By Mayra Rivarola
Published: Monday, March 22, 2010
An international volunteer organization, Kansas Paraguay Partners, discussed the progress of their work in an annual meeting on March 13 in the K-State Student Union.
Volunteers from the group are organized in 10 committees that are involved in projects from different areas, including conservation, civil society, health education, and cultural exchange, which have served both Kansas and Paraguay.
“This long-standing cooperation has benefited us in Paraguay and in Kansas,” said Rigoberto Gauto, Paraguayan Ambassador in the United States. “I hope to see us getting closer together for the benefit of both.”
The organization promotes people-to-people exchange between Paraguayans and Kansans, as members of Partners of the Americas. With POA, states are partnered with regions or countries in Latin America and the Caribbean to promote cooperation and exchange.
In the area of conservation, the Asuncion Zoo Project started in Manhattan in 1994 in collaboration with the Friends of Sunset Zoological Park, said Bob Klemm, director of conservation and research for Sunset Zoo. Klemm was contacted to assist the zoo in Paraguay because of the Sunset Zoo transformation. Since then, he has traveled back and forth to assist in the renovation of the zoo in Paraguay.
“The state of the zoo there was deplorable,” Klemm said. “The animals were unhappy and unhealthy and the visitors were unhappy, with no desire to visit a stinky zoo.”
In partnership with a local foundation and with Klemm’s guidance and expertise, the zoo in Paraguay has gone through major renovations. Animal shelters and walkways for visitors were improved, informational boards were implemented and a reception area and kiosks were added.
“The last time I went to the zoo I was really impressed by the changes,” said Cecilia Crosa, alumna from Wichita State University and Paraguayan resident. “Years ago, I remember the zoo being smelly and dirty.”
Today, groups of children fill the zoo and are eager to learn more about the natural environment and the animals, said Klemm.
Another project that was discussed at the meeting was the Youth Ambassador Exchange.
Every year, high school students from public schools in Paraguay travel to Kansas. Students reside with a local family and attend a local high school for three weeks, said Mary Bradshaw, Kansas resident and program coordinator.
This year five students from Kansas will be traveling to Paraguay, she said.
“Paraguayan students have been traveling to Kansas for a few years and they have been meeting people,” said Bradshaw. “They have sparked interest in American students to travel abroad and learn about other cultures.”
At the college level, there have been about 700 students who have studied or are still studying in universities in Kansas, said Gauto. But the partnership now is seeking to attract U.S. students to study in Paraguay as well.
For more information about their ongoing project, see kansasparaguaypartners.wordpress.com.