My perspective on a Children's Home in Argentina

The first thing that struck me when I walked into the house located in the middle-class neighborhood of Beccar was that I felt like I was walking into someone’s living room. It did not feel anything like an orphanage and so it made sense to me that I was informed not to call it one, especially in front of the children.

Admittedly it is a big house, with 15 children living there at any one time; however it seems to me much closer to a foster home rather than an orphanage. The only difference being that instead of parents there are staff and volunteers. I was impressed by the number of people working there and how relaxed the environment was. The first child I met was a little girl who came up to me and asked for ‘un beso’ (a kiss) and was going round the room having different people kiss her and pick her up. I certainly didn’t feel like the children were under stimulated or lacking in attention. This of course would not be the case without the volunteers from Voluntario Global.

I must admit that I find it a little strange that a number of the ´orphans´ are not technically orphans. An orphan is a person who has lost both parents in some way. At this home however, some children receive visits from their parents at the weekends and may on occasion go to stay with their parents for a short period of time. Thus in some cases it is simply that some parents are unable to take care of their children and so the home acts in the same way that we would expect social services to. Also some children who have parents in rehab for example can expect to be returned to their parent(s) at the end of the designated period of time. All of the children come from different circumstances and it is therefore impossible to treat each child the same or expect them to behave the way a child from a stable and supportive background would behave.

We took four of the girls to the local playground where they took it in turns playing on the swings and pushing one another. For an outsider it would be impossible to see that there was anything ´different´ about these girls, they looked full of energy with smiles all round. It makes me happy knowing that such places exist which can save children from an otherwise very unpleasant upbringing and that there are people willing to give their time for nothing to ensure such children never need suffer again.


School of English in Buenos Aires

My name is Jessie and I am currently working on the communications team for Voluntario Global. A big perk of my position is that i get to visit all of the current projects. On Tuesday 24th August I accompanied Kristin and two new Voluntario Global volunteers to their Project in Pablo Nogues which is an English school for children and young adults. The classes are held before or after their normal school or work. Here is what I thought of it...

It was already clear from the train journey up that we were entering a 'different world'. I think this was the first time that I have seen what I would describe as a poor area within Argentina. When we finally arrived at Pablo Nogues station, I was struck by how peaceful the area felt compared to the inner city. The sun was shining, birds were signing, it all felt rather lovely. After the short walk to the gate of the English school I found myself being warmly greeted by Silvia the owner of the school and coordinator of the activities held there. A woman with a big beaming smile who makes you feel important and like everything you say is worth her full attention, I could not imagine a better person for the job.

During the afternoon, Silvia greeted each child with “hola mi amor” and a kiss. This place could not possibly be further from an English equivalent, something I am extremely glad about.

Each child arrived at Pablo Nogues at different times depending on their individual circumstances and proceeded to sit down and join in the volunteer led exercise in progress without any need for coercion. The two new volunteers fitted in right away and I got the impression that the children were enjoying the sounds of the Irish and Mancunian accents which are of course something they are unlikely to hear in any other capacity at any other time.

I was impressed with how well structured the classes were and yet how relaxed the atmosphere felt in the classroom. It is clear to me that not only are the children increasing their knowledge of the English language but they are also learning about the different accents and cultures associated with the various English speaking volunteers who come to Pablo Nogues. In the poorer districts of Buenos Aires the need for variety is much greater; this is why international volunteers from Voluntario Global are so valuable to this project.

Arrived in Argentina a week ago

La risa ella sola ha cavado más túneles útiles que todas las lágrimas de la tierra. Julio Cortazar, Rayuela

Oh, hello! Welcome to the new, revitalised Voluntario Global blog. My name is Ed and for the next few weeks I will be guiding you like a latter-day Virgil around our various projects in and around Buenos Aires. I arrived in Argentina a week ago and much of this is as new to me as it might be to you, dear reader. My Spanish is a slumbering beast, which has been hibernating in the shadow of a French tree for the last seven months, and I can’t wake him up! I am still getting to grips with the ‘coins on the bus’ fiasco (for some reason the driver won’t accept my pesetas). But it has been a fascinating, enlightening and varied week. Blog number one will be a chronicle of the places I have visited and the people I have met in the last seven days; it will serve, I hope, to show the work of the organisation through the eyes of a beginner like me and to illustrate the warmth and efficiency with which new volunteers are embraced at Voluntario Global as well as the untold good it does in these communities.

