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A School Named After Me

The folks in the school community asked several times if they could name the new building after me. I finally accepted their invitation and had a sign made to give to the school.  
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Peggy Bangham
Paraguay 1980-1983

I knew my Peace Corps service was going to be an amazing experience, but little did I know that I would be remembered for many years because something would be named after me — at least for a little while.  

In early 1980, I began work as a member of the Education Technical team in the city of Villarrica. My two Paraguayan counterparts and I traveled to schools in nearby towns and small villages with the mission of helping elementary school teachers. In the tiny village of Primera Linea, we were given a bit of a challenge. The two teachers at the small, worn out school asked us for help to replace their crumbling building. 

I had no idea how something like that could be accomplished, so I went to the PC office the next week and asked my supervisor if such a project was even possible. He happily said, yes, with the assistance of USAID. The next week, Alberto came with us to see the school and help everyone understand the process.  

Soon thereafter, we began work. With the help of the teachers and my co-workers, the USAID forms were filled out and turned in. After a few weeks, the project was approved. After a short celebration, and with the help of other Paraguayan organizations, the school construction began. Over the course of my three years of service, the school slowly but surely came into being. 

To encourage the residents and to help raise more funds, I organized local fundraisers. I had access to a generator, a movie projector and films, so we watched Diana and Charles’s wedding movie, comedies and dramas, and generally exposed these folks to other cultures and experiences. Over a period of time, we raised a bit of cash for the school, and gave the families the opportunity to contribute what they could.

As my departure date drew near, plans were made to inaugurate the two-room school. It was a big improvement over the old school, with brick walls, a tile roof and tile floors. Each classroom had new desks, a blackboard and windows. It even included a two-stall latrine, a well, and a tall flagpole. 

The folks in the school community asked several times if they could name the new building after me. I finally accepted their invitation and had a sign made to give to the school.  

On the opening day, there was a big ceremony. Representatives from the Ministry of Education came, as did a representative from USAID, my Country Directors and all the residents of the village. The local priest blessed the school and I was asked to say a few words. I was so happy and excited and grateful, I couldn’t get out more than a few words before I broke into tears. That’s when my Country Directors stepped in and spoke on my behalf. Needless to say, that day was one filled with extreme joy and a sense of accomplishment. 

I was able to visit the school a couple of years later. I brought two crank-style pencil sharpeners (a bit safer and easier to use than the razor blades they used). The teachers and students alike stared in disbelief as I put in a pencil, turned the crank a few times and showed them the newly sharpened end. I gave all the students new pencils and watched in amazement as teachers and students tried out the new gizmo.  

About 20 years passed until I was able to return again to Paraguay. It was the Fourth of July, so I joined the current PCVs at the celebration at the US Embassy. My school was on my mind, so I asked around to see if anyone was living near Primera Linea. To my surprise, there was a volunteer living in the village, so I proudly said, “Hi, my name is Margaret Bangham.”  

She looked at me and said, “Hi, nice to meet you.” 

I was shocked since I thought she would immediately recognize my name.  “The school in Primera Linea is named after me,” I told her.  

To my surprise, she said, “The name of the school is Niño Jesus – Baby Jesus.”

What a shock to me! She told me that after the dictator of over 30 years had been kicked out, the government had made a new rule that nothing could be named after someone who is still living.

As that sunk in, I had to smile and say, “Well, at least I was replaced by someone important.”