Blog: Eagles in Paraguay with Courts for Kids

Blog: Eagles in Paraguay with Courts for Kids

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From May 13, a group of 17 American University student-athletes and three staff members embarked on the inaugural Eagles in Service international trip, heading to the small rural community of Tercera Linea for a nine-day project through the organization Courts for Kids. While there, the students will be fully immersed in the community and culture, working alongside community members to build a multipurpose sports court. This blog, written by the seven men and 10 women throughout the trip, will give an inside look at their exciting journey.

Day One (May 13) - Luci Rascher, Women's Swimming & Diving
Day Two (May 14) - Lily Koenig, Women's Swimming & Diving
Day Three (May 15) - Swezen Kizito, Men's Soccer
Day Four (May 16) - Samm Francucci and Tiffany Zukosky, Women's Soccer
Day Five (May 17) - Tony Wokasch and Prince Hyeamang, Wrestling
Day Six (May 18) - Vela McBride, Volleyball, and Matt Sloan, Men's Soccer
Day Seven (May 19) - Kaitlyn McTernan, Cross Country/Track, and Caroline Miller, Field Hockey
Day Eight (May 20) - Abraham Correa-Medina and Elijah Murphy, Wrestling
Day Nine (May 21) - Lucia Rose, Women's Track & Field, and Francisco Huang Ventura, Men's Soccer
Day Ten (May 22) - Olivia Mahoney, Women's Soccer, and Cate Golden, Lacrosse

Day One - Luci Rascher, Women's Swimming & Diving

We started the day bright and early in Bender at 7:30 a.m. We took a rainy drive to Dulles Airport and waited to board our Avianca Airlines flight for El Salvador at 11:20. We arrived in San Salvador in the early afternoon and immediately connected to our flight for Peru. We arrived four hours later, entertained by movies, books, shenanigans, and a plethora of naps. We had a little more time to spare in Lima, searching for the cheapest spots to buy food while also navigating the Peruvian exchange rate before leaving for Paraguay. We FINALLY arrived in Asunción lively and alert at 2:30 am. But wait! The fun was just beginning… We proceeded to take the next hour and a half to organize and pay for everyone's visas, which involved ensuring everyone's fifty- and ten-dollar bills were *crisp* and undamaged. As everyone received their visas one by one, one of our members may or may not have been able to evade the minimally staffed customs department and enter into Paraguay for a good 20 minutes. Once exiting the customs area, we were meet with Anthony and Sammy. Anthony is the Courts for Kids representative who will be guiding us through this trip. Sammy is a Peace Corps Volunteer in whose community we will be building the court. We were finally able to leave the airport by 4:30 a.m., piling very sleepily into a bus which took us to a residential estate/villa/compound where we each assumed a room. Lily and I chose a room off a patio that essentially had a door to the "outside," prompting a very tired Lily to say, "We're LITERALLY outside!" But fear not, all was well, except for the ice-cold showers. I fell asleep exhausted but so excited to be in a new and different place and looking forward to the adventures to come!

Day Two - Lily Koenig, Women's Swimming & Diving

The second day started with going to bed as the sun came up. After a satisfying four-hour nap, we all gathered in the dining area for a group lunch. We had the option of chicken stroganoff or Paraguayan tilapia. Both were delicious. We were also introduced to a traditional bread that tasted like a cheesy cornbread. After the meal, we piled back into the large bus ready for a four-hour drive to the community we will be staying in for the rest of the trip, Tercera Linea. On the drive, we were able to experience the city life, terrain, and wildlife of Paraguay. We drove over both paved and rocky roads; we saw many small stores, agricultural farms, and cows. The ride went by quickly as many of us were trying to catch up on lost sleep. We arrived at Tercera Linea at about 4 o'clock and were immediately greeted by a large portion of the community. On the bus Sammy taught us how to say, "How are you?" in Guarani, the language most commonly spoken in this part of Paraguay. We were then treated to a very special performance of music and dancing by the women of the community. A girl sang traditional songs as she played the guitar and four young girls danced a traditional dance. Four women performed a dance as well but stopped midway way through to pull some of us in with them. Luci, Anthony, Swezen, and Abe all got to try their hand at a partner dance. After thanking them for having us, we ventured out to see the site where we will be building the court. The community has flattened the ground in preparation for the coming days. Here in Paraguay, it becomes dark at 5 o'clock, so once we could not see anymore we headed back to the school in which we are staying in. Right now, we are playing the game Mafia as we wait for dinner. We are very excited to be here and for what is to come. I am especially interested in learning more about the food and drink here, and want to experience all that I can.  

