes that Muni volunteers are supposed to create. While there are some exceptions, many Muni volunteers have such a hard time developing projects with the local government that they take on secondary projects in other areas to fill their time. Because, Paraguay is often ranked as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, the goals of the Muni program are very important for the development of the country, but extremely difficult to actually achieve.

Initially there were supposed to be 9 people in the Muni group, however one lady just didn’t show up to staging. Evidently she sent the coordinators an email the day we left for Paraguay that basically said she wouldn’t be able to make it this time. Personally I can’t imagine going through all of that application process and then just not getting on the plane. There are currently 8 in the Muni group.

Other Types of Volunteers
• Environmental Education [EE]
• Agriculture [includes bee keeping]
• Urban Youth Development
• Health and Sanitation

Vacation Time
• Volunteers can travel anywhere they want during their service, including the US, but they have to use vacation time and pay for their own travel expenses.
• Volunteers receive 2 paid vacation days per month which can be saved up over time.
• All trips have to be preapproved and cannot conflict with mandatory trainings
• Taking vacations without permission is grounds for ‘Administrative Separation’ aka getting fired.

Language Training
As mentioned before, most of the training for the 2 groups, Muni and RED, is done separately. The Muni group is divided into 2 language groups, 3 who are studying Spanish and 5 who have strong enough Spanish skills to start learning Guarani. The RED group has 3 language groups, 2 for Spanish and 1 class with 3 Guarani students. All trainees much reach a level of Intermediate Spanish to swear in as a volunteer.

Technical Training
Muni and RED each have training sessions and field trips related to their work area. The RED group has visited cooperatives, farms, reviewed business basics, etc

Muni group visits local governments and offices where social services are distributes, learns about the governmental structure, how local government earn and spend their money, Itaipu Royalties, basic laws affecting the Munis, challenges faced by the Munis, corruption, how to help with project management, feasibility studies, etc

Guarambare Training
In the Guarambare Training Center each Wednesday, the REDs and Munis receive training together on PC regulations, medical issues, safety guidelines, how to make sure our water and food is clean properly, sexual/physical assault, gender awareness, culture shock, gardening, ice breakers, team building activities, group dynamics, PACA tools, etc.

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