"It was kind of a life decision I made", an interview with The Laundry Project Founder
Armin, the 26 years old co-founder of the Laundry Project, was waiting for me at the train station with his motor bike 'el pequeño bandido II'. He invited me to his hometown ‘Villa Soldati’, a small neighborhood in the South-West of Buenos Aires, where most of the teenagers of the Laundry project live. Villa Soldati is a small neighborhood with nine blocks, in each block there are more than one thousand people living within less than 120 sq meters. It is one of the poorest areas in Buenos Aires with its living standards characterized by substandard housing, squalor and little security. "Only ten years ago, it was not possible for cars to enter the villa", Armin explained.
The small paths that connect the houses are very characteristic for villas but also very dangerous. "If there was an emergency ambulances wouldn’t be able to enter and neither would the police" This lead to numerous problems in Villa Soldati, for both health and crime. But over the past 20 years Villa Soldati has developed through improved living conditions. As part of the improvement programs for slums in Buenos Aires the Argentinean government has regulated the building of new properties, with new builds and improved infrastructure. However living in a villa like Armin's hometown is complicated. In the same way that water and lights only work two out of every three days, only every second teenagers will finish secondary school.
For this reason various social organizations and volunteer groups try to support and improve the situation for the youth. It was in an after school center in Villa Soldati, where Valeria, the founder of Voluntario Global was teaching art, and the idea of the Laundry Project was born. The aim was to create a student-run cooperative which allows young men and women to gain valuable work experience while financing their studies. "It was an answer to a need", Armin explained. Back in 2009 when the cooperative was founded, only a few students finished secondary school, the rest felt obliged to support their families by working in low-skilled jobs and in bad working conditions.
When I asked Armin how the cooperative helped him the most, he answered that at first it helped him to finish secondary school, which as a result gave him a better education and more possibilities. In his years with Voluntario Global he finished secondary school and started studying at university. "I am now only missing six more subjects to receive my university degree." But the Laundry Project is more than just the possibility to work in a secure and uplifting environment. "It helps in a different and more sustainable way", Armin tells.
In a cooperative like the Laundry Project the teenagers do gain work experience and are given the ability to finish their school, but more importantly is the life experience they gain. For most of the teenagers escaping from their poor life in the villas, becoming professional and earning a lot of money is the most important thing. But "It is more important for them to feel useful, to feel responsible and be part of something." Armin explains. Looking back at his own experiences he knows that in the end, to him, this is what counts the most. "With my qualifications and contacts it would be easy to get a better job and start working in a big company," he admits.
But this is not what he wants anymore. He has followed the growth of the Laundry Project from the beginning and knows how important projects like these are for young people. For him the Laundry Project is more than just a job. "It was a kind of life decision I made, a political vision." He enjoys working with the teenagers and wants to give them a helping hand."I want to pass on what I have learnt. I want to show them that it’s not only me who can get somewhere, it is them as well." The co-operative can be an example for other projects, but most of all, for the youth. "Because they see that it is possible, they are able to work together, to organize themselves and to improve their future!" Thank you, Armin! Y buena suerte!