The Dark Truth Behind a Cosmopolitan Facade

The Paris of South America. The New York of South America. South America's most cosmopolitan city. We have all heard various names for the Latin American cultural centre. Buenos Aires is well-known around the world for its beautiful European-style architecture, legendary nightlife and trendy shopping. However, this is only one face of the city. The great restaurants, hip bars and expensive stores are reserved for rich porteños (Buenos Aires locals), expats and moneyed tourists. When you walk around the neighborhoods of Palermo and Recoleta you see fashion-conscious European and American tourists browsing fancy boutiques, businessmen having lunch in overpriced "fusion" restaurants and Argentinean women with botox faces carrying little dogs. Everyone who comes back from a trip to Buenos Aires raves about the city's fashion scene, diverse restaurants and cosmopolitan vibe. Those people do not get to see the other face of Buenos Aires- the villas (shantytowns). These areas are dominated by poverty and drugs and the police does not even enter. The inhabitants of the villas suffer from social exclusion and lack of opportunities.

On top of everything, the governor of Buenos Aires, Mauricio Macri wants to eliminate the villas and expel their inhabitants out of the city. As a volunteer for Voluntario Global you get to see both sides of the city. It is a very strange feeling to visit one of the villas during the day and then go out to bars and clubs in Palermo at night. The contrast between rich and poor could hardly be more drastic and makes you think about social inequalities in the city. I am not saying that you should not enjoy the nightlife and the nice parts of the city. Do take advantage of the city's fantastic cultural life. However, keep in mind that behind the gorgeous cosmopolitan facade there is severe poverty. This is why it is so important to show solidarity with the poor and underprivileged communities. Voluntario Global works with exactly those groups of people that have been left out and suffer from social exclusion. With various educational projects the organization's goal is to encourage young people to do well in school and go to university. Seeing and working in the poor marginalized communities makes you understand the city in its entirety. So when you go back to your home country you will be able to tell people what Buenos Aires really is about and that apart from a kicking nightlife and awesome shopping there are shockingly poor communities that certainly cannot participate in the cosmopolitan lifestyle of Buenos Aires.

Visit to Pablo Nogués

This week Tanya from Montréal had her first day as a volunteer at the English school "By your Side" in the neighborhood of Pablo Nogués. The school: 

Tanya in the class room: We were greeted by Silvia, the founder of the school. 

We also met Camilla, who has been studying English at "By your Side" for five years and said that "English is her life". She impressed us with her fluency in English and eagerness to learn. Camilla demonstrates that the school with the help of volunteers has been successful at motivating children and teenagers to learn English.


Linda in Jujuy - Part II

At the end of March we helped inaugurate a church in Casti which involved sharing a splendid Lama “asado” (barbeque) and spotting ostriches. On the first weekend of April, we visited a youth camp in Solazutti near Aguas Blancas. There, I learned about Guarani people, heaps of new songs and made new friends.

Many people told me that I would bore myself to death while volunteering three months in La Quiaca. On the contrary, time flies by and I can´t believe I´ve already been here for two months! Classes should have started at the beginning of March, but school-doors opened only on the 7th of April due to a teachers´ “paro” (strike). Thanks to broadcasts we launched with national and local radio-stations in my second week here, many youths took – and continue taking – advantage of my English classes. Having hung around with nothing to do for a long time the kids are struggling to catch up material and get their brains working again. When classes began, the community-centre started its comedor (canteen) for more than 110 young people which has made daily life very busy. This service is mainly for students living alone La Quiaca while their families live far off in the campo (fields). My tasks lie in the organisation and administration of the comedor. Also, I give a meditation to the adolescents while they are eating. I need to use a good deal of creativity, authority and confidence in my Spanish to catch their attention and initiate a dialogue. The weekends have a different rhythm and are focused on church activities near and far. Sunday afternoons we often spend with Lorenzo and his family in Sansana Sur, a tiny place near La Quiaca. Many vegetables for the comedor come from there.[gallery] From 16th to 18th of April, we took part in a convention in Jujuy Capital where I performed songs together with youths of the local church – great fun! On my birthday, my host-family and friends surprised me with a party. I feel truly blessed to be surrounded by such lovely people and to be able to be part of the team working for the youngsters here in La Quiaca!

Buenos Aires Volunteer Experience!

