Cassens returns from two years in Peace Corps

Tim Cassens with the map he painted with his fourth and fifth grade students in Paraguay. (submitted photos)

After two years in Paraguay with the Peace Corps, Tim Cassens has returned home to Columbia. Columbia could hardly be called home, however, since Cassens has been traveling nearly nonstop for close to 10 years.

He’s worked for the Norwegian Cruise Line, the Semester at Sea program and taught English as a second language in South Korea.

At only 30 years old, he’s been around the world and visited countless countries. The latest of these adventures, however, was his two years in Coronel Oviedo in Paraguary, where he worked on a number of projects in the community and was very active in the school system.

He became interested in the Peace Corps after talking with diplomats and ambassadors from other countries while working for the Semester at Sea program and filled out all his Peace Corps paperwork while teaching in South Korea. When he got home from that trip, he left 27 days later for South America.

For the first three months, he lived with a host family and got to know the country and its people.

“I went to festivals, birthday parties, lunches… It was amazing to see the way I could become friends with people,” he said.
Cassens got to know the community he would be a part of for the next two years “I’ve read numerous studies that Paraguayans are the happiest people in the entire world,” he said. “It’s so true. I could sit there for hours talking to these people.”

After getting acquainted with his community, Cassens began his work as a community economic development volunteer, which encompassed everything from entrepreneurship classes to leadership work in schools to teaching computer classes.

He also helped teach families about finance and how to manage their money.

“My primary project at first was to work with a neighborhood commission with about 100 houses to get running water to them,” he said. “They had it about eight years ago, but we had to build the well and redo the connections for it.”

He said he witnessed many pregnant moms and little kids going across town in 100 to 115-degree weather to get water. “That was my whole first
year, and they were able to get (the water) set up,” Cassens said. “Everyone wants water, but no one wants to take the time to set it up and do the work, so it was a challenge. Now, however, they have water, so that’s good.”

In January 2013, he became director of the Jovenes por Paraguay Leadership Camp, a fourday camp involving 90 participants. “I worked with four other Peace Corps volunteers and a group of Paraguayans to get the camp up and running,” he said. “The camp teaches the kids about leadership, teamwork, community service and getting involved.”
Cassens said the goal is for them to learn and take the knowledge back to their communities. “The thing I took away from the experience the most was how wonderful the Paraguayans are as people,” he said.

“They took such good care of me and were so interested in my life back home. Being able to get to know them was amazing.” He also loved being able to see the influence the leadership camp had on the young Paraguayans.
“They got so empowered and challenged by the camp to keep going and train new people,” he said. “Everyone really wants to make their communities and Paraguay as a whole better. The pinnacle of my service was being able to see all that hard work put into action.” Coming back to Columbia has been a culture shock in itself. Back in April, he attended a “close of service” conference on transitioning back to non-Peace Corps life.

He has only been home for two weeks but has had to do things like buy a cell phone and look at health insurance. “It’s still fresh,” he said. “I notice everything.”

Cassens said the No. 1 thing he realizes is how excessive North American culture and lifestyle is.

“It’s so different from the life I was living in Paraguay,” he said. “I worked with people who didn’t have much.”

Looking back on all his travels, however, Cassens said he has been blessed with all the opportunities he has had so far in life.

“I’ve just been so fortunate,” he said. “It’s a life I could have never even dreamed of.”

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