How can volunteering in Argentina benefit your professional development?

By William Macleod and Paris Penman Davies

In a study carried out amongst students in London during January of this year, it was found that 67% of Students found that their volunteering experience had made them more employable and had given them transferable skills required by employers.  It goes without saying that the majority of students asked were willing to put their voluntary work on their CV.   

You begin to wonder halfway through a fourteen hour flight what it is we are seeking, or what we expect to find, by travelling across the world to what dusty explorers were once able to term ‘a foreign land.’ For my own part, I came looking for an experience which would turn my life upside down. I wanted to be moved by the vulnerability, dismayed by the poverty, touched by the stoicism and awed by the vibrancy and colour of Latin American society. I wanted to land in a truly alien environment and return home with tales of adventure and mystery which were highly unique. I wanted an experience that was personal, not professional, and the majority of people who come to volunteer have this in common. Wide-eyed at the prospect of that over-stereotyped and horrendously clichéd idea of gap year travel, of forming deeply meaningful relationships with those in my care and returning with that distant look in my eye and a host of dinner party stories which begin with ‘If you could see it….If you had been there…’ and end with the quietude of studied admiration. Maybe I’d get a tattoo as well. But either way, I certainly had no intention of delighting my nearest and dearest with narratives of my excellent teamwork, my ability to meet deadlines or my superior business admin skills. I am sure you can sense that a ‘but’ is coming, but I am not going to say that the latter holds any truth. The host of platitudes which surround travel and volunteering should not diminish the very real truth that it is indeed highly rewarding and immensely personal. Those hoping for such an experience will not be disappointed. The tattoo is optional.

Yet what you will find is that this personal development, whilst highly valuable in its own right, is also likely to see you returning to the workplace as a very different individual. This has its own benefits. But in addition, the process of volunteering will expose you to circumstances which have a direct impact on professional life. This can come in all sorts of different ways, and can be either overt or implied. However, we shouldn’t be ashamed to return home having boosted our professional acumen as much as our personal. Taking home knowledge which is more appropriate to the office than the pub adds, rather than detracts, from the experience as a whole. In some cases, our personal experience will be transferable to the professional world, in others, it is directly relevant. Sandy is a twenty eight year old doctor who works Australia within the field of mental health. In Buenos Aires he works in a garden within the grounds of a psychiatric hospital. This allows him to observe first- hand the different techniques and practices employed in Latin America.  But through the personal relationships built up via his interaction with patients he says he has improved his ability to relate to people from different backgrounds and cultures which will be an important part of his work back in Australia.

Laura works as a business manager for Cancer Research UK. By working as a volunteer she is able to gain a grass roots understanding of how a charity operates and an appreciation for the way in which a social organization like VG differs from a research-focused charity. She will be able to draw on this understanding when she returns to her job in the UK. But what about the two handsome (Will would prefer strapping) young men who have compiled this blog? We, Paris and Will, are volunteering in the communications section of the charity, and have both found elements within our roles which will definitely be valuable in a professional environment. Paris: I have a job starting in Paris (yes haha) in January working for an advertising agency and having never done any volunteering outside the UK before I was really excited about the idea. I really didn’t think my role here would have any relevancy to my job in France but as we have been working on a fundraising campaign here it has in fact been very similar. If you’ll excuse the advertising jargon; here you work with no budget, rudimentary graphic design and bag loads of enthusiasm to try and promote an idea within a marketplace which is extremely cluttered. What’s more, I’ve been able to do a lot of copywriting for our promotional campaigns. In the end, I have learnt more about advertising being here than I have at any of my past internships.