Day Three – Swezen Kizito, Men's Soccer

An array of alarms went off once it turned 6am. Anthony, Abe, Cisco, Elijah, Sloan, and I slipped out of our sleeping bags and mattresses and put on our workout clothes. Together, we jogged to a nearby soccer field and completed some runs. Once we got back to the school, we found the rest of the group being served breakfast: mbjueja, cocido, and reviro. Mbjueja is a Paraguayan omlette pancake that tastes like doughy, gooey goodness. Cocido is a drink consisting of water, local herbs, and coal. Yes, coal.  Lastly, reviro are fried dough balls that we put inside our cocido. After breakfast the team walked to the construction site where, after a few minutes of confusion and standing around, we got to work. There were only four words that we needed to understand to help build the court: sand, water, rocks, and cement. The majority of us were assigned to one of these stations. At each station we filled up small black buckets of one of the materials and then proceeded by walking ten feet and pouring the materials into a cement mixer. The remaining people collected and wheelbarroed the cement mix to where we are building the court. Before long we had a steady rhythm going, and a lot of the local young boys even joined us! Cisco was to thank for getting them to join. Who's surprised? By the end of our first three hours of work, which wasn't too draining because of the efficient assembly we'd created, we'd finished almost three-fourths of the first of five columns of the court. For lunch we ate vori vori(a delicious baked yucca flour balls and meat soup), yucca root, and seasoned salad. Right after lunch, we played a quick game of soccer among ourselves and the kids that Cisco recruited. After that we finished up the remaining column of the court. Our first day of work was complete! Personally, Abe, Caroline, Cisco and I spent the next hour saucing some sixth graders in pick up soccer. The rest of the group divided their time kicking their feet back sipping on Tereré, the national drink of Paraguay, and touching up on some parts of the court. Tomorrow Vela and friends will be shooting pics of "AU Strength goes to Paraguay". Keep a look out for pictures of those. And, of course, we will continue to make progress on the court. I hope to make just as much progress as we did today and continue to learn more about Paraguayan food and culture.

Day Four – Samm Francucci and Tiffany Zukosky

Hey guys – it's Samm and Tiff! Thanks for checking in to today's blog. (hi mom!) So today was our second day working on the court. We woke up to the chickens next door around 5:30 a.m. and headed to breakfast for some Palenta (Guaranies cheesy grits). The team headed down to the courts to get our day started - our goal was to get more than halfway done (spoiler alert, we did!). Our day didn't start off as planned after one of our three wheelbarrows broke, so we had to change strategies moving forward. To say the least it was a blessing in disguise because the day was more fun and the work was more efficient. Everyone was contributing, even the local boys! We learned the words for "rocks" and "sand" in Guaranies to better communicate with the boys which pile they needed to run the buckets to.

Each day we are given a challenge with an embarrassing punishment to whoever doesn't complete it. Today, we had to "challenge" one of the locals. Luckily, it pays off to be homies with the kids – Tiff taught some boys the game Slaps and Samm did a chin up competition on a tree branch (Yikes). Other competitions were push-ups, dancing and racing. After a morning of work and fun, we ended on schedule before lunch. We were served Tallarín (pasta with sauce and chicken). That was YUMMY. We were able to take a nap in between lunch and our second shift on the soccer field. When the workers returned, we were determined to finish one more section before the sunset, putting us in position to finish the court tomorrow! Unfortunately, we didn't have our younger friends to help out because they had to go to school. Although pictures depict Spencer being lazy, he was a great asset to our assembly line being the caboose.  

