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2015-07-08

A Volunteer's Experience at the Home for Children in Buenos Aires

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Although the journey from central Buenos Aires to Olivos takes over an hour, it was a peaceful commute through the city centre, out to the suburbs, and then into La Zona Norte. Olivia took me somewhat by surprise when she nudged me to tell me we were getting off here; we were in the middle of a leafy, middle class neighbourhood.

From the outside, there is nothing that sets apart the Hogar (children’s home) from its neighbours and the same could almost be said of the inside, except for the uniformed workers and another couple of adult helpers dotted around. Olivia tells me that, although she's unsure exactly how old the home is, she knows that its two resident workers – Ana and Mario – have been there almost as long as the home has. This is something particularly unique to Olivos; many hogares are considered temporary both for the young people and the workers alike, but Ana and Mario offer a degree of stability that isn’t taken for granted. There are around 12 children living here, varying from aged three months to sixteen. “I think the big age range puts a lot of pressure on the workers,” Olivia explains. “Caring for a baby is very different to looking after a young adult. But they seem to have a strong relationship with each child, which is really amazing.”

As we arrived mid-morning, the majority of kids were at school so all that were left was a three-month old, two one-year olds and a four-year old. Once we had done our round of right cheek kisses around the room, Olivia set about her usual business: ensuring the girls were not running into rooms they shouldn't be in, helping them to walk, reading with a boy who, incredibly frustratingly for him, had broken his leg and therefore was strapped to his highchair. Over the course of the morning friendly faces dipped in and out, always prepared to take a moment and show their affection towards the kids. The home is not government funded, but is run like a charity; these children’s lives rely on donations like the one that comes from Voluntario Global and the volunteers. And at around 11am, Pablo comes bearing gifts including dolls and toy animals as well as more practical necessities such as new curtains and a new baby carrier for the homes most recent arrival.

Whilst two brothers fight playfully with the animals (it is strictly two each but both want the lion), their sister is learning to walk. I ask Olivia what the most memorable thing has been about her experience here. She recounts how, eight weeks ago, the young girl was crawling around barely able to walk, and how lucky she feels to have been able to witness her development. In Olivia's first week, she learnt how to haul herself upright with the use of a chair, and then she could stand independently, and a couple of weeks ago she began to get the hang of holding herself up. Today, she is able to take two steps by herself.

It was a rather chaotic final day at the home for Olivia, but she says that was just emblematic of the wonderful craziness of the place. For the first time since she had been helping out, Mario was absent. Ana and Mario have a kind of good cop-bad cop relationship going, she tells me; Mario is pretty strict with the kids as his role is not a temporary one, it is a fatherly one. The kids were aware that Mario wasn't there to sternly discipline them into eating their meal and they took advantage. Of the five younger ones, three were under the table refusing to eat and we tried our very very best to drag them out but they couldn't be persuaded. “It was really a very difficult challenge,” she remarked. “I definitely dealt better with the situation than I would've done eight weeks ago, that's for sure!”

 

As she said goodbye to the home, Olivia realised just how special every single adult and child who lived and worked there was, and how much such a home means to them. Although she wasn’t here for very long, Olivia could see the strong relationship that was being built between Mario and the three month old baby, and how this would translate into a greater chance at higher education and work opportunities much later on through stability, care and affection. When I asked her what she had learnt from her experience here, she said that, although she probably knew it already, Olivos had underlined the long-term and permanent importance of such stability and affection in a child's life, and how if their parents can't offer it to them there must be someone else who can. This is where Olivos comes in.

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