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What is it ?

In spanish, "Centro de formacion integral de Pa'i Puku, Paraguay"

This schooling and formation (apprenticeship) Center, known by the name of Pa'i Puku, was founded in 1965 by a belgian missionary, Father "Puku", Puku meaning "tall" (the missionary was almost two meters tall). About 550 people reside at the Center, 500 being schoolchildren, boys and girls, aged between 5 and 18 years, originating from isolated farms or villages of the "Chaco boreal", with the other 50 being teachers or employees and their families.

In 2017, the Center is managed by a Committee of local persons, mainly women and residing on the site. Mrs Cristina Geersens, a belgian lady of 76 years-old (one of the Center's original founders in 1965), "General Coordinator"  and in charge of the sanitary and health aspects, died in June 2016. The present Director and president of the Comittee, is a paraguayan lady, also professor at the Center, Mrs Mercedes Paredes, who was the "right arm" of Mrs Geersens. All teachers, educators and other personnel are paraguayans, all secular.

The Center is located 156 km to the north-west of Asuncion, the capital city of Paraguay, on the National Road no. 9, known as the "Trans-Chaco" highway,  one of the few asphalted roads of this  region. The "Trans-Chaco" is linking Asuncion with the north-west of the country and with its neighbouring country, Bolivia.

The Center of Pa'i Puku is a kind of "oasis" in the vast lowland plain known as the "Chaco boreal", which lies to the north-west of the river Paraguay and as far as the foothills of the Bolivian Andes.

The Center is the only school of this vast region which is able to provide basic and secondary education, as well as the training for some trades or crafts, such as carpenters, joiners, plumbers, electricians, mechanics, tailors, dressmakers, seamstress while at the same time able to accomodate and feed these 500 children, whose homes are mostly isolated farms far from the "Trans-Chaco" highway. Some children homes are more than 300 km away. Their families, mostly farm workers, bring them to the Center mid-February and come back mid-November to fetch them for the summer vacations at the farms (sometimes by horse-carts....)

This region, sparsely populated (15'000 people), is as large as two thirds of Switzerland, but only provides a few public schools along the "Trans-Chaco" highway and only those children living near these public schools can attend them in the daytime and return to their homes for the night.

The Center exclusively receives children whose parents live and work in the "Chaco boreal".

The 500 children of Pa'i Puku having their families living too far from the "Trans-Chaco (sometimes more than 300 km) are obliged to reside at the center for the 9 months of the schoolyear. The State of Paraguay pays the salaries of the teachers / educators of Pa'i Puku, the children's parents also have to pay a small fee per child, however for about 60% of their annual budget, the Center of Pa'i Puku depends from private donations. A large share of this budget is used to buy food for the 550 residents. It is likely that without this Center, the children born in the distant and isolated farms of the Chaco would not have any opportunity to acquire even the most basic education.