Tranquilo. This popular Paraguayan phrase is both a reassurance and a reminder: Be calm, everything is all good. Not a message that is always easy to swallow for a group of hard-working, technology-driven, ambitious families that are used to a fast-paced and high-achieving lifestyle. Throughout our experience, many of us found the message of tranquilo to be both inspiring and challenging.
As the first Courts for Kids trip that was comprised completely of families (with the youngest members being seven, and the oldest being 60-something), this week promised to hold its own unique challenges. The kids proved to be amazingly positive and patient through 36 hours of travel, even after one sweet teenager discovered that all her luggage had been lost. From the moment we arrived in the rural Paraguayan community of Primera Linea Irrazabal, we were greeted by what seemed to be half of the 500 people who call this small community home. That incredibly warm welcome continued throughout the day and developed into even warmer cross-cultural friendships throughout the week. However, within hours of our arrival, we were also greeted by a surprisingly cold South American night. We discovered that the hearts of the people of Primera Linea would be the only real warmth we would experience that week! As each of us was equipped with one thin mattress and a blanket on a cold concrete classroom floor, we developed an incredible appreciation for winter in Paraguay, and an even deeper admiration for the people who live through it in homes with little heat.
Though many of the teens and a few adults on the trip had some conversational Spanish experience, we also made efforts to speak Paraguay’s preferred indigenous language: Guarani. The younger kids inspired the rest of us—they immediately dove in, using hand gestures and a good sense of humor to begin building friendships and trading words. The rest of us gained courage from their example, and from the continued efforts of everyone in the community. A committed band of Primera ladies cooked our meals every day, all day long. They were delighted to share with us how they killed the chickens, baked their treasured bread called chipa, made their soups, and prepared the ever-present starchy mandioca root.
Fortunately for all of us, sports became a bridge across our cultural boundaries. It was not long before the kids of all ages were out playing soccer together, whenever there was a break in the work. We also taught each other games, songs, dances—bringing all of us out of our comfort zones. Within a couple days the lovely cooks were tickling us at surprising moments, and kissing us on both cheeks when we thanked them for our meals. The kids were working together and laughing together with equal intensity.
The cool working conditions, along with the organized efforts of everyone involved, meant that the court was finished in only three and a half days. The basketball camp was a favorite—kids of all ages participated, and we were impressed to see the girls of the community as enthusiastic and involved as the boys. Even when the camp was finished, and we had moved on to a reflection meeting, the kids were still playing basketball until the sun went down. The remaining time allowed us to continue to experience and learn the message of tranquilo: we went for long walks in the community, enjoyed the communal cup of highly culturally valued yerba mate or tereré, learned about the local deforestation and efforts toward more sustainable living, watched community performances of music, dance, and equestrian skills, and visited the local city of Caaguazū.
After many emotional goodbyes, our team spent a day at one of the incredible natural wonders of the world: Iguazū Falls. As the largest waterfall system in the world, this magnificent power tumbles across both Argentina and Brazil. It is difficult to put into words the sublime grandeur of this sight that we experienced with our minds, bodies, and souls. Perhaps this was, in some ways, where the beautiful lesson of tranquilo finally settled in to our hearts. In the midst of this mighty rushing experience, was a great, deep calm. All other endeavors or ambitions seemed insignificant. All concerns were swept aside. There was nothing to do but stand in profound awe of what millions of tiny drops of water could become when they joined forces for a common purpose. In some way, maybe we reflected this powerful force: the work of our small families had joined forces with the dreams of a small Paraguayan community to create something that will be so much bigger than ourselves in the lives of the Primera Linea children.
“This trip changed me in the fact that I will no longer assume that someone’s size can determine their abilities. The smallest person can provide just as much help and strength as the largest. Strength is not based on size, but their heart. It is exercised through opening through all things new, and challenging themselves and enabling others to reach their full potential.” – Hailey Lernihan
“What I learned from the community- To not stereotype others, for instance if I met some of these people in my school I probably would have missed out on a very cool friendship, because I would have put a stereotype on them. This trip really showed me what a loving heart looks like and how it can affect others…” – Mya Wollam
“I felt that I sometimes live my life through technology or social media and it can be isolating. You can be connected to someone and not be truly connected. It seems these people have a true communal connection. I want to make specific times when I’m with people to be off technology or take more proactive approaches to be in more community settings where we play or work or just hang together.” – Brandon Angelo
“I think that what I learned about the world allowed my perception of the world to shrink/ expand. Shrunk in the ways of the earth feels more do-able. Europe and Mexico don’t seem so far away. And expanded in the sense that these ‘rural communities’ I hear about are not so small.” – Liana Mills
“The high point of the trip was just being a part of a hard working team, where everybody just pitched in, found a job and worked their tail off to accomplish our goal of helping this community. Working alongside the community, despite our language barrier, seeing their smiles made it especially rewarding.
The few low points were probably the thing I will laugh most about when reflecting on this trip. The plugged toilets and not so thick mattresses will only make me appreciate more what I have back home. The high points way overshadow any of the uncomfortable times.” – Tom Hutley
“A favorite memory would be helping the amazing women in the community cook. Being in their presence just makes you feel loved and at home despite the language barrier. It was cool seeing two different types of people and cultures joining together for a greater outcome.” – Sarah Whetsell