For many of us, the return of Team Tobatí this year was thrilling. As soon as the announcement was made, it was as if something in the air shifted – the chance to go abroad, help others, create new memories, and gain experience is one that many students found too good to pass up.
Already, numerous people have signed up to be a part of the service trip, which is led by Spanish teacher and founder of Team Tobatí, Ron Garcia. Although spots on the trip are limited, and some students may not get the chance to go this year, the excitement for the program’s return after over three years is palpable.
The reason for the trip’s absence in these past years is due to the COVID-19 pandemic As most of you know, our daily lives have been put on hold since March 2020. COVID-19 made most of the things we were accustomed to nearly impossible, and trips abroad like Team Tobatí were out of the question. The disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for both the project and Mr. Garcia. “Having to cancel the trip was terrible,” Mr. Garcia commented. “It was a very sad and stressful experience for me because we’d already collected all the money for the trip. So it was very difficult to not be able to go.”
Besides having founded and run the program for 20-plus years, Mr. Garcia also has a rather personal connection to the project. Both his mother and his father are from Paraguay, and his mother came from the very place the project is based in, Tobatí. Mr. Garcia founded the program in 1998 in his second year at KO – on the very first trip, he and a group of 20 students traveled to Tobatí during spring break where they helped expand the local hospital. For years, Team Tobatí has helped to improve education and medical resources in the town of Tobatí.
Nowadays, very few students at KO know the full impact of the project. Junior and student leader of Team Tobatí, Chelsea O’Donnell, added that although she had heard of Team Tobatí before through her mother, who works at the school, no one in the Upper School had gone on the service trip before because of its three-year hiatus. “It’s a chance to completely start over with the program,” she said, “and not necessarily rebuild it, but it’s an entirely new group of kids that’ll be going.” Chelsea herself has not gone on a Team Tobatí trip before but is excited to have the opportunity.
Despite the three-year break, Team Tobatí has still had remarkable success. Over the course of the program, Team Tobatí has become a steady presence in the town. The school they’ve built, called the Macchi School, was both founded and funded by Team Tobatí, and Mr. Garcia plans on working on projects and activities throughout both Tobatí and an additional 21 towns in the region. However, he clarified that Team Tobatí would not totally shift its focus to other towns in the future, instead focusing on maintaining the Macchi School.
Team Tobatí is not just about building and maintaining infrastructure; it’s also about allowing students from different places and backgrounds to connect with one another. “For a lot of our students, it’s their first opportunity to travel internationally,” Mr. Garcia said, “and if they have traveled internationally, they’ve gone more to resorts and hotels and that kind of thing. So, staying in a small town with families, and doing projects with students their own age that are from Paraguay, is a very real and meaningful experience for our students.”
Mr. Garcia added that students who go on the trip to Tobatí have gone on to work for the Peace Corps or gone on other international trips. Meanwhile, the improvements to education and medical infrastructure started by Team Tobatí help youth in Paraguay who might not have had access to these programs otherwise. As the website for Team Tobatí says, “Team Tobatí teaches both American and Paraguayan youth that when working together todo es posible.”