Just two days after arriving in Buenos Aires, Catherine, a Psychology graduate from New York, made her first trip to the medical centre where she will be volunteering for the next 8 weeks. Not only did she have to deal with the 'first day nerves' of a new job, but also the challenge of communicating in another language, and acclimatising to a very different way of working!
This particular centre in La Boca is a real juxtaposition of a neighbourhood; a tourist hotspot where thousands flock to photograph the brightly coloured iconic houses (and of course the famous Boca Juniors football stadium), but it is set amongst a fiercely working class, struggling community with poor housing conditions, unemployment and illiteracy where the presence of a free health centre is indispensable.
The centre is located in a quiet residential area we were greeted by the local coordinator, Alcira. She took us upstairs to her office to discuss the kind of work they specialise in and to find out a little more about Catherine's experience and what she was hoping to get out of her time there. Alcira was kind enough to speak slowly and patiently and give Catherine time to ask questions as she adjusted to understanding the difficult Porteño accent!
The health centre serves the local community not only as a medical clinic but also in a selection of social work, educational and psychological programmes. There are a high percentage of struggling residents that get caught up in drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution and criminal activities and CESAC plays an important role in providing support and education both physically and emotionally.
As it was a Thursday, Catherine was invited to join the health centre's update meeting which takes place weekly, and she was brave enough to throw herself into the deep end straight away and said yes to the opportunity to join a three hour conversation about the work the team had already achieved and what their goals were for the coming weeks. Although there were parts of the conversation that were hard to understand at this early stage Catherine was able to locate some areas where she could start to help out without too much need specific language skills. For example to observe and interact with young children at some of the play workshops they host at the centre. This is a chance for Catherine, as a psychologist, to see the early stages of how the youngsters are interacting with one another so problems can be spotted early and also just a chance to check there are no early signs of domestic violence.
Catherine was also introduced to some medical students who are volunteering there and joined them on a home visit to treat a local lady who had not taken medication for her diabetes causing complications of nerve damage and poor circulation in her feet. Although this wasn't specifically what Catherine was expecting as part of what she would be doing on a day to day basis, the medical students made her feel welcome and it illustrated how the health centre worked with sharing and combining skills and specialities: everyone working together as a team.