When a potential employer is interviewing you or inspecting your CV, he or she is looking for signs that you are a motivated, disciplined individual that can adapt to new situations and environments.   The fact that you are willing to offer your services unpaid demonstrates motivation and therefore immediately puts you one step above others. Volunteering work develops important skills such as teamwork, communication, problem solving and task management.    Clearly, it takes more to get a job than just doing voluntary work, but there is no doubt that it gives you a leg up. Volunteering can provide specific career experience in that you can tailor your volunteer work to a particular area; Christina majors in social care back in the states and so decided to base herself in a medical centre here in Buenos Aires. Whilst Synva, from Norway, volunteering here as an assistant in an orphanage, hopes it will add to her nursing background and help her in her career switch to paediatric care. At the same time, another of our volunteers, Lauren, explained that her work teaching English in Los Pibes Community Centre in La Boca would be an important boost to her job hunt in America as she can now demonstrate the ability to work and adapt in an unfamiliar environment.

So as you can see, although many people come out here for something which is a complete contrast to professional life, you may well end up returning home better prepared for it. Volunteer work offers the opportunity to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. Clearly, if the volunteer decides to be a teacher after the work or had always wanted to become a teacher, then this provides invaluable teaching experience which can help you when looking for a job in teaching. Will: Like Paris, I am also working in the Communications section of the charity. This is hugely beneficial for me, since I have an interest in Marketing as a potential career. After I leave Buenos Aires, I will be doing a Marketing internship in Madrid.  I have not done any charity work previous to this, so I continue to find new challenges and learn new skills, not just affiliated with marketing, which I can bring with me to Madrid and also keep with me for life. I am not saying that people should do volunteering because it can lead to a job. Of course one’s main incentive would be the personal fulfilment and development that they gain from it. 

A Review of the Buenos Aires Responsible Tourism Week

Friday 4th November saw the official opening and discussion of Argentina´s responsible tourism week with numerous speakers including our very own Valeria Gracia. “La Defensoría del Pueblo” (http://www.defensoria.org.ar/) in San Telmo proved to be the perfect base for the Responsible Tourism conference. It is an institution that is in place to ensure tourists know their rights and are not taken advantage of while also helping locals to better understand the law and improve their lifestyles through services such as health or education.

The morning´s talks ranged from consumer rights, the relationship between tourists and the state to ethical benefits such as wealth distribution or volunteering opportunities. It was stressed that everything mentioned was applicable to tourists as well as Porteños and that responsible tourism came in many forms. If you were to take a message away it would be: “It is important to protect the patrimony of the nation you are visiting while also looking after the environment”. This sort of attitude is particularly pertinent to Latin America as the tourism market is constantly increasing so in order to preserve the monuments and spirits of the continent, we must rely on tour companies to be responsible and have the country’s interests at heart as well as their business interests. A good example of this sort of compromise came from Esteban Romano, the president of Cámara Argentina de Hostels. Working with over 170 hostels in Buenos Aires and the rest of Argentina, he aims to ensure that all are at a decent standard while promoting the need to respect each other and the country. “Hostels have a role to talk not only of tourist information (where to go, what to do), but to inform their customers about the social situations of the country they are in” Before the lunch break there was one more talk from Antonio Serra Cambaceres on the promotion and protection of consumer rights in the tourist industry. He called for businesses and government offices to make it faster and easier for anyone to reclaim expenses from unfair transactions. 

In relation to this Juan José, the executive secretary of The Responsible Tourism Network, focused his talk on the importance of transparency and how important it is for the consumer to be able to make decisions regarding consumption based on knowledge. The network has therefore agreed on 42 icons, covering topics such as energy consumption and accessibility. Each company or organization then assess to what degree they live up to in each area. These icons thus serve both as an informational instrument for the consumer, but also as an ethical instrument for the members of the network. This way, every company can join – as long as there is a vision to improve and live up to expected standards.The icons are based on an ethical code, which the members of the Network have devised themselves. The idea is that no experts can define the terms better than the people who are a part of the environment in question. Also, an expert might be affected by an issue or political pressure, which the Network considers of lesser importance. This could be marketing or outdated academia, whereas the businesses and organizations are a part of the dynamically changing world, and therefore have a better understanding of how the needs within responsible production change as well.  The next speaker was Valeria Gracia, co-founder of Voluntario Global.

