A Paraguayan Teen Taught English Lessons in the Park. Now, She’s Building a Scalable Model for Community Revitalization

In this post, we tell the story of Floppy, a Paraguayan Hello World participant. In addition to reading the extended story, we recommend you watch Floppy tell it herself.

Florencia is a high school student from Paraguay who likes to go by “Floppy.”

Nearly two years ago, Floppy started offering English lessons in the park near her home. She learned English as a child, thanks to her father and an interest in English-language books and television. Her English ability, plus her leadership experience from her time with the Latin American Leadership Academy, prepared her to be a great English teacher. But nothing could have prepared her for the impact those lessons would have. As she says, “In February 2019, my life completely changed.”

She began by hanging flyers around her home in Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay. The flyers advertised Inglés En La Plaza, or English in the Square, where kids could gather at the local park for English games, tips, and conversation.

Fast forward fewer than two years, and Floppy’s Inglés En La Plaza project has completely revitalized her community.

Now, she’s turning the project into a replicable model for community revitalization for leaders across Latin America.

Floppy’s English lessons were “by the community, for the community”

Floppy’s project was always about addressing community need.

When she started high school, she became disillusioned by her school’s approach to English. For Floppy, English provided “a path to open upon a new world of knowledge.” But for her peers who relied on the school curriculum to learn the language, English was difficult, irrelevant, and uninteresting.

Floppy speculated that the lack of engagement didn’t stem from English itself, but from the stressful school environment. She and her classmates are hungry for fun, collaborative learning experiences but often struggle to enjoy learning when it comes bundled with the stress of homework, grades, and long days.

That struggle was the impetus behind Inglés En La Plaza, an opportunity to learn English under the trees and the warm Paraguayan sun and free from the stresses of the traditional school environment. Floppy describes it as “another way of education ... education that’s from the community, for the community.”

Floppy hoped for a big turnout on day one of this new endeavor. She brought a whiteboard, markers, and a bank of games, ready to help beginner-level English speakers. In the end, just five young students came to the park to meet Floppy, and together they had the first session of Inglés En La Plaza.

Week after week, Floppy brought her whiteboard, markers, and games to the park. Week after week, the group grew. Before long, Inglés En La Plaza evolved to offer the community much more than just English lessons.

The need for community-led education was bigger than Floppy imagined

As Floppy’s English classes grew, she came to a realization: her neighborhood was in desperate need of safe, secure community activities. So, she broadened the scope of her project and renamed it En La Plaza, dropping the Inglés to represent the project’s expansion.

Before long, Floppy became aware that her get-togethers offered students more than just English practice. Many of the kids opened up about issues they were having in school and at home, such as bullying, depression, and divorce. “I realized,” says Floppy, “these English classes were giving a fun and reflective space when school and home couldn’t ... maybe some of them enjoyed the English language, and maybe some of them just wanted to come and play.”

After the first few months of lessons, Floppy met two older community members named Valeria and Adriana. They had heard of Floppy’s project and partnered with her to help organize activities and manage the growing group of kids. With fellow community members on board, the trio began dreaming big about the project’s potential for more community engagement, intergenerational connections, and outside play.

The expanded En La Plaza offered movie screenings, guitar circles, art classes, theater productions, and other activities to bring people out of their homes and into each other’s lives.

The public park, which used to be notorious for violence and drug use, became a gathering place for children and families to spend time learning, playing, and getting to know their neighbors. Evenings in the park were no longer unsafe; they were lively with food, film, and music for people of all ages.

Unfortunately, at the peak of En La Plaza, Covid-19 hit Paraguay and restricted the community from gathering in the park. Determined to keep the positive momentum going, Floppy and her co-organizers reimagined the project. They started

  • a soup kitchen to feed the community’s most vulnerable,
  • Online workshops to train volunteers who wanted to bring En La Plaza to their own neighborhoods, and
  • a WhatsApp group to keep community support alive during isolation.

Lockdown also gave Floppy and her fellow community leaders time to reflect on En La Plaza and get to work on the next phase of growth.

Floppy plans to expand her community revitalization project to a larger scale

Floppy was thrilled by En La Plaza’s impact in her community and recognized its potential as a model for community-led revitalization of public spaces. Now, she’s working to document the success of En La Plaza in a way that can be replicated by community leaders in Latin America and around the world.

Floppy credits En La Plaza’s success to a strong belief in the power of community. “We made a commitment,” she explains. “We stopped dividing ourselves with concrete buildings and silent houses. We went out to make a better place for everyone, and for the youth and children in the neighborhood that would like to learn, enjoy, and have fun while under the park’s trees.”

Currently, Floppy is creating resources that describe the intent, strategy, and activities that have engaged the community in such a meaningful way. She divides En La Plaza into four overlapping categories: Art & Culture, Community Impact, Community Education, and Public Spaces, each of which has its own philosophy and set of recommended activities.

Eventually, she hopes to turn En La Plaza into an NGO to make the most of the time, effort, and success of the original project. “One of our biggest dreams is to consolidate a model of active participation and revitalization of public spaces for communities in Paraguay,” she says. “And why not even the entire Latin American region?”

Hello World helped Floppy find new opportunities to become an even better community leader

Floppy was already an excellent community leader with incredible ideas, thanks to her natural curiosity and training with the Latin American Leadership Academy. With Hello World, she’s been connected to a new opportunities to learn new skills, gain new experiences, and continue developing her passion for community engagement.

Floppy participated in Hello World during its pilot phase. She uploaded videos introducing herself, describing En La Plaza, and dreaming big about what her future holds. Those videos are now a part of her public profile and can be seen by Hello World’s partner organizations, which offer scholarships, coaching, AMAs, and more.

Floppy recently found out that, through Hello World, she was chosen to be an African Leadership Academy Paragon Fellow. Paragon is a “program aimed at building a network of future leaders who will create sustainable solutions to address global challenges.” She’ll spend three weeks living in Turkey with a group of over 40 young leaders from around the world, receive personalized coaching, and participate in group challenges and other experiential learning opportunities.

Our mission at Hello World is to create a better, more inclusive way to connect young people like Floppy with a variety of development opportunities. Eventually, we believe Hello World could match students all over the world with universities, internships, summer programs, jobs, and more.

To make that happen, we need to partner with organizations interested in helping us discover and develop overlooked talent around the globe. If this sounds like you, I’d love to talk. Please, say hello!