Posted on April 10 2010
Earth Day always reminds me of one of the dearest, most formative experiences of my life – one that reinforced my commitment to serve others and nurtured my love for natural products.
On July 20, 1995, I received a letter from the Peace Corps that announced, “Congratulations on your invitation to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay! You are about to embark upon one of the most challenging and exciting periods of your life.”
I had just graduated from Harvard College and chose the Peace Corps over any manner of corporate job in New York because I felt the need to serve – and yes, immerse myself in a unique cultural experience that would challenge me physically and elicit my passion for nature, the environment and organic farming.
Moreover, I have an uncommon skill. I’m a Beekeeper, and am even featured in the book, Beekeeping for Dummies. Beekeeping is an interest I shared with my father, something he exposed me to at an early age. I have such fond memories of spending countless hours with my dad tending to the 10 hives we kept at our Connecticut home. Paraguay was the only country in the Peace Corps that had a beekeeping program. My mission was to educate farmers on beekeeping, teaching them to supplement their income through this craft and also get nutritional value from honey, beeswax and propolis (a gummy substance bees collect from trees). Below are pictures of me building a hive from scratch, examining our honeycomb and diluting propolis in a jar, which can be used as an herbal extract.
In Paraguay, I worked with groups of women and young girls. A Paraguayan family typically has at least 7 children – and up to 16 isn’t uncommon. The women take care of the home, but rarely earn any income. I spent two years teaching these women to beekeep and introducing them to new fruits and vegetables they could sell (picture below shows us planting the first strawberries ever cultivated in the area). I taught the women about nutrition and how to introduce new types of produce into their cooking and diet. We used no pesticides and no chemicals. The water we drew from our wells was incredibly pure and delicious.
My Peace Corps experience was such a formative period in my life. I lived in the house pictured below (which I began to paint myself, but unfortunately ran out of paint before the task was complete) and had my own garden. I did not have running water. The people of Paraguay loved the earth in a way I had never experienced. The sun shined. Their plants grew. And they were happy. I miss the fragrance from the orange trees. I miss drinking Mate Dulce with the delicious local cow’s milk. I miss the wide open plains and tall corn fields.I miss my friends down there. I hear their hives are still thriving.
Memories of the two years I spent as a member of that wonderful San Antonio Guazu community fill me with true joy and gratitude. The people with whom I bonded would be happy to know that Babo Botanicals – my natural line of botanical hair, scalp and skincare for children, was inspired by the core values of organic farming and sustainability that they helped instill in me. I’ve also always loved bunnies as you can see below!