Voluntario Global works in many different environments and communities, all of which are less privileged. She placed importance on supporting the volunteers professionally and emotionally. This is in order to support mutual understanding between volunteers and the community, as well as avoid culture shock. She sees the voluntourism as a cultural exchange opportunity, and as such finds the preparation very important. Focusing on the projects of the organization, she says the there are big differences on how to help. The groups, which Voluntario Global are involved with are for both children and more mature people from under-privileged families and areas. Every group needs help in a different way. One way the organization is helping a young group from areas with socio-economic difficulties is by helping them to help themselves. Voluntario Global has started a cooperative launderette which offers the young people the chance to learn responsibility, education, and work in an open community to discuss their issues. It also offers them the possibility of studying while working, and thus a better outlook for the future. The afternoon kicked off with a talk focused on accessible tourism. Everyone should have the right to enjoy the sights and activities that Buenos Aires has to offer and therefore the services industry has to consider their needs. ‘Turismo Buenos Aires’ has been working hard over the past three years to make tourism more accessible. In a country where social inclusion, equal opportunity and social integration are encouraged it is important to make accessible tourism a priority. The government, community and non-profit organization’s goal is to make the whole province of Buenos Aires accessible and thus create an inclusive environment.15% of the world’s population have a disability and the province of Buenos Aires has over a million disabled people alone. Some of the audiences’ main complaints were about the inaccessibility of the Subte and the lack of food available to celiacs in a city where medialunas, empanadas and alfajors dominate!The aim is to provide the disabled with the accessibility, safety and autonomy to enjoy the activities organized by tourist and recreation services. Some initiatives include; designing web pages for the visually impaired, carrying out campaigns to raise awareness and promote accessible tourism, establishing the conditions of accessibility to guide hotels and hostels in adapting their facilities, making these conditions known to principal museums and encouraging gastronomic establishments to consider the requirements of celiacs.For example in the Feria Internacional de Turismo Responsable, taking place tomorrow, there will be a tactile map and flyers with brail to help promote the principles of accessible tourism and they plan to take more drastic measures for next year’s fair.

The government understands that achieving accessible tourism is a difficult challenge and not one that will be accomplished immediately but it is a challenge that the province of Buenos Aires is committed to overcoming and, as with every aspect of responsible tourism, some compromises will have to be made.

 

The second talk of the afternoon was headed by the owner of the Eco-Pampa hostel, Pablo Gueilburt. The hostel was opened in Palermo in 2010 and is the first ecological hostel in Buenos Aires. They have twelve rooms and encourage their guests to respect the environment. Pablo’s aim is to minimize their impact on the environment and their principles are based on three key ecological concepts, ‘Reduce, Recycle and Reuse’. The hostel uses solar panels, doubled glazed windows, rain water, recycled paper and LED light bulbs. Additionally the entire check-in process has been digitalized to avoid wasting paper, there is a timer in each shower to make the guests aware of the amount of water they are using and they have a compost heap and an organic garden. Currently La Red de Turismo Responsable is working to encourage more hostels to adopt similar measures. Pablo is happy with what his hostel has achieved but hopes that current groundbreaking research in areas such the extraction of energy from human movement to power traffic lights and the creation of windows containing solar panels will help to facilitate the introduction of energy saving initiatives in more establishments in the future. His message is one that could be applied to all fields of responsible tourism. We must improve upon current trends and use new discoveries to find ways of including all types of people in various tourist opportunities while ensuring that all the activities are carried out for the good of the country and its society.  