All volunteers who came were all really fun and everyone who works at Voluntario Global is lovely – I can’t wait to come back again!

Hi! I'm Kim and I’ve just finished volunteering at Voluntario Global as the Responsible Tourism Co-ordinator, working with the volunteers to help them get the most out of their stay in Buenos Aires. Working in the office of Voluntario Global was a very interesting and rewarding experience, giving me the opportunity to see how the organisation is run and get to know everyone who works there. When new volunteers arrived I helped with their introduction meeting, where we explained about the organisation and projects, as well as giving them tips on how to survive in this big city! Following the presentation I took the volunteers on a tour of Plaza del Congreso, explaining about the buildings and history around the plaza. One of the best aspects of the volunteering experience was organising weekly volunteer activities…from football matches and tango shows to experiencing the BA’s great night life or seeing Oscar winning Argentine films, there was always something to do in this buzzing city. Overall it was fantastic, the volunteers who came were all really fun and everyone who works at Voluntario Global is lovely – I can’t wait to come back again! Check out photos of our events on facebook!!

Bernadette Hoste – a Volunteer at Voluntario Global

Back in 2006 Bernadette Hoste saw a Poster of Voluntario Global at her Spanish classes in Buenos Aires. She applied through an email. Since then she has come back every year for a couple of months, to volunteer at Voluntario Global. Her first day started off in Villa Soldati. In 2007 she continued working in La Chispa, in order to help out and teach the students. In the following year she gave English classes to the kids at the same place.

She started a project in February 2008 to collect money through her friends and family in Belgium, France and England. This can also be seen on her website, which was created two years ago: Bernadette enjoys teaching and continued doing this the last two years. She started giving English classes to many different students and also preparing them for their upcoming exams. In addition she went to the home in Beccar, helping out with the younger kids.

This year she also went to the Kindergarden in J.L. Suarez and had great fun playing with the little ones and helping with handing out lunch. In 2010 she already helped out at the kindergarten and therefore wants to enlarge her project to collect funds, not only from family and friends but also from other people. For that, she will soon make her project “official“. We wish Bernadette all the luck for her new project and are looking forward for her coming back next year. 

Nelson Mandela and Latinamerica

Cinemas across Buenos Aires are now showing *Invictus*, a Clint Eastwood film about Nelson Mandela and the troubles he faced when first coming into power. Although your personal opinions on the film may vary, one message remains clear: despite being set directly after the abolition of apartheid, in the film the entire South African nation is united through an international rugby match against Australia. We can use this example to highlight the importance of recreational activities in bringing together groups of people. Indeed, this is something Voluntario Global does on a daily basis as VG international volunteers interact with more marginalised groups in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It goes without saying that Nelson Mandela's achievements are nothing short of remarkable, and in the years following his presidency we have been able to witness progress in other previously divided nations. For example, Evo Morales became Bolivia's first indigenous president and is now able to offer equal treatment to this group of people that had been neglected by all the country's previously unrepresentative leaders. As history progresses we shall see instances of many more incredible stories, in which disadvantaged people defy all odds and achieve success, be it in the political sphere or elsewhere. We at Voluntario carry out this mission too. Although the people whose lives we change may not be the next great politicians to serve their nation, we always strive to help them fufill their potential. We believe that social differences should not hinder social equality and through our diverse projects we try to make our vision a reality.

Matt in Jujuy - Part II

...continued... Wednesday. We left San Pedro for La Quiaca, a quiet town on the Boilivian border. Despite the 6 hour journey ahead, we left in high spirits apart from Gloria who cried for leaving her town. After stopping at a 60ft Jesus statue and having lunch, we were back on the bus and ''treated'' to German's pole dancing to ''Like A Virgin'' by Madonna. Seriously. Later on we passed through the beautiful mountain range of Quebrada de Humahuaca. Photos can't really do justice to the breathtaking landscape, after a quick photo opportunity.

