Chronicle – Our milONGa volunteering experience, a mutual encounter and learning opportunity
By Manuel Nacinovich
It could be said that thanks to the limited school calendar, Paraguay appeared in Alexandra and Rodrigo’s plans. They both are teachers in Spain, and through milONGa they found an opportunity that fit perfectly. In Guaraní they came across a very different life-style from their own, where they had to reinvent themselves and be creative every day. Where, despite the shortcomings of the place, they were surprised by the unlimited generosity of the people. And where, in addition, they experienced what it means to enjoy and value the little things.
⇒ If you think about Milonga, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Rodrigo: “To me, an opportunity, really. We were looking for something like this and we couldn’t quite find it, then milONGa appeared and gave us a project that fit quite well with what we were looking for. We were quite lost and milONGa made it very easy for us”.
Alexandra: “Yes, indeed. That was a bit tough to say what experience we wanted to do and we were very limited in time because we are teachers here in Spain, so it had to be either in July or August. And Milonga told us, don’t worry we are going to find a place where there will be something similar to an elective education for you, which is what you want”.
⇒ You were from, not only a different country, but a very different continent. Do you remember what was the first thing that struck you?
Rodrigo: “I do, I remember saying ‘here the streets are not done properly’ (laughs). I obviously pictured Paraguay as a humble country but… it shocked me a lot. There were not sidewalks, for example. Or the vehicles… the truth is that it is another reality very different from the one where we live day by day”
Alexandra: “especially at the beginning, with the first people we spoke with, who welcomed us into their home, it was their rhythm of life that impressed me. Here it feels like we are all running, everything is more frantic, everything has to be now, and there it was like everything was more… if you started talking with someone, the conversation lasted two hours and there was no rush. We were talking about ‘how is this like in your country?, And how do you do it here?’. Then there was that feeling of saying ‘we spent three hours sitting around a table and nothing happened, and the world remains the same’”.
⇒ How did milONGa make you grow?
Alexandra: “In valuing the little things. I remember getting there and it was very hot, the shower was cold so at first we were grateful for it. But suddenly a wave of cold weather came and we really began to really appreciate having heating, which we had in our home here in Spain, or that the water came out hot or little things that you don’t realize of having every day. I remember coming back, turning on the tap at home and saying ‘I am so lucky’. And on a professional level, it was experiencing the difference in the school in Paraguay and the one where we work here, that sometimes we complain about small things. Perhaps we complain because the copier is not fast or it didn’t make as many copies as you wanted. And in Paraguay we had to teach maths with stones, with sticks, without writing on a blackboard, so we had to reinvent ourselves every day. It was about valuing every little thing”.
Rodrigo: “I also very much value the topic that is mentioned in many songs, which is the truth, that those who have the least are the ones who give you the most. And it’s true. We went to the poorest neighborhood I’ve ever seen in my life, and I felt bad because everyone gave me things. The children brought me their toys, they brought me their drawings…”
Alexandra: “And food. The mothers from the school brought us food at all hours”
Rodrigo: “Yes… It was like ‘why are you giving this to me? If you have almost nothing why are you giving me things?’ And there you realize that there is a selfishness in the world that is gaining ground. But there… It was nice. It was nice because… they were giving you everything they had”.
⇒ A little bird told me that in Paraguay there was also a marriage proposal, is it true?
Alexandra: “It might be, it might be” (she laughs)
Rodrigo: “It is true (he laughs). During the last day there… I took a shot”.
Alexandra: “The truth is that I was not expecting anything. They did not even throw us a farewell party, I remember seeing all the children in line, and Rodrigo started talking, saying very nice things to the children, about how important education is, that they should value being able to go to school, and suddenly he ended with the proposal and… I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it. And there were a lot of little spectators, because all the children looked like they were watching a Disney movie. I was covered in mud because we were playing football with them, my hair was tied up and I felt like a Disney princess because everyone looked at us like ‘wow, you are getting married!’. It was incredible.”
⇒You invited some people from Paraguay to the wedding, right?
Alexandra: “Yes, especially the family that hosted us”.
Rodrigo: “They welcomed us very well, they provided us with everything, they had a lot of patience and they even almost saved my life, because one day I had a heat stroke and they treated me very well. Honestly we have great memories. Unfortunately, it was complicated and they couldn’t come but they were very much invited”.
Alexandra: “In fact we continue to keep in touch with them. On New Year’s Eve we celebrate together, from time to time we make a video call. Honestly for us they were very important when we were there and it is a memory that we will always have”.
Rodrigo: “Yes, when something important happens we let each other know”.
Alexandra: “For example with the birth of our son. They worried a lot during the pregnancy… While he was being born…”
⇒ What do you think Europe can learn from Latin America, and vice versa?
Rodrigo: “I believe that in Europe we need to learn to live a bit and to let go of caring so much about work. We have to reduce our life rhythm a bit, to take time for ourselves when we are with people. To take advantage of being with them more. And Latin America, I think it especially needs to learn, above everything else, about taking care of the country as well as working together to achieve things together”
You can find the video of this chronicle on our instagram @milonga_project