La Boca: What lies beneath

Even for people who know very little about Buenos Aires, the name La Boca always seems to ring a bell. With its renowned multi-coloured houses and football stadium, ‘la Bombonera’ home to the infamous Boca juniors, it has always been a popular destination for tourists.  However, how much do people really know about this ‘barrio’? Last week we visited the Community Centre ‘Los Pibes’ in which Voluntario Global plays a large role and decided to do some research on the history, current situation and impact of the Community Centre in la Boca. History La Boca generates its name because the neighborhood sits at the mouth (“boca” in Spanish) of the Riachuelo. It lies near the old port but unfortunately the water is not deep enough for large vessels so the port did not do much to boost their economic situation. Thus the principal industries in La Boca used to be salting meat for transportation and leather tanneries. The fact that it is near a port, did however play a large part in forming La Boca’s history. In the colonial period La Boca was home to imported slaves and in the late 19th century, Italian immigrants settled in tenements.  They painted their houses with left over paint bought over by sailors which explains the characteristic multi-coloured houses now seen on ‘el Caminito’. Admittedly the colours were not always as flashy as they are today but the local painter, Quinquela Martin, urged his neighbours to use brighter colours for aesthetic effect. Additionally, the variety of immigrants all living together enriched la Boca’s culture and formed the melting pot of customs that can be seen to this day. For example the Genoese bought with them pasta, football and fashion; all of which continue to play an important role in the neighbourhood.La Boca also has a history of being a centre of radical politics. For example in 1882 the ‘barrio’ self-proclaimed itself as “Republica de la Boca” and many demonstrations were held during the crisis of 2001. This political attitude can still be seen today and is encouraged by ‘los Pibes’.

Social Problems La Boca’s most famous attraction is el Caminito, a road named after Juan de Dios Filiberto’s tango song therefore giving not only a touristic identity but also a cultural significance to this part of La Boca. On a first sight, tourists are impressed by the painted wooden houses. Adding to el Caminito, the historic team of Boca Juniors is another attraction of the neighbourhood, as it is both an attraction to foreign and Argentinean tourists, who go there to support the team. However, La Boca is not only one road (El Caminito) or one football team. Indeed, there are some views suggesting that these two attractions are an efficient way of covering up the extensive social problems of the neighbourhood. The social problems are different to other underprivileged neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires, but are more present and less exposed. As a matter of fact, when one researches anything on La Boca on the Internet the only reference to it, are the one mentioned above. Aside from the drug market, which is present all over the world, La Boca faces terrible contamination by the river Riachuelo, affecting the local population’s health.

Additionally, though unemployment has improved significantly over these past few years there is still a high rate of unemployment (around 7%) owing to the poor education system which also needs to be tackled. With the help of foreign and governmental aid, there is now a fund of $500 million to resolve the contamination problem. However, the pollution comes to la Boca via the Riachuelo which means that the slow process of cleaning the water is never-ending for the community. So far they have used $1 million of the $500 so la Boca still has it’s work cut out. Impact of ‘Los Pibes’ Community Centre What struck us most about the Community Centre was the overwhelming positive atmosphere. We were welcomed in and taken on a tour of the different aspects of the community center. The women in the small clothes factory, bakery and soup kitchen explained the nature of their work and Berta took us into the homework club where the children were being encouraged to put the Jenga game away and start their homework! Berta emphasized that after a long day at school she would rather encourage and support their work to increase their self-confidence rather than make them do it which mirrors the general heartening atmosphere in the community centre. Johan then took us to the radio where that day’s programme was just being prepared and willingly answered any questions we had. Everyone who plays a part in the community centre gets a weekly quota of food depending on the number of hours that they work and their families can use the Community’s facilities such as the computer classes, English lessons and the soup kitchen. The centre also runs monthly meetings called ‘Reunion de Jovenes’. In these meetings they discuss politics, raise awareness and mobilize interest. This has a great impact on the youth involved as the poor education system does little to motivate their interests and the meetings presents them with other opportunities.

Vountario Global provides volunteers to help in different sectors of the Community Centre such as cooking in the soup kitchen, teaching English and helping in the after school support group. It is great that our volunteers can contribute to the success of ‘Los Pibes’ which clearly makes a difference in the lives of so many. The Community Centre provides a great deal of support and though I would hesitate to say that people are reliant on it, ‘Los Pibes’ provides a great deal of support and empowers the workers to make a change in their community.

