Last week, twenty-three high schoolers and their three teachers from Portsmouth grammar school came from the United Kingdom to Buenos Aires to enjoy a week of responsible tourism and cultural exchange. This visit was one of many professor Steve has done. This time rather than being presented filtered culture, they explored the real Buenos Aires by visiting different Voluntario Global projects and non-touristy locations that became hidden treasures to the open mind responsible traveler.
Their first stop was a full day discovering La Boca, one of the most antique neighborhoods known for it’s fervor for tango and it famous football team, Boca Junior. This time they did not go to Caminito, the typical colorful housing that is seen in all the tourism brochures. They decided to walk along Isla Maciel with the new tour guides in town, a tourism cooperatives run by locals that works in the area helping residents to show the world how beautiful simplicity can be. Isla Maciel is a real residential neighborhood crossing the river that surrounds La Boca and it is just as beautiful, if not more than what is offered in the tourist zone of La Boca.
The tour starts by crossing the river through the Nicolas Avellaneda Bridge, constructed after 8 years of intense fighting between the government and the neighbors who asserted a secure way to cross. Through a walk painted with the colorful houses, an incredible mural in the church, and some spooky urban story, the guides were able to tell the group about the struggles of the neighborhood. During this cultural experience, they also learned about the community development. The guide told them about cooperative projects, reaching for sustainable growth. These cooperatives give locals the chance to study tourism and sports, while fostering general education.
After a long morning of experiences, they gathered for a big lunch, made by the co-op coordinators. Everyone seemed to know each other and be a team, holding a sense of pride in the community. They could really feel a sense of community in the way everyone interacted with each other.
To conclude this day trip, the group visited the Community Center at La Boca where they were invited to participate on the afternoon Radio Show. The students practiced their Spanish skills, telling the audience how much they have learned during their visit to Isla Maciel and how they recommended the visit.
The itinerary of the trip also included visiting the kindergarten in Suarez and a weekend picnic with the children from the orphanage. The boys show their passion for football while some of the girls create a craft station for the little ones to create noodle necklaces and works of art worthy for any volunteer museum. At last, teachers and students were able to know not only the beautiful city of Buenos Aires, but also the heart of some of its people who shared with them the love they have for what they do. This was a genuine cultural experience not influenced by commercial tourism. The group left Argentina taking home the best souvenirs, the feeling of knowing you've touched an entire community.