We finished our day during the golden hour which was perfect for pictures. It was super nice to see everyone dapping up with each other because we finished a hard day of work (can't wait to do it all over tomorrow). The locals were also really proud of us, they even asked us to take a picture with them! We were done for the day and all couldn't wait to get in the shower unless you had the energy to stay and play fútbol with the locals (we were not among them).

We are blogging to you live from la escuela. We are both looking forward to getting this court done tomorrow and hanging out with the locals more. Hopefully, we will learn more words in Guaranies to bring back to the states to share with you all!

Samm & Tiff signing off!

Day Five - Tony Wokasch and Prince Hyeamang, Wrestling

Checking in is Tony and Prince. Today was a triumphant day as we finished the sports court. Sign off… oh wait, there was a bit more. We'll give a few details to get a better perspective on what our day looked like. It started off at 6:15 a.m. We were served a breakfast of champions by the señoras then made our way to the court with a mindset of finishing the task. We were 3/5th of the way through finishing the court going into the day.

Once we arrived at the court, we hit the ground running fast and finished the fourth panel of the court before lunch. As usual, our group was split into two assembly lines. I, Prince, was in the gravel group (Roc Nation) while I, Tony, was in the sand group (Jesse's caballeros). Tony's group was named in honor of a 5-year old girl that was helping Tony and Sloan scoop sand into the buckets. These two groups had a friendly competition to supply material which in turn created a faster, more efficient workday.

Lunch was good cuisine as well. However, it didn't go as expected. Dun, dun, dunnn….We ran into our first real road bump of the trip. As we were refueled and ready to go back to work, we came to the realization that the electricity for the concrete mixer stopped functioning. This made our already "too long" break longer (hour and a half lunch *sigh*). We had to wait for a backup generator. Once it arrived, we caught our second wind and got the job done with the groups operating as usual and with I (Tony) finishing the court off at the cement station leaving me covered head to toe in dust, dirt, and scrapes to come back with to show that we are hard workers (insert muscle emoji here). The energy was great all day, but it reached its peak in the final hours. As we were finishing, the entire community began to show up to the site and many of the schoolkids were pitching in. Upon completion, we were ecstatic, greeting community members, taking pictures, and lifting each other up- literally! During the photoshoot, our team planned a picture with Spencer and Erin. But it wasn't just any picture… it was a set-up! Just as the camera was being shot, a celebratory bucket of water was dumped on the both of them as I, Prince, ran out of the photo, hehe! Thanks for listening, peace out Prince and Tony.

Day Six - Vela McBride, Volleyball, and Matt Sloan, Men's Soccer

Hola Amigos, what a time to be a follower of the AU Eagles Courts for Kids crew. We had a day of education, competition, and fun… we are definitely forging some character through competition out here in Paraguay. The day kicked off with some local kids screaming into our bedrooms to wake us up and then some "desayuno" that consisted of empanadas that were "muy rico" or very delicious. Once 9 o'clock rolled around we headed to the school courtyard to help our Peace Corp volunteer and homie Sami teach her English class to some of the kids. The English class here is on Saturday and is not mandatory, so it was inspiring to see all the kids show up to learn. It was also pretty awesome that more kids than usual showed up this week for class, including some that Sami had never seen before (because they were so excited that we were here). In order to make the kids feel more comfortable, we all spoke Spanish while the kids did their best to speak "Ingles" (English). The class started with some simple greetings and then we progressed to games like Simon Says, Over the Mountain, and Soldiers in my Camp. Things got pretty serious… if you know what I mean.