Life as a High Flying Bird

As a first blog/article attempt I thought I’d follow on from Eddy Kim’s discussion of expectations. Hopefully I can put death to any doubts some of you may have. Having been with Voluntario Global for about a week now I was really encouraged by how quickly I was brought into ‘La Casa’ to meet any ‘colleagues’ I’d be working with and the extremely friendly supervisors who are all assigned a certain amount of us volunteers. The welcome talk encourages you to embrace flexibility and become flexible yourself; this does not mean you should learn the splits or other gymnastics moves (but if you can then many congratulations!) but refers to how you may have to get used to hopping on a crowded 64 bus to La Boca at 8 in the morning with thrill-seeking, fare-evading  muchachos hanging off the doors one day... swiftly to be followed by time in the office sipping Maté and chatting in your finest Castellano.

The city of Buenos Aires itself is a mixture of rich and poor; high rise apartment blocks sit next to intricately carved institutions and you’re never far from a ‘villa’. You will find restaurants with beautiful decor and hard-working kitchens on almost every street and the bar-culture could be among the best in the world. Paying merely 20-30 pesos for a bottle of Malbec will surely bring anyone to this conclusion. On my first day off I managed to stumble through the searing yet comfortable day time heat until I saw the ‘Casa Rosada’ wonderfully lit up in the evening to really bring home why some have described the Capital Federal as a “nocturnal work of art”. Reading through past accounts of volunteers, many people talk of how privileged they feel to have their home after seeing parts of Buenos Aires. I think this works both ways; the beauty and flowing culture of such a place puts any “cosmopolitan city” to shame with the sheer ease with which you find yourself having a good time in extraordinary places.

There are easy links to the likes of Montevideo, Iguazu falls, Mendoza and even Rio de Janeiro and with enough planning it would be easy to make Buenos Aires your portal to South America. Although I am not staying in the volunteer’s house myself, I can say with confidence that anyone who is can consider themselves lucky. It is a large house with shared rooms which means you can’t help but become socially involved (the weekly ‘get togethers’ hugely aid this process). Any queries or concerns you have are only minutes (and metres) away from being answered. From tourist information to fresh laundry service, ‘La Casa’ will take care of your every need and set you up with a good base for your work and travels. It’s been said that new starts are the most exciting part of a job or of life. But I hope that you will find or have found that once arriving here, much like a high flying bird, the feeling of elation and perseverance will steadily continue throughout your journey.

 

Argentina National Elections: Who looks set to win?

This week has seen all the candidates finish their campaigns, but the election result is seemingly a foregone conclusion. The incumbent president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner already has a vast lead over any of her closest rivals. Recent polls say that the Centre-Leftist president is set to win by a landslide margin of more than 50%.   Despite her fairly controversial economic policies and fierce, combative leadership, the president looks to have taken advantage of a split opposition, seemingly unable to offer a better alternative for the Argentine people. It is evident that the lowest unemployment rate in 20 years has helped her cause immensely as the working class population has come out in their droves to support her next term in office. However, there are other notable candidates running for president against the Kirchner regime. The three most notable being ex-president Eduardo Duhalde , Ricardo Alfonsín, and Hermes Binner. But, with Hermes Binner at nearly 40 percentage points behind the president elect in second place, the result is almost already a foregone conclusion. This Sunday, Kirchner needs only a 10% lead over any of her nearest rivals when the voting public goes to the ballot box in order to be guaranteed of a second presidential term. It seems that the president is capitalising on a 20 year low in unemployment and a promise to control the spiraling rate of inflation with her state-focused economic policies which underpin her aggressive high-spend and high-growth plan. Cristina has focused much of her campaign on the lower classes where she has implemented a welfare scheme and introduced wage rises to help them cope with the ever increasing cost of living. It is this policy, coupled with a largely ineffective opposition which ultimately looks set to get her re-elected by the end of this weekend.  