On Monday, I met with Valeria Gracia (Head Co-ordinator) and Jesica Franco (Volunteer Programme Manager) in our leafy office in Palermo, where the week ahead was discussed, mate was drunk (“Don’t stir it”) and the history of Voluntario Global was explained (for more information on the latter, check out: ). On Tuesday morning I went to La Boca to meet Pedro, a charismatic, articulate local who gives a meticulous tour of the area to those who want to volunteer for the day. Amongst our company were my colleague Jonathan, a family from California, a Dutch girl and a wonderful woman from Trinidad and Tobago who also acted as Pedro’s interpreter. Pedro explains that Voluntario Global helps locals in three particular areas: ‘alimentación’ (food), ‘viviendas’ (housing) and ‘trabajo’ (jobs). }

El Comedor, a cafeteria in one of the poorer parts of La Boca where volunteers are warmly encouraged to help prepare food in the kitchen, not only provides food for families but also acts as a venue for political debate (led by governor Tito Nenna.) It would be arrogant and all-too-easy for me to criticise the government on my second day in Argentina and I don’t know nearly enough to do so fairly, but the consensus in the area is that the government could do a bit more to help: two examples are the government’s failure to publicise the housing rights to which large families are entitled (a 10 storey apartment block is currently being constructed and the locals are entitled to much more, but the government prefers not to make this information more available) and the (government-approved) desire of one big business to expand into La Boca, which would destroy the meagre makeshift local housing in its wake. What I do know, from the various locals I have met and from the political debate. I witnessed on Wednesday morning in particular, is that these locals are intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable, humorous and extremely decent people who deserve better than to have to cram into rooms the size of a small bathroom with three other people just to sleep and to have to go through bins in the local rubbish dump to find something to eat. They are also independent.

When more houses need to be built in the future, rather than use an outside company whose priorities are to use the cheapest materials and to charge as much as possible, it would be far better to use local construction workers who will work more quickly and with better materials because they appreciate the importance of housing in the area, as well as proving that the community can support itself. On Wednesday afternoon, after the aforementioned political discussion, I left with teachers Berta and Armin for Villa 21 in Barracas, a shanty town to which Voluntario Global provides English and Maths teachers. The pupils were great, keen and bright and funny, and it was a genuine joy to spend time with them. Two sisters were telling me how they are in an orchestra, one on the violin and the other on the cello, and how they sit at opposite sides of the room, behind the conductor’s line of vision at opposite ends of the horseshoe as it were, and try to put each other off. Anyone interested in teaching in Argentina would love the classes in Barracas.

On Thursday morning, I was invited to a meeting in the Instituto Nacional de la Administración Pública in the town centre, where a group of delegates had arrived from the province of Jujuy in northern Argentina. The new project, called “Autogestión Comunitaria” (Community Self-Management), is an opportunity for residents of Buenos Aires and Jujuy to exchange ideas and experiences to reach, according to Tito, “una sociedad más democrática, participativa e inclusiva.” Particular areas of focus are food, local businesses, housing, culture and opportunities for young people. Once again, the feeling was one of optimism, independence and genuine practical solutions for universal problems. Three experts gave presentations on various aspects of self-sufficiency and one speech, given by Sra Isabel Rauber (an expert on Latin American social affairs), was so well-received that, directly after it, a woman in her late eighties stood up and said how grateful she was that Sra Rauber had come. And that was my first week in Buenos Aires! What has impressed me already about Voluntario Global is their directness with volunteers and communities alike.

Unlike some volunteer agencies which, as worthy and effective as they are, charge two grand for a week of language lessons and arranging your accommodation which you still have to pay for, the money that volunteers donate through Voluntario Global goes straight to the people it is trying to help. More importantly, many of the Voluntario Global staff come from the poorest pasts of La Boca and Barracas themselves, so they more than anyone appreciate the difficulties and intricacies of each particular area. This coming Wednesday (20th May), we are attending the opening of a new community centre called Travesuras, an education and nourishment centre for young children in Los Eucaliptos, which is extremely exciting. I also plan to go to the radio station project we have in Barracas later in the week to see what our volunteers there are up to (no recorded prank calls, I hope). ¡Hasta luego!

Environmental Consciousness

Last week, Jesica and Valeria, Voluntario Global coordinators, visited a site that has recently become part of our volunteer network. Another important aspect that we value at Voluntario Global is environmental awareness and sustainable development.  We want to learn from the organization that we visited so that we can mirror their habits in all of our organizations. It is an “Ecological Park for Yoga and Meditation.” There, volunteers can help in the organic garden, build environmentally-friendly houses, and participate in yoga or meditation. One can also learn about the oriental culture and live an experience “closer to nature.” This new program offered by Voluntario Global offers its volunteers the opportunity to become more familiar with our objectives as a network of cultural exchange and mutual knowledge.  If you have at least a week of free time, don’t miss out on this great life experience.

The Way I See It...

A United States citizen´s perspective of an Argentine World Cup match.

