Thursday, March 13, 2008

University of Virginia Springbreakers build in Argentina

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.

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