An Insight into the Argentinean spanish

Everyone who has ever visited Argentina knows that the distinct dialect of Spanish spoken, known as Rio Platense, defines it as one of the most culturally diverse countries of Latin America. This cultural diversity found in its language stems from the vast influx of immigrants from Europe in the 20th Century. Between 1910 and 1945 the majority of these immigrants came from southern Italy and brought with them a highly particular and recognisable slang, commonly known as Lunfardo. This slang has evolved over decades; words were created as a form of code so as not to be recognized by state officials and police. It is this Lunfardo, coupled with distinct grammatical peculiarities such as the use of the vos pronoun and the different pronunciations of ‘ll’ and ‘y’ which make Argentine Spanish so unique and fascinating. Below are a few words and phrases which show this difference and their individual social context and how they are particular only to the Rio Platense dialect Quilombo – A mess, chaos – This word is only used in the Rio de la Plata region, most commonly in Argentina. Interestingly, unlike most of the Lunfardo in Buenos Aires it does not derive from southern Italy, but from Brazil. This Brazilian word was used to describe the unpleasant living conditions of slums in the country. The word has since come to describe a mess or a chaotic scene, but, by extension is also used to refer to a brothel. Chamuyero – A smooth talker – Someone who speaks about trivial and unimportant things in order to chat someone up, with a certain hint of slyness. This word often has fairly negative connotations, but its roots are not from Italy but from Argentina, and it is a word solely recognisable in this country and not in any other Spanish-speaking nation.

Continuing on this vein of words which are applicable only to Rio Platense Spanish, the following words and phrases underline further this idea of cultural identity in Argentina, as they would never be heard anywhere else but are recognisable through its slang, or Lunfardo; Salir de joda – To go out Tener (mucha) onda – To ‘be with it’, to be trendy Trucho/a – Incorrect, wrong Mina – girl Perhaps the best known of all the Argentinian slang phrases and most readily identifiable with the country is ¡Che Boludo! This phrase is highly ambiguous as it can either be offensive or actually a term of endearment toward a good friend. For example calling someone a “boludo” could mean you are referring to them as an idiot or a fool. Between close friends it is commonly used as a way of saying “hi mate” or “hi buddy”. But in a cultural sense this phrase is a fantastic example of the Argentine communication. It is quite a common belief worldwide that when Argentines speak they do so with freedom and find whatever words sound the most fluid in speech. It is this freedom of speech which makes a phrase like “Che Boludo” such a fine example of their cultural identity.  

volunteer work in Argentina? Here’s four takes on the benefits of it

By Lisa Andersen and Robert Wake-Walker


What is to gain, who are the recipients, and how is it done?

Tuesday the 27th September 2011 was World Tourism Day, so therefore we have spent the week reflecting upon the subject, and want to share our thoughts with you. We talked to different people at different levels within the field of responsible tourism, in order to gain a wider, more thorough perspective on the matter and on the issues.

What is responsible tourism, and what is to be gained and learned from it?

Is this idea of learning the same both at the top and at the bottom? In order to find answers to all of our questions, we talked to the executive secretary of the Responsible Tourism Network in Argentina, to the founder of one of the organisations, to a founder of one of the projects, and last, but certainly not least, one of the many volunteers in Buenos Aires. 

Tourism and production

Juan José is the man behind the Argentine Responsible Tourism Network or in Spanish, Red de Turismo Responsable. He is also behind one of the organizations in the network: Generación Par. Generación Par is focused on promoting responsible consumption. For example, by hosting workshops on recycling. Juan’s work with the organization is deeply entwined with his work with the network, and the visions of the two seem to be similar. Talking to Juan it seems more and more obvious that responsible tourism and responsible consumption are one subject, not two. As he talks, he weaves back and forth between the two, not seeming to distinguish between them.

“We need to choose what and how we consume” 

The idea of a network of organizations promoting responsible consumption came to Juan when he realized that there was a general problem regarding the labelling of responsible products and services. The problem is, according to Juan, related to an idea of an ever-present government, also governing production, employment and environment. However, as Juan sees it, these issues are not being governed. Instead the consumers must act responsibly themselves, paying attention, not only to their own and others’ working conditions, but to the environment as well. Therefore Generación Par wants to open the eyes of the consumer: “we are alone and we have to choose what and how we consume”, Juan says, and further explains that the most responsible company is one who provides its consumers with information about production, employment, environment and so on.