The Perfect Cross-Culture

It was a lazy Tuesday in the Previgliano household as I dropped my stuff at the entrance of the duplex in Belgrano.  My host brother Marco had been let off work for the Argentina vs. Greece World Cup matchup and was already busy in the kitchen – read that as Marco was already yelling wildly in celebration after every successful Argentine pass.  Clearly I was late for the action, but I hurried into the kitchen to cheer on my second home. The game was already thirty minutes in, yet no one had scored yet.  Of course, I already knew that since I did not hear any honking or see any 65-year-olds parading around outside when I got off the bus.  I took a seat at the table and picked up a factura – although Ms. Previgliano, Marco, and his sister all had something on their plates, they were too firmly glued to the television to have taken a bite yet.  I was going to ask if there was any marmalade left, but I figured I had better wait until halftime. "Ma!  Como no fue adelantado!?"  Marco was wrong, the Greek player was definitely onsides, but I was not going to be the one to tell him.  "Siempre dicen que Messi esta adelantado!  No es justo."  I guess I can’t blame him for being so tense.  After all, if the United States had the perfect team I would be disappointed by anything less than perfection as well. The halftime whistle sounded and was accompanied by a round of coordinated audible sighs from the Previgliano family.  "Parris, vamos a sacar Indio."  A quick walk around the block with Indio, the family dog that has to be AT LEAST as old as Maradona, would certainly help to calm the nerves.  Marco slipped the dog-sized Argentina jersey over Indio and we were off.  We couldn’t pass a single person without either hearing or initiating a conversation on the game.  From what I heard, the reason Argentina had not scored was a mix of bad refereeing, Greeks fouling Messi, and a conspiracy against Maradona.  I must say that I was not aware of all the forces working against the Argentine soccer squad. Whipping out his cell phone as the ring tone went off, Marco let me know that the second half was about to start.  Whether Indio was done going to the bathroom or not, we had to hurry up and get back in the apartment.  We plopped down in front of the television just in time to see the kickoff – and to see Maradona cross himself approximately 14 times (I may or may not have actually counted.)  If quantity of blessings had anything to do with it, Argentina was definitely going to come out on top. Thirty minutes later, the score was still tied at 2-2.  Even with the windows open, I could tell that the neighborhood was uncharacteristically silent.  I did not even hear the sound of a colectivo honking at a taxi driver.  Another corner kick for Argentina.  The ball comes swinging in on a perfect cross and… Demichelis gets a foot on it… but a teammate is in the way.  I smiled at the bad luck while the Previglianos let out a string of delicately chosen Spanish profanities, but the play had not ended.  As Marco stood up in excitement and disgust at the missed opportunity, I watched as Demichelis collected his own rebound and slammed it into the net.  I was trying to get Marco’s attention, but it was not necessary.  Through the windows rushed the sounds of air horns, car horns, adults screaming, children screeching, and Coto employees abandoning their posts at cash registers to celebrate in the streets.  I followed Marco onto the balcony – read that as Marco yanked me by the arm out onto the balcony – to wave the Argentine flag and sing “Vamos vamos Argentina!”  I turned back to the television in time to see Maradona crossing himself a few more times. With two minutes left, it looked as if victory was sure for the Argentine team, but I would not dare say anything to jinx it.  Silence pervaded once again as we all anticipated the final whistle.  Messi and the rest of the boys seemed to be playing keep-away now just to waste away the clock.  That must have been what Greece was thinking too, because they sure were not ready for the shot taken in the 89th minute from just outside the box.  The ball rebounded off a Greek and, of all people, Palermo was just in the right place to send the ball right into the back of the net.  For this game, no final whistle would be needed to call the game.  The neighborhood erupted once more and Marco shrieked through the house shaking his mother, his sister, and me by the shoulders.  (He might have even shaken his sister’s baby, but I don’t think it was hard enough to cause shaken-baby syndrome.)  I caught a glimpse of the screen as Maradona jumped onto one of the assistant coaches.  Despite all of the doubts, he had coached his team through the group stage. The final whistle sounded after 92 minutes of play, and I took to the streets.  At first, it looked like a horrible traffic jam with everyone honking, but given then I realized that it was just a giant celebration.  People were leaning out of their cars and shouting “Palermoooogolllllll” or “ArgenTIna, ArgenTIna!” As an American, I can’t imagine such a celebration in the United States, especially for a soccer game.  I have played soccer all my life, but I realize that the rest of my country does not see it as a major sport.  This actually baffles me.  Americans are said to be some of the most patriotic people in the world, but have I ever walked outside of my house after an Olympic basketball game to hear my entire neighborhood cheering?  No.  Have I been dismissed from school because the United States had a World Cup match?  No.  Have I ever truly felt that the United States was ALTOGETHER “united” under one cause?  My honest answer would have to be “no.”  Sure, soccer is just a game, but shouldn’t that make it even easier for all of us to support it unilaterally?  We may be ahead of Argentina in some aspects of society, but we certainly can’t claim to be more patriotic.  After experiencing an Argentine World Cup match with a true Argentine family, I am beginning to rethink what we really mean when we say “The United States of America.”  I’ll let you know when we get the “United” part right.

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!

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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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