Team Tobati members embarked on their 2018 trip on March 11, working with Paraguayan kids, building connections, and celebrating its 20th anniversary, and returned back home on March 22.
Team Tobati is a non-profit volunteer organization founded by Spanish teacher Ronald Garcia in 1998. According to the group’s website, Team Tobati has been “dedicated to improving the lives of disadvantaged youth in Tobatí, Paraguay while at the same time offering high school students from the United States the powerful experience of working directly for a greater good in the developing world.”
The team fulfills its mission by delving into a broad spectrum of social work and activities, ranging from building classrooms and sidewalks to cleaning the Tobati River; from working at the sugarcane field to visiting the houses of Macchi School students; and from practicing for the annual dance competition to distributing toothbrushes and soccer balls at schools. The team also painted at the parochial home and played soccer with the Macchi School students.
Since this year is the team’s 20th anniversary, there were more celebratory events and ceremonies. Mr. Garcia said that the farewell party this year incorporated slideshows of all the previous years.
Senior Christopher Healis said that it was a special closing ceremony because all the returning seniors gave a speech, and there was a lot of crying and fireworks.
Additional ceremonies were held at the San Jose Obrero School that Team Tobati built from 2004 to 2010 — one classroom per year — where they talked about the importance of the school and the team’s role in building it. Mr. Garcia said that the former president of Paraguay, Gonzalez Macchi, also gave a speech.
“The highlight of the trip will always be working with and getting to know the Paraguayan students and forming new relationships,” Mr. Garcia said. “Students have told me that they really enjoyed the dance competition, riding along at the back of the trucks, and playing soccer with the kids there.”
Juniors Madi Henry, Ryan Peterson, and Kevin Wan as well as sophomore Esha Kataria all said that meeting and working with the Paraguayan kids was the best part of the trip.
Madi reminisced about her time passing out toothbrushes and playing soccer in Tobati whereas Ryan talked about how working in the sugarcane field with his group demonstrated team spirit.
Esha said it was nice to experience the Paraguayan culture through the dance practices and competition. She also expressed her fascination with the open truck rides. “I have never experienced anything like that in my life,” she said, “and I love the way the wind was blowing in my face while I was listening to music with my friends and looking at the stars, especially when we were in the countryside.”
Christopher said that this year’s work ethic was great and that not a single person got sick. English teacher and chaperone David Hild said that it was great to see KO students in such an educational and enriching experience. Fellow chaperone and science teacher Tim Allerton said he agreed. He said that it was everything he expected and more.
“Through the whole time I was there, it was a really remarkable and humble experience,” Mr. Allerton said, “meeting kids, working with kids, and seeing our KO students’ responses to the kids there.”
Mr. Allerton said that he found visiting students’ houses to be very humbling and touching. “The students there seem to be so positive when they don’t have a lot and they are working hard to better themselves,” he said. “Seeing those happy and welcome people is a very eye-opening experience for me and makes me more appreciative of what I have.”
Kevin expressed similar views. He said that the trip made him realize how privileged we are and that we should stop complaining about stress and workload or other trivial things and just cherish all the opportunities and things that we have. “The world is not perfect for a lot of people, and it is our responsibility to alleviate their situations,” Kevin said. “If more people know about this, more would start to make changes.”
Christopher said that he really liked his experience in Tobati. “It is life-changing to see the people there working so much harder than we do, and that the kids were nice and friendly,” he said. “And the language barrier is kind of fun sometimes.” Christopher said that he is now much more involved in community service because of the two Team Tobati trips to Paraguay that he has been on.
Mr. Allerton said that his biggest takeaway is that he cannot wait to go back. “I realized that I could have done more to help them, and it is this trip that gave me a better understanding of how much more things I could do to help,” he said. “And now I stay in touch with the Paraguayan kids via an app called WhatsApp.”
The team’s flight from Panama to the U.S. was cancelled the day before they were scheduled to return from Paraguay due to a forecasted snow storm. The team was placed on standby, and, for a while, was not expected to get back for days. Mr. Garcia said that they were going to move in to a hotel in Panama as they waited for seats, but Copa Airlines ended up arranging them a charter flight from Panama to Boston. So the team, after flying from Asunción to Panama, had to wait in the Panama airport for 18 hours, and then took a flight to JFK. However, Mr. Garcia said that the result was good enough.
Esha said that she was so sad to leave Paraguay and that because of a misunderstanding of the flight schedule, they were not able to say their goodbyes with the Paraguayan kids. However, she said that she could text them.
Esha said the trip was an amazing experience for her as she established relationships with so many of the kids there, got to practice her Spanish, and learned more than she ever has in the classroom; she said that it felt really good to be able to experience a different culture and be a part of it.