He later started working on the idea of a network where organizations and companies who are interested in the idea of responsibility. However, joining Red de Turismo Responsable does not mean that the company must be working one hundred per cent responsible in all aspects, because that simply is not possible, says Juan. What is possible is to commit to a process of changing for the better. Each year every member sets goals for the next year. And the organization is planning to launch a new set of icons, which will provide the consumer with readily available information about the production of the product, including accessibility, waste-handling etc.

“It’s not just a brand”

With this, Argentina seems to be taking the lead within innovative ways of implementing responsible tourism and consumption, and to Juan, the reason is obvious: “it is different when you think of responsible tourism as a brand and when you think of it as responsible production.” In this perspective, responsible tourism is something that comes with responsible production, and as Red de Turismo Responsable believes: everyone is ready to benefit from good employment.

“This is where I can make a difference”

In order to gain another insight into the matter of responsible tourism, I went to Pablo Nogués, about an hour train ride outside of Buenos Aires. Here I was going to visit Silvia, who runs a small after-hours English school. She bases her work on the idea of quality education for everyone. That means that the school has very few resources at its disposal, as Silvia makes a point of charging the lowest possible tuition fee. It is not easy to run a school at such low cost, but Silvia seems to have what it takes: lots of energy, insight and compassion. And this seems to be where her motivation stems from. She grew up with the privilege of quality education, and when she realized that not everyone has this privileged background, she knew she had to change that. Even if the change looks small on a national scale, in the lives of the families, the opportunity is life changing.

Silvia employs volunteers from all over the world (recruited through Voluntario Global). This adds to the children’s understanding of geography – it becomes relevant and thus interesting to them to know something about a specific place, when the person in front of them is from there. It helps them realize the differences in the world, and sometimes the meaning of these differences. To Silvia, the most significant help for the school is the volunteers. Without them, the budget would not be sustainable, and the children would miss out on a lot of interesting lessons.

Further, Silvia recognizes and highly appreciates the lessons the volunteers learn, what they gain and what they take home with them: new insights, thoughts and ideas. This aspect of cultural exchange is as important as the main-objective. This is what keeps many projects within responsible tourism going: the prospect of giving and receiving on equal terms. At least that is Silvia’s take on it. In order to investigate this objective further, Rob had a talk with one of Voluntario Global’s founders, Valeria. 

Do you consider Argentina an interesting place to do volunteer work? And why?

Yes, it’s an interesting destination to be a volunteer, but then all places are around the world. Voluntary work is a fantastic way in which we can get to know the community and culture of a country. Each and every country has its own, personal culture, which makes each volunteering experience unique. For example, a volunteer worker in Bolivia would be exposed to the history of the indigenous culture. In Buenos Aires a volunteer gets to grips with highly topical subjects and current affairs such as poverty in modern society and education and health issues. 

Please can you explain a bit about your role in the organisation?

About six to seven years ago I had the idea of creating a new voluntary organisation, and that is how we founded Voluntario Global. The plan was to help improve the culture of many lives in Buenos Aires, and that is where I think volunteers really help to make a difference. As well as immersing himself or herself in a culture,a volunteer must strive to create a better society to live in for a community. Today my role is different. Everyone who works in VG can take the decisions and be responsible. I feel that everyone in the organisation makes a difference.

Is the voluntary sector continuing to grow in Argentina?

Yes, it is continuing to grow but more in Buenos Aires than the rest of Argentina. The rest of the country’s problem is that everyone arriving in Argentina has to come through BA. There are no other means of arriving in the country (internationally) without coming to the capital and as a result there is a greater concentration of volunteers in the capital.

How can being a volunteer be considered an alternative of responsible tourism?

It is first important to distinguish between two different types of volunteer. For example, a volunteer medic who travels to Afghanistan would not be considered a ‘tourist’, but a professional worker. However, the young people who help here in Buenos Aires do volunteer work as a means of responsible tourism. If you consider a ‘tourist’ somebody who wants to explore different cultures of a country, this is what the majority of volunteers in BA hope to achieve. Therefore there is a strong link between tourism and volunteer work if you take Buenos Aires as an example.

What are the principle motivations for the volunteers to choose to involve themselves in this experience?

