Reviews from Past Volunteers

Reviews from Past Volunteers (224)

Native Indian life: a long road to recovery

Article by Florian Wieser

On the 12th of October, Argentina celebrates the day of cultural diversity in America. The Argentine government introduced the day in 2007 with the aim to raise awareness of the situation of the original inhabitants of Argentina, who still suffer from disadvantages and discrimination. At the same time it is an appeal for a more just and fair society. Although Argentina is largely influenced by immigration, being the country that has welcomed the second largest number of immigrants in total worldwide, indigenous people still account for a vital part of Argentine society. According to studies of the University of Buenos Aires, 56% of the Argentinians have at least one indigenous forefather. A census undertaken by the National Institute of Statistics and Census of Argentina (INDEC) in 2010 shows that about 900.000 (2.4% of the whole population) actually claim to be indigenous, which means that they live according to their traditions and cultural habits of their people. Most of these indigenous peoples can be found in the North-West (e.g. Quechua, Diaguita), North-East (e.g. Guarani, Mocovi) and the South (e.g. Mapuche, Tehuelche) of the country, although a lot of Indians have already moved to the bigger cities due to better working opportunities.

Not very long ago, introducing a day to raise awareness of the indigenous peoples, their needs and their interests, would have been impossible. Since the foundation of Argentina, Indians were treated as intruders rather than as Argentine citizens – most of their land was given to the state or the military, many of them were killed. Until the end of the military dictatorship in 1983, the indigenous population was suppressed and ignored. It wasn’t until 1994 that equal rights for indigenous people compared to Argentine citizens was officially recognized by the country’s constitution! However, by that time, the century-long suppression had already caused serious damage. Due to the exclusion of large parts of the education system, many of the native languages have been lost. Today only 10% of the people who count themselves to the indigenous population are able to speak a native language. Although education possibilities have been greatly increased in recent years, the illiteracy rate among Indians is still incredibly high. There are peoples in which almost one third of the members are unable either to read or write, a value that lies far above the Argentine average (INDEC, 2004). This accounts as well for the rate of poverty. On average, 14% of the Argentine population can’t afford what they require to meet their basic needs whereas the rate among the native Indians lies at about 25% (Eglau, 2010). As the Catholic University of Buenos Aires states, more than 80% of the Indian population living in rural areas of the country is suffering from malnourishment.

However, what actually bothers them most is the fact that the land that was once taken from them has still not been returned. The land plays an integral part in Indian tradition. It’s where they live, where they seed potatoes, where they work together, where they worship “pachamama“, mother earth. However there is some hope that the Indians can reclaim their former territories again soon. About 4 million hectares of land have already been returned to indigenous societies, 15 million are still being checked by Argentine authorities (Deutsche Welle, 2010). It would be a first step to further secure the continuity of indigenous life in Argentina. However, to secure a society in which native inhabitants have the same opportunities as Argentines of European origin, it seems that there is still a long way to go.


I was - One of the thousands!

My story as part of 30 years democracy party

I was one of the thousands that gathered at Plaza de Mayo this past Tuesday celebrating Argentina´s 30th anniversary of return of democratic rule. I did not know what to expect, only knew that this was a ´not to be missed´ event in Buenos Aires. After a quick stop to my house, Albi, a German volunteer, our Argentinian friend Marcela and I were on our way to Plaza de Mayo. We walked dowon Avenida de Mayo, which temporarily turned into a pedestrian street for this event, welcomed by chorizos, burgers, flying toys, vendors with 20-peso beer accompanied by festivities coming from the Casa Rosada. 30 years of Democracy by The Casa Rosada or "Government House" is the executive mansion and office of the President of Argentina, which has been declared a National Historic Monument of Argentina. We slowly made our way towards the house, but first, an important stop. Quilmes! You cannot celebrate 30 Years of Democracy without the national beer `Quilmes`. We arrived on the outskirts of the Plaza and all three of us stopped simultaneously in ahhh.. All around us were groups of thousands of people marching with flags, people chatting, drinking beer, eating street food and children of all sizes running around. The typically calm, cobbled street of Plaza de Mayo was rendered unrecognizable. It was moving, playing and jumping and had come alive. I sensed the freedom of this commemorating event as we heard marching chants in the distance, people staring intently at screens with an occasional hand in the air saluting. We kept moving on until we reached a comfy spot near a fountain. The event had various artists playing non-stop throughout the night from Leon Giego to La Renga. As we were satisfying our thirst with Quilmes and taking in engulfed stage of colors and lights, I was very happy that I had the opportunity to be there to celebrate with the Porteños. The celebration continued, as the artist Varela came on playing an accordion with a partnered violinist. The three of us were happily perched near the fountain watching a video of the democratic history of Buenos Aires with occasional chatter and looks reflecting our amazment of this celebration. Shortly after, a song I didn't recognize came on, but somehow I knew it was significant as heightened smiles and an energy of pride swooped through the square. It was Argentina's National Anthem with a twist of drums, accompanied by dancers on the ever so large constructed stage. At that moment, the crowd began singing, dancing and we began to swing side to side and move with the crowd. The patriotism and a long road to democracy was transformed in the energy that we all felt at that moment and I felt it through them. I was one of the thousands that had a chance to be there and this made me feel so grateful to share that moment, that evening, to always remember Argentina's 30 Year Democracy celebration. The song that had the plaza come alive with incredible energy was over as the crowd continued to ride the wave of happiness. The best way to finish the celebration was of course, fireworks. There was an amazing spectacle of fireworks surrounding us in the front and to the right and left of the plaza. We were so close we could feel the thunderous booms and smell the smoke and sulfar in the air. It was abs olutely beautiful and it is and event I will never forget.

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