Peabody-Burns High School graduate Joshua Klarmann was surprised how much of a gap he observed between the rich and poor during a month he spent in Paraguay earlier this summer.
“It was a culture shock for me because there were the very poor and the very rich,” he said.
Klarmann visited the South American nation as part of a Youth Ambassadors program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. He and 14 other recent graduates from across the U.S. were in Paraguay June 24 to July 17.
He and the other participants stayed with wealthy host families, so he said he thought they got a one-sided experience.
“You could tell it’s a really poor country,” Klarmann said. “When you hear 60 percent of the people live below poverty, you don’t know what it’s like until you see it.”
Paraguay was preparing for elections when he was there, and it seemed like virtually all advertising was either for Coca Cola or a political candidate, he said.
“Even the graffiti was political,” Klarmann said.
But one thing seemed to bring the entire country together: the success of the national soccer team in the World Cup. Paraguay advanced to the quarterfinals, where they lost to eventual champion Spain.
“It was the best they’ve ever done in history,” Klarmann said. “It was really fun watching their games.”
He and his host family were at a shopping center when a game was on television, and he estimated 1,000 to 2,000 people just stopped what they were doing to watch the game.
“Everyone stops work for the games,” he said.
Members of the Youth Ambassadors group visited several Paraguayan schools during the trip. Klarmann said his favorite part was visiting an agricultural school, talking with people about farming techniques.
Other participants seemed bored, he said, but he related to the subject well despite the language barrier.
“That was two hours of bliss for me,” he said.
The dialect of Spanish, one of the country’s official languages, spoken in Paraguay is different than the Mexican dialect taught in many American schools, he said. It sounded, to Klarmann, like the speakers were mumbling much of the time.
Guarani, an indigenous language, is Paraguay’s second official language, but most wealthy Paraguayans won’t admit to understanding it, Klarmann said. Fortunately, the father of his host family was a doctor who had to know Guarani, so Klarmann was able to learn a little bit of the language from him.
He and the other group members are brainstorming ideas for a follow-up project. The most likely project, he said, is a fundraising drive to provide books, art supplies, and musical instruments to Paraguayan schools.
Klarmann will study mathematics and secondary education at Kansas State University. He moves to Manhattan Saturday.