One of the primary reasons is to learn another language, but to learn it by speaking it in the target country as opposed to in a school. There is a big difference in learning a language and studying a language; this is the difference between speaking it in the country and being taught in a school or university. But a languageisn’t just learnt by speaking it, but by immersing yourself into the culture and learning about the way of life.

Valeria seems to believe in the learning process of volunteering, just as Silvia did. She also places great importance on the local communities. 

 

Photo exhibition by La Boca children

We went in a big group, everyone from the VG house, and a couple of people also working for Voluntario Global, but who are living elsewhere. Everyone is looking forward to the exhibition. It is getting dark as we arrive. We enter the hall, greet whoever is sitting there, and hurry upstairs where the action is taking place. We are at the photo exhibition, where the artists are children and the inspiration their own home – La Boca neighbourhood.

 

As we enter the room, there is a feeling of anticipation. Children are running everywhere, not considering the seriousness of being an artist. We are introduced to the exhibition by little pieces of text explaining the ideas behind the work in the words of the children, and showing a slightly more thoughtful side to them than the noisy and playful ones we are experiencing, as they run around the room. The texts explain in simple words how the children came to find the subject of their photos, the specific perspectives and angles. They invite you to understand the way they have worked with the cameras, what their thoughts were and how they came to understand the potential of their own neighbourhood. We are also shown little interviews with the children on the subject of La Boca – why is it called La Boca and its history – these thoughts deepen our understanding of who they are and their approach to the work. Even though there are no photos of the children themselves, reading what has been captured of their thoughts, leaves an impression of who they are. Their work has been inspired by a hint of their own discovery of their feelings towards their neighbourhood. Feelings they may not have been aware of in everyday life. This all adds to our anticipation, and we are excited to move on to the main attraction of the evening – the photos.

 

The photos displayed at the exhibition depict many diverse aspects of life in La Boca neighbourhood. The viewer saw a detailed insight into the culture of one of Buenos Aires oldest districts with representations of the infamous dockyard, the Lezama park, animals, mural paintings and, of course, images relating to Boca Juniors football club. The Bombonera stadium and legend Diego Maradona were what most of the children associated with one of Buenos Aires most famous teams. The children in the Los Pibes community centre produced some highly professional and creative photos that brilliantly capture the culture that surrounds one of the most historic districts in the Argentine capital.

Having looked around the whole exhibition we spoke with Ramiro, a young boy with a great passion for football, Boca Juniors and Diego Maradona. This passion was evident through the fact that he had one of the largest displays at the exhibition. A large proportion of his photos featured murals in streets very near the community centre. These old paintings portray images of Maradona, sketches of La Bombonera and the general footballing culture which clearly plays a central role in this neighbourhood. Speaking to him, we learnt just how much football has meant to him and through his photography this was further underlined. When asked who his current favourite player is, he said it is still Maradona! We then spoke with Rosario, a young girl who showed a great interest in many photos at the exhibition. Although she hadn't taken any photos, it was fantastic to see her so involved and she especially took a liking to the display of the cats and dogs in La Boca. There is a great picture of her with her favourite dog!

 

Rounding the evening off, the children gathered to do a small presentation for everyone who showed up. Parents, grandparents, all watching and listening. Each of the children read a few words, talking quickly, some of them looking shy or self-conscious, all of them looking proud. The coordinator then took over, thanking the community centre Los Pibes, for funding the work, providing the children with the possibility of learning, and for developing an interest in creating something, and for giving them an opportunity to try something different than what they usually do. It has influenced their perception of their home and opened their eyes to the diversities of the neighbourhood. But it has also influenced their perception of their own abilities, opening their eyes to what is possible and to the fact that they are able to achieve something. For some of them, this feeling might follow them into the future, enabling them to dream, and maybe, eventually reach for that dream.

 

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VOLUNTARIO GLOBAL

Voluntario Global helps local communities by being available to discuss anything that local organizations need, and offering ideas for further change and development.
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CONTACT

Location: General Pacheco. Buenos Aires. Argentina
Email: jfranco@voluntarioglobal.org

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