Thank goodness that lunch followed school because all those games sure worked up an appetite. I (Matt) had five plates of rice with beef and I (Vela) had pasta with homemade tomato sauce, which I got the recipe for. After we finished the delicious meal and some great conversation, we once again regrouped to learn from one of the "Abuelas" about how to make chipa. I (Matt) and Spencer enjoyed getting our hands dirty and making the chipa with extra love as Vela cracked eggs into the bowl and the "Abeula" added more ingredients. After we finished making the chipa itself, we all learned to knead the dough and then rolled it into shapes. I (Vela) made a lovely shaped heart while I (Matt) made "AU" among other-shaped chipa. We tossed those puppies into a traditional fired up brick oven out back and let those babies bake until they were golden. I (Matt) definitely need to invest in one of those bad boys.

After the chipa was finished a bunch of the group took a "siesta" in anticipation of the big futbol match in the afternoon. Once 3 o'clock struck, we all headed down to the field next to this pretty amazing and well-built basketball court. We played World Cup style with all the children by pairing up and picking a country to represent as our "equipo". After I (Matt) was embarrassed by being knocked out in the first round and the rest of the game finished up, I (Vela) came down from my perch in a tree and we all headed to the brand-new court to shoot some hoops. We played a game of knockout and taught the locals to shoot some hoops. Let's just say that they were trying their best.

Things are starting to wind down and we are doing our best to continue to soak up their culture and all this beautiful country has to offer before we head back to the States. We are excited to go with the flow and finish up this trip. We are about to eat dinner and then get together with the group for our daily review.

Peace out from Paraguay,

Matt and Vela

P.S. Above is a picture of me (Vela) with some of the kids between English classes this morning. The backpack I have on is my paternal grandmother's backpack that she took with her all over the world when she traveled - including places like Nepal, Egypt, South Africa, and more. When she passed away a few years ago, I promised myself (and my dad) that I would keep the backpack traveling and so far I have taken it to Cuba, Germany, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and now Paraguay. It's something that's super important to me and I feel like I always have her with me when I travel – especially if I'm backpacking alone. I can't wait to take her more places with me!

Day Seven - Kaitlyn McTernan, Cross Country/Track, and Caroline Miller, Field Hockey

It is now day seven and we haven't had a warm shower in a week, we are dirty, hair is greasy, some of us are sick (aka Care) but you know we are absolutely thriving. I (Care) started my morning with Erin and we walked to the soccer field to run some 30/30 courtesy of Coach Steve back at AU! Next up was another traditional Paraguayan breakfast thanks to the señoras! We ate fried chicken (well everyone but Vela and Care), Paraguayan tortillas and get this … bread with butter AND caramel sauce. Caramel for breakfast may not sound good but trust us it is, we will need to bring this back to the U.S. 

After breakfast, I (Kaitlyn) headed to mass. It was incredible to experience the sense of community in the church.  It was also just as great to be so welcomed - they even brought us to the front of the church during the service to thank us (when really we wanted to thank them). 

After church, many of us played the game 'Mafia' which we have come to play every single day! Tensions get high, some trust gets broken but in the end it is the best game we have played as a group. Once we exhausted our emotions, strategy planning, and lawyer-esque talking (@Prince) with Mafia we played 4-square which definitely exposed all of our competitive natures.

For our next challenge, we headed out to an official soccer game with the local club. We played two games, the men lost the first one… but don't worry the women made AU proud by winning 3-1. Shoutout to Spencer for scoring a header in the men's game, one of the highlights of the evening! For the women's game, we gotta shoutout Tiffany for scoring two of our three goals - definitely couldn't have done it without her or the rest of the AUWSOC members. They showed us how soccer was done. After two great games, we all headed over to a local store to eat some delicious ice cream!

We can't believe that tomorrow is our last day here (sigh) but we have made some great memories while here! We have also fallen in love with Pepa, our amazing Peace Corps volunteer, Sami's, dog.  She even follows us around, making it feel even more like home here in Paraguay. Finishing the court was almost as rewarding as watching all of our new friends play basketball on it for the first time! We will surely miss the friendships we made here but look forward to hearing from them about the court and how they grew up with it.  That's all for tonight stay tuned for tomorrows blog!