We soon arrived in La Quiaca and the Comedor Verdurita where we were greeted by Antonio and Anita the co-ordinators there. They were very friendly and nice people, they had organised it for us to stay in a local hostel. Hot showers and sleeping in a bed felt like a great luxury so we were very grateful. I was really enjoying my time and felt a part of the group, especially when Mario mentioned it at dinner. Thursday was another early start and the usual fight for the shower. After breakfast in Verdurita, the 1st meeting began but not for long as the kids arrived to eat. When introducing ourselves to them, I was told to do mine in English...predictably the only parts they understood were ''Comedor'' and ''La Boca''. It was marginally better in Spanish. After lunch and helping/doing some English homework, we had an interesting tour around a pre-Inca site. Later on we were able to start again with the 2nd meeting. The highlight for me was meeting a young man called David who exemplified how to improve your own situation on your own hard work. He started from scratch making and selling bread in the area about 5 months ago and he now sells 70 kilos of bread a day, (although I don't know Jujuy was so bread crazed) but his idea of working for what you want and not asking is the only option for me.

Friday was a relaxed day, no meetings, no video recording. We left the hostel early and after saying goodbye to Antonio and Anita at Verdurita, we made the short trip to Villazón, Bolivia to do some shopping at ridiculously cheap prices. I filled my bag with the usual gringo tat and we were back on the bus heading home. There was a general review of yesterday, what I said seemed to go down well which was pleasing especially as they understood me. Nadia said she was very pleased with the week had went generally and it was worth the 4/5 months of planning. I felt more and more involved in the discussions as the week went on and felt that gradually I became more of a compañero than a volunteer which was obviously very pleasing. Even La Negra threatening to kidnap me and hold me at the Comedor was nice. We arrived back at the Comedor on Saturday afternoon, tired from the trip but very pleased with how the week went. It was a great week, getting to know the compañeros from Los Pibes and meeting new people in Jujuy. Most importantly I hope I helped in getting information sending volunteers there in the future as there is a need for them.

Matt in Jujuy - Part I

Hello. I'm Matt and I've been volunteering for Voluntario Global for 3 months. I've spent most of my time in the ''Comedor Los Pibes'', a social political organization in La Boca. I recently spent a week in the beautiful province of Jujuy with 11 compañeros from the Comedor under the catchy title of ''Comunitarian self management for the exchange of knowledge''. The idea being to exchange information and ideas between the Comedor and the sister organizations there. I went for Voluntario Global to look into possibility of volunteers working there. I'll try and give you an idea of how the week went.

We left at the barbaric time of 8am on Sunday to cover the 1,600 km to Jujuy from La Boca. Having worked there for a few months I felt comfortable in the group although more as a volunteer than a compañero, for this I was a bit unsure about how the week would go but they were very welcoming and friendly, especially La Negra (not as racist as it sounds) who continued to call me ''Hello'' until Wednesday. Sunday was basically the journey and Argentina's finest service stations, it ended well with celebrating popular compañero Pedro's birthday.

On Monday we arrived early in San Pedro and at our temporary home of Romina Fernandez, the co-ordinator for Comedor Los Pibes San Pedro. The first of many many meetings began soon, I had been charged with video recording the week for the Comedor which can best be described as learning by error. The meeting went well with a good exchange of ideas and after lunch and a walk around the village, the 2nd meeting began. It was again productive but a bit of a stretch at 3 1/2 hours, people were literally falling asleep at the end which is usually a good time to call it a day. In the evening we celebrated dia del niño with the towns children and some unbelievably dressed clowns, after some delicious home made empanadas, we were about done and the 1st day was over. The solidarity and generosity between the groups was something I quickly noticed, be it opening their house to us and feeding us for free or Los Pibes donating a computer or a projector, it was touching to see such humble people prepared to share so much.

On Tuesday we went to Tupaj Katari in the capital city San Salvador. Tupaj Katari is similiar to the Comedor in that it fights for social justice whilst also providing a service to the community. It made a good impression on me, I found them driven and intelligent people based on the principles of ´´action and talk´´. Perro Santillan, the Tupaj Katari leader and a prominent Argentine militant also stressed the importance of solidarity. After a tour around the town and its beautiful countryside, and creating a panic by going for ice cream without telling everyone. The meeting began, it was again positive but more so the assembly later on as there was a heated debate with where our compañeros spoke passionately about their work. It was an unusually passionate meeting but for this reason, successful. We returned to San Pedro pleased with the days work. For the 1st time in Argentina, I felt I had arrived in the true Latin America today. For a province where 40% of the people live under the poverty line, the problems and injustice were brutally clear, I think any volunteer would feel enthused and motivated working there.

To be continued next week…

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


Location: General Pacheco. Buenos Aires. Argentina

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