Paraguay means many different things to me. It means energetic meriendas overflowing with medialunas, alfajores, and jokes spilling from my cousins’ mouths in rapid Spanish. It means the melodies of a Paraguayan harp resonating off the walls of a small museum in San Ignacio. It means asados and chisme with my tías. It means walking for hours to kneel before La Virgen de Caacupé. I was born and raised in Miami but growing up I had the fortune to visit my family in Paraguay relatively often. As it has presented itself in my life, Paraguay has meant vibrancy, joy, and love. I know, however, that the reality is far more complicated than that. I recall when I first saw the houses made of tin sheets and mismatched plywood. When I looked beyond the relatively comfortable lifestyle of my family, the steep inequality of Paraguay was striking to me. As these two visions of Paraguay collided, I felt a growing desire to do some sort of work in the country. I wanted to learn about the country of my ancestors. I wanted to understand the political, economic, historical, and social factors that make Paraguay what it is today.
Then came this DukeEngage team. A project that intersects with sustainability, energy, foreign policy, negotiation theory, and social justice – all subjects that I’m passionate about – made this opportunity too perfect to pass up.
Starting the Project:
Our project description reads: ““ITAIPU & Post-Pandemic Paraguay,” a virtual research observatory that will build an assessment of the current crisis as well as model out the future needs in order to help Paraguayan policymakers save lives and protect the economy.” An exciting, ambitious, vague, and daunting task.
Of course, a team of eight people is not going to change a country in eight weeks. But as I read the project description, I continued to ask myself: what is our role in helping to navigate Paraguay out of this crisis?
Luckily, the first weeks of meeting with my team have helped provide a sense of direction in this project. I realized that our project description was intentionally vague because we, as a team, are going through the research design process together. We are constantly going to be learning, gathering, analyzing, and presenting data to each other and to the public. This iterative process is essential to providing responsive and accessible research.
In our first two weeks, we have already talked with brilliant Paraguayan entrepreneurs and academics that have shed so much light on the current crisis and the underlying structural problems it has exposed. The passion in this team and in our project director, Dr. Christine Folch, is evident. As we narrow down on our research question and deliverables, I am becoming very excited about where this project is taking us.