Care and Kait

Day Eight (May 20) - Abraham Correa-Medina and Elijah Murphy, Wrestling

The last day:

Our last day in the community began similar to the previous mornings. We were woken by the children rushing to school at 6:00 a.m., ate a delicious breakfast (with a lot of dulce de leche), and began to prepare our farewell notes for the senoras, children, our Courts for Kids representative and Peace Corp volunteer. After, I (Abe) decided to take a 'siesta' and wait for my next meal. On the other hand, Elijah decided to play on the new basketball court and big dog Tony.

At noon, the senoras came to the school and served us lunch. We at pasta with beef sauce and chipa wasu – a traditional bread in Paraguay. Elijah and I (Abe) ensured that no food went to waste (classic wrestlers). However, I do not think our coaches would be proud (haha). After lunch, we took a walk to Sammi's house. She lived in a tiny three-room house up the street from the school. From here, we continued our walk as a group through farmland to a nearby river. At the river, all of our careers almost came to an end (kidding…). But the cold water combined with slippery rocks did make for some dangerous terrain. Although, that did not stop us from jumping in and splashing water on each other. In fact, a certain individual *cough* Prince *cough* decided to exfoliate his facial skin with sand from the water, which suspiciously looked like poop…. An hour later, the group decided to head back and play pique and volleyball at a local's house. Team Abe won. Although, we did have Vela…

Elijah here. After playing volleyball, we had a long walk back to the school. I rushed so that I could be one of the first to shower. While rushing, two different wild animals chased me. One baby cow that was not on a leash, and a pack of geese. I don't mess with wild animals, so I swiftly got out of there. We then all arrived at the school and prepared for the Inauguration ceremony. The plan was to start at 6 but the festivities ended up not starting until 7:30, much to the dismay of Sloan and I who were famished. We then had the opportunity to witness some traditional dances, got to eat delicious empanadas, and our group had to dance to some American songs in front of everyone. We then were celebrated and thanked by the community, which followed by many pictures with the community members, some of which I will never see. Then, we danced for several hours until everyone dispersed, and it was time for bed.

In conclusion, it was real. It was fun. It was real fun. Today was a day that we will remember for years to come. We are grateful for the opportunity and the empanadas.

P.S. Abe, Tiff, and Sam also joined Prince in exfoliating their facial skin with poopy sand.

Best, Elijah and Abraham

Day Nine (May 21) - Lucia Rose, Women's Track & Field, and Francisco Huang Ventura, Men's Soccer

Hey guys, Lucia and Cisco here! Today after one last breakfast at the school we said goodbye to the Tercera Linea community. It felt incredibly strange that we had only arrived eight days earlier, for it truly felt like as if we had become part of the community. I (Lucia) did not escape the goodbyes without some tears, especially after a group of young ladies I had befriended asked when I was coming back to visit (*sobs*). Cisco was lucky enough to say goodbye to all of the people he befriended on the trip as well, so he did not escape the bittersweet goodbyes. I will never forget how moving it was to have all of our new friends stop their school or work day to wish us luck and thank us for our work. Cisco exchanged as many numbers as possible with the emphasis of staying in touch with everyone, showing that the friendships we built were genuine even in the short amount of time we spent with the community. We stopped the bus briefly to take one last photo at the court with our newly gifted Paraguayan flag. An older man, Don Toribio, who had provided us with snacks all week came to say one last goodbye, as did a few of the younger boys who had been at the court with us from day one. As we admired the court space we had worked so hard for, we all slowly realized that we had not only created a court in where kids can play all kinds of sports, but we had also created a vital community space in where people would be able to congregate on a regular basis. Realizing this gave us all a sense of purpose and joy in knowing that we had created a special place, for a special set of people.

