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Paraguay: The People’s Tenacity Revives El Chaco

El Gran Chaco is a semi-arid hot and low land region that covers parts of Bolivia, Argentina and Paraguay. In Paraguay, unusual torrential rains destroyed crops, affecting thousands of families, mostly indigenous and farmers. Then an intense drought brought more hardship for the “Chaqueños” (El Chaco’s people). Thirteen-year-old Angel Campuzano shows how WFP food assistance can help and lead entire communities to the path of recovery.

ASUNCION. --When the Pilcomayo River overflowed more than a year ago, the inhabitants of the San Agustin community remembered seeing their town flooded in a matter of hours. Signs of the flood are still visible on the badly damaged road. Later, when nature seemed to have calmed down, the people suffered through one of the most intense droughts of their lifetime. They had to watch their water holes dry up almost entirely. These very difficult months put the resilience of the Paraguayan Chaco community to the test. Its inhabitants, who were far from surrendering, proved unwavering and tenacious in their fight against the severe conditions of this arid region.

Angel Campuzano, a 13 year old Guaraní adolescent, demonstrated this determination by creating a family garden that supplies vegetables to his small family: his mother and two little sisters, who are 8 and 5 years old. Angel pledges that with the production of his garden, which grows cabbage, onion, lettuce, chard, basil, and carrots, he and his family have learned to eat vegetables at home. Many of the crops grown are food in which before they didn’t even know about.

Today he is happy that he was able to gain ground on the aridity of the land of which he was born. His garden is in many ways like a treasure. While he waters his vegetables, he comments on the climate that has turned to be very aggressive in El Chaco. Only two weeks ago a sudden cold front fell upon the community of San Agustin, that following morning he woke up to a frostbitten garden. In an area where 40 degrees Celsius is typical during the entire year, the families had to tolerate temperatures below zero for a couple of days. Angel and his sisters covered the vegetable garden with bags so that the crops wouldn’t die and avoid having Angel’s efforts squandered. 

Many Hands for El Chaco

For the construction of the garden, and for his and his mother’s participation in the training activities, Angel received food to relieve the scarcity in his community. That was due to the floods and later to the drought. That is how the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Paraguayan Red Cross, in coordination with the National Emergencies Secretariat of Paraguay (SEN), helped El Chaco and began rehabilitation projects and trainings in order to assure food and good nutrition to all of these families.

Like Angel’s family, another 2,600 indigenous families in the Paraguayan Chaco participated in projects that, under the “Food for Assets” and “Food for Training”, are succeeding in rehabilitating their way of life. Which is basically subsistence farming complemented with the construction and production of vegetables in gardens. Also, the families receive nutritional education training and learn to prepare meals with vegetables in order to improve their eating habits.

An Oasis in the Middle of Rural Chaco

The San Agustin community, where Angel is native to, is located about 535 km from the Paraguayan capital, Asunción. Members of the Paraguayan Congress, departmental and municipal authorities, diplomats from Brazil, France, Spain, Argentina and Korea, private sector representatives, and WFP and NGO delegates, came to San Agustin to see the impact of relief operations providing assistance to local populations affected by two consecutive natural disasters.

Here, the visitors not only had the opportunity to witness the recovery of the San Agustin community through the family gardens. They also got to taste the meals that these families learned to prepare. Fresh salads, chard and onion tortillas, plus basil and carrot juices were part of the food taste in San Agustin. The experience emotionally touched many of the visitants because it made them realize the many necessities that the communities of El Chaco have.

The projects in the Paraguayan Chaco were funded by WFP and by the Government of Brazil through its Embassy in Asunción. Thanks to these contributions, poverty stricken families in El Chaco managed to receive a food basket made of rice, wheat flour, salt, and oil, all of which were purchased locally. Meanwhile, the National Emergencies Secretariat of Paraguay (SEN), covered the food transportation and distribution costs.