Adventures in Foreign Lands Arose From a CFAES Degree

After having spent most of his life educating impoverished youth amid upheaval in South America, Brother Xavier Eshman “would do it all over again.”

A degree from The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences led to hIs adventures in South America. 

A native of Cincinnati, Brother Xavier Eshman, (B.S. 1959, Agricultural Education) taught in impovershed rural communities amid civil unrest, the Argentina Dirty War, and “Green Hell” in Paraguay.

His work abroad started in Santa Fe, Argentina in 1970, where he encountered Argentina Dirty War difficulties, said Eshman, who currently semi-retired and living in the Divine Word Missionaries community in Bordentown, New Jersey.

GlobalSecurity described the conflict as the “seven-year (1976-1983) movement of the Argentine government against suspected dissidents and subversives.

Many people, both opponents of the government as well as innocent people, were “disappeared” in the middle of the night.  They were taken to secret government detention centers where they were tortured and eventually killed.  These people are known as “los desaparecidos” or “the disappeared,” Eshman said.

He taught science and English as a second language to high school students in Santa Fe. “Dictatorships were hard to deal with, but after their fall it got much better,” he said. Under these circumstances, he had to be cautious of every word spoken and each action taken.

Any mail sent to him from the United States was confiscated.  When working with his students he avoided all political discussions and focused on class curriculum.

In 1977, he was sent to Bordentown, New Jersey where he taught biology, chemistry and physics at Divine Word Seminary High School. 

He volunteered to work in Paraguay after a fire closed the high school.

In 1984, St. Benedict Agricultural School became his home for 25 years. Tropical agriculture was a main source of income for the community and as a result, Divine Word Missionaries established agricultural schools in the area and acquired land for St. Benedict Agricultural School to raise livestock and crops.

When he first arrived in Paraguay there were no telephones, no rural electricity and the roads consisted of dirt.  Every road flooded when it rained and no one traveled anywhere unless it was crucial.  “We used to call it the ‘Green Hell’ :hot, humid, and tough to live in,” he said. 

The language barrier and Indian dialect was difficult at first, but was lessened by the interaction with community members. “They were good men, we had a common understanding. I did everything I could to get along with them and they did the same,” he said. 

He reiterated the fact that his students were excellent. The boys he taught were exempt from the military service, therefore they wanted to do everything they could to stay in school. “They behaved very well and worked hard,” he said. In their last year of school, students were assigned a final project, and he became fluent in swine, advising those with hog projects.

Though teaching was his primary commitment, Brother Xavier also managed the dairy and took artificial insemination classes.

He is thankful for the 25 years he worked with the students of St. Benedict Agricultural School.  “I would do it all over again,” he said.

While Paraguayan agriculture has many differences from American agriculture, Brother Xavier Eshman found commonalities from his upbringing and degree that allowed him to bridge the differences, deliver new concepts and practices to help the people improve their agricultural sustainability.

Eshman first became involved in agriculture growing up and working on his family’s 170-acre farm. Valuing agriculture from an early age sparked an interest in him, which led to educating youth in Latin America upon graduation from Ohio State.  “To be able to teach the subject, you have to know the subject,” he said.

A favorite memory of his time at Ohio State was living in the Stadium Dorms.  “I learned how to interact and live with people,” he said.  Attending football games, forming respectable friendships and having brilliant instructors were amid other treasured memories.  Among the names of his instructors were the late Dr. William Tyznik, who “never, ever forgot a student,” and Dr. Stanley B. Anderson, who “was a very human and caring instructor.”

As an agricultural education student at Ohio State, he first had the opportunity to teach in Propect, Ohio. “It was one of the best experiences of my life, I had a wonderful director there,” he said.

-- Sarah A. Johnson (junior, agricultural communication)