We then embarked on our five-hour bus ride back towards Asuncion where we stopped for a buffet lunch at a local restaurant and perused some street shops for souvenirs to bring back to the states. We then headed to the retreat to relax for a few hours. Before a delicious dinner of carne asada and fried pork, we all gathered for one last group reflection. Everyone expressed their last thoughts on the experience and what we would tell people back home when they asked about our trip. Gratefulness and fulfillment filled the room as almost every individual added upon the open reflection that Spencer led. Cisco mentioned how this trip had reinforced what he has always suspected about the power of travel in dispelling misunderstanding and otherness. Expanding on the idea that people innately strive for a sense of community, they thus are kind and genuine towards one another just as they are welcoming to new members of a community. I (Lucia) wholeheartedly agree with this notion and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes by Mark Twain, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it solely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime." Anthony (CFK Rep) mentioned that the community will forever view Americans as hardworking, intelligent, kind people because of the amount of heart and care we devoted to our work here in Paraguay. Equally, this trip emphasized my optimistic hope that beneath the language, culture, geographical, and historical barriers – people are people. The people of Tercera Linea welcomed us into their homes and their lives with no sense of hesitation, they worked alongside us as we worked to build the court, and on our last evening together there was no sense of Paraguay v. American. Rather, if you looked across the dance floor on the last night, you would see each American dancing with a Paraguayan (some more graciously than others, of course). We traveled to Paraguay on a mission to build a multi-sport court, and not only did we succeed in that goal, but we also built a community space that will be used for generations to come. As we begin our travel back to the states, all 20 of us leave a little bit of ourselves in Tercera Linea, as much as we now carry a bit of Tercera Linea within us as well.

Sincerely/Best/(Idk how to end this),

Lucia and Cisco

Day Ten (May 22) - Olivia Mahoney, Women's Soccer, and Cate Golden, Lacrosse

Hi everyone, Cate and Liv here to wrap up our trip completely! It is crazy how fast the time has gone since we originally left for this journey. The last day for us is full of travel, with two layovers and three flights to get back to the states.  Our day started with everyone barely being able to function since we left our hotel/retreat center at 1:30 a.m. for our 4:35 a.m. flight.  A handful of people decided to take short naps to lead up to our departure where others pulled all-nighters to get the most sleep on the flight.  I, Liv, did the all-night route with a 20-minute nap. Cate, the smart one, opted to sleep for a couple of hours before loading up on the bus. After our hour bus ride to the airport, we all got through security quickly in Asunción and were patiently waiting to board.  Almost everyone was already asleep on the plane before it even took off, including me. Once we got to our first layover in Lima, Peru, we all had time to grab some food and coffee since we had about two hours before we left for out next flight.  Once our time in Peru was up, we got onto a mega plane with eight seats in a single aisle to get ourselves to El Salvador.  This flight was full of movie watching, music listening, and catching up on some sleep for about four and a half hours.  When we landed in El Salvador, we had a quick layover of about 30 minutes to get through security and grab our final snacks before the states.  Everyone was anxiously waiting to get on this plane knowing this was our final obstacle to get us all home after a full day of travel. Now we are writing to you from the flight to Washington, where almost everyone is up watching the movies these planes generously provided us since our flight is about four hours. 

We couldn't have asked for a better group of fellow athletes to share this incredible experience with. We also had the best chaperones in Spencer, Erin, and Sam. We want to thank Anthony (Courts for Kids Representative) for helping us build the court and bringing enthusiasm to the site every day. We also want to thank Sami (Peace Corps Volunteer) for welcoming us into her community and making us feel at home. Overall, this trip was full of lots of sweat, laughs, and even some tears at the end. It was an incredible experience that we will never forget, and we can't wait to do this again next year!

Well I, Liv, am off to the train station for a 3 a.m. train to get home (it sounded like a great idea at the moment). And Cate, once again the smart one, is headed to her house to go to bed.

Thank you to everyone who has followed us through this blog and social media to hear about our adventure.  We hope you all have a fantastic rest of your week (:

Liv (Lef) and Cate (Ca)