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Youth Forward Scholarship 2018 – A Community Caseta: My summer in Paraguay

Name: Natalie Paxton
From: Encinitas, CA
Grade: High School Senior
School: San Dieguito Academy
Votes: 11

Natalie
Paxton

A
Community
Caseta:
My summer in rural Paraguay


               In the summer of 2017, I lived in rural Paraguay for eight weeks with
Amigos de las Américas. AMIGOS sends high school volunteers to live
in Latin America with host families and lead community projects. I
wanted to help a developing community while pushing myself to step
outside of my comfort zone. I knew I would grow both as a volunteer
and a person. However, when I arrived, I became extremely homesick: I
was scared, 5,600 miles away from home, and couldn’t stop crying.
After thinking about leaving early, I decided to stay: I had invested
eight months of training, fundraised $7,000, and worked tirelessly to
prepare for my summer. I couldn’t abandon my community now.

At first, when my experience was not going as planned, I struggled
with adapting. However, I realized that I couldn’t change my
circumstances, but I could change my attitude. Daily, I reminded
myself to aprovecharse (take advantage of) this opportunity. I
wasn’t in Paraguay to pine for home; I was there to make a
difference – to be the change that I wanted to see in this world – by
building a caseta (small building) on the soccer field.
Everything shifted with my new attitude. I recruited a group of high
school kids to plan the project. We had weekly meetings and hashed
out all the details. The money allotted by AMIGOS gave us wasn’t
enough to build the caseta. To solve the problem, I decided to
have a raffle. Using the scant resources I had, I made bracelets and
a cake, selling tickets door to door. It was hot, tiring, and
uncomfortable talking to strangers, but I forced myself to continue.
At the end of the day, we made $50. I was stoked! Now our community
would be able to build the caseta.

For
the grand opening, my partner and I made fliers. We went to every
single house in the community to personally invite people. Only three
people came. I was heartbroken. After all the time and effort spent
planning and fundraising, it seemed like no one appreciated our
determination to make a difference. However, that night, the
community leader invited us to his house for empanadas with
his family. He expressed his gratitude and said how impactful the
project would be to their community. I was in tears: his appreciation
was moving.


               Because of my experience, I want to continue travelling internationally to
foster community projects and help those less fortunate. Sustainable
projects are implemented with a forward looking mindset of not only
helping people once, but continuing to help even after the volunteers
have left. I want to inspire other young leaders to go out into the
world and be the change. Volunteering is difficult, but it’s all
worth it in the end. Those eight weeks taught me that anyone can
create change with passion, perseverance and a goal to make a
difference.


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