Tuesday, November 4, 2008
The current situation presents a challenge and an opportunity for future volunteers in Argentina or anywhere for that matter. It will be a challenge to find the resources to travel abroad and focus on others. Nonetheless, it may be important to remember that helping others empowers us too.
The opportunity is a chance to re-invent ourselves. Times of immense vulnerability often require doing things you would not normally do. Find solace in giving to others, even in very simple ways. You just may realize that it makes a world of difference.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Thursday, March 13, 2008
During the first week of March 2008, 11 Springbreakers from the University of Virginia, USA, descended on Buenos Aires and HelpArgentina to work with a member organization, Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family), to build "two new additions" to the small homes of two distinct families' in the greater Buenos Aires region.
Arriving in Argentina on a Friday, these eager college students participated in an orientation with HelpArgentina before heading the following Monday to begin work in a small, rural, and very low income neighborhood in Tigre, a community that attracts many tourists for its proximity to a delta of the river Parana.
The project was slow at the start, but as the week progressed, the students and a routine developed they got to know the community and the families whose homes they were renovating. I visited the group on their last day. To say the least it was a very inspiring day.
Arriving after about an hour and a half of commute, I reached the volunteers who were working laboriously on the two different projects. One of the projects was to build the basic structure of a separate "one room" home on the property of a big family of at least 8. By the end of the day, the skeleton of the home was completed, the floor boards were laid, and the roof and walls were constructed. (The final product was to be completed by Horacio Fish, the on-site leader and carpenter from Sagrada Familia).
The other project was an addition to the home of a single mom and her two young children. The group finished the general structure and laid the the floor boards as well as the sun went down that Friday afternoon. This addition would be a new kitchen for the family, a well-needed expansion to her humble home.
It was neat to hear about and see how the group came together over the course of the day and the week. It was evident that this was a great team-building experience for the group. Also, you could see a glimmer in their eyes as they interacted with the community and families. They joked, played with the local kids, and often engaged with other locals, who were curious about what was going on.
As the day came to an end, the group was treated to cookies, medialunas, and mate as well as a special performance by 4 local children (one whose home they had renovated) from the community in a show of thanks for their efforts throughout the week. These young kids, dressed in traditional garb from northern Argentina, danced a series of dances to the applause of the UVA group and the others who joined them from the surrounding neighborhood. After hugs and kisses and long good-byes, the group from the University of Virginia followed the dirt road out of the neighborhood, dirty and tired, but visibly grateful to have been able to provide a modest boost to these two local families.
Working with the group this day, it was wonderful for me to see how valuable this experience was for everyone. Though it may seem like just a little gesture to some, the efforts of this group, like so many other construction projects of this nature going on in the world; mean a lot more to those that it is helping than one may imagine. The smiles on the faces of these families, particularly the single mother of two, brought a tear to my eye. She thanked the group with hugs and kisses, and though she was quiet and very shy, you could see that this small act provided her with a well-needed boost to keep dreaming and fighting to provide a better life for her family.
Though successful in material terms for the end results that were fulfilled, clearly, the human dimension and inter-cultural exchange that ocurred reflected on a much deeper level the value of finding simple ways to support and empower others. Simple acts of kindness are all that is needed to make this world a better place.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
InsightArgentina, the volunteer program, has enjoyed great success since late 2006 working with ex-volunteers to raise money and awareness for their host organizations in Argentina. Further, HelpArgentina's Comunidad sin Fronteras (Community without Borders) works directly with all of these donors and Social Ambassadors abroad.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
This small organization has a tremendous story. It has been built up from scratch by one Argentine woman, Jacqueline Marquez, against all odds, but with the support of many others since the economic crisis in Argentina in 2001-2.
Today, January 29, 2008, I went out to Crecer con Amor with a future volunteer from Estonia. Yep, you heard right, Estonia. Awesome.
Listening to Jacqueline speak about Crecer and its transformation never gets old. From her tiny office, tucked away in a small corner of La Loma, outside Buenos Aires city, she speaks fluidly, passionately, and with a sparkle in her eye (Photo: Jacqueline with volunteer, Matt Bennett).
If I were to describe Jacqueline, the following words would come to mind: courageous, determined, disciplined, un-wavering, compassionate, loving, caring, selfless, and one-of-a-kind.
As Jacqueline speaks about the unfolding turn of events that gave life to her special place for young people in La Loma, you cannot help but feel inspired. Her story and the story of her organization and its people show us that anything is possible when you lead with good intentions and compassion for others, and trust in the perfection of things.
Currently, more than 150 young people from the ages of 1-13 frequent Crecer con Amor each day to participate in a variety of educational activities. Crecer can best be described as both a before-school and an after-school program (some children attend school in the mornings, some in the afternoon), but it is much more than that. Crecer provides a fundamental safe space and supportive role for its young people. Love, mutual respect, and the education of basic human values are at the heart of Crecer's mission.
In a neighborhood where drug use and juvenile criminality is prevalent and where families have often been torn apart by unemployment or social crisis, Crecer is a breath of fresh air that brings hope for the future to this community's youngest members. Crecer con Amor is changing the lives of these kids each day and you can see it on their faces.
Not surprisingly, our volunteer program has been constantly inspired working with Jacqueline and everyone at Crecer. More than 40 volunteers from 14 different countries have volunteered in La Loma since 2006. Many notable things have happened. I will tell you about them as we go. Peace.