2013-11-29

A dog, a fire and a kindergarten

Written by Stine Albrechtsen
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I often wonder what the best feeling in the world is. A fresh breeze against your cheek and an ice cream in your hand on a very hot day? The feelings you have for your loved ones? Or the feeling you get when it is Friday night and pay day at the same time? No, I think I might have a better one: the feeling you get when a child smiles back at you. It’s a feeling of true happiness and of total invincibility. And for that one brief moment you know that everything is going to be fine. This is a world where only good things happen, no wars, no tears, no bad people. Only love exists. Off course you will wake up from your daydream to a complete different reality, because all those bad things do exists. It is okay, you cannot change the world. But the one thing that you can do is to smile back. Because maybe this child then will keep on smiling for the next 10 minutes, maybe for next hour or even for rest of the day. And that is something. Actually it is worth a lot. I had that great feeling in a kindergarten in Suarez.

 About 2 hours away from the majestic Casa Rosada and the magnificent skyline in the center of Buenos Aires there is a small town called Suarez. To get there take the subte to the Retiro train station, then take a bumble train for around 1 hour, maybe 2 (you will never know with this train) and then get off at the last stop. Then take bus 118. Pass the man who sells fresh sausages and half rotten fruit from his little shop on the back of his bicycle. Drive by the three filthy boys playing soccer in the street while teasing the four girls in school uniforms with beautiful made ponytails. After 5 minutes the bus will drive by a street that overflows with the nearby water waste, but don’t press STOP yet. After five more minutes the bus will go by a huge landfill with old electronic devices, rotten food, old cars and all kinds of human waste. There are small fires everywhere, so you cannot miss the stop. Get off here; this is where the kindergarten is. Remember to say hello to the wild dogs and horses running around, they are actually really friendly. As one might understand, Suarez is not an area where you hope to raise your children. There was this kind of a indifference mood hanging over the whole town. It is hard to explain, but I certainly felt it. I think we all did. Maybe it was the rain and the grey skies, maybe it wasn’t. One thing is for sure though, Suarez is what you will call a shanty town. Even though it is middleclass society the sight of ramshackle houses, the impassable roads, the smell from the landfill, the wild dogs, the idle adults and the water waste everywhere was overwhelming. At least for a Danish girl like me. When I entered the kindergarten in the middle of the landfill, my perspective suddenly changed. As though I entered a different world, a little sanctuary in a big world. Here was a place with joy, laughter and that total innocence only a child can have.

 The kindergarten ismanaged by two passionate teachers, whose roles are not only teachers but also as chief executives. Viviana and Lorena have created a place for the kids in Suarez with room and time for them to learn, develop and play. Despite different backgrounds here the 20 kids are equal. No one is too dirty nor too violent to get a hug or a kiss from Viviana or Lorena. Here, in the middle of the tough and harsh landfill there was a little oasis filled with care and recognition. Some basic needs in all of us, but not a certainty for these kids. This place is nothing like the kindergartens you will find in my home country. This one in Suarez is fifthly, unhygienic and has an uninspiring decor. But that is not the point, because the kids have everything they need: paper, crayons, paint, toys, swings, a climbing frame and lots of children’s books. Maybe these things are 15 years old, half broken or dirty like the town outside the walls, but so what? The kids don’t mind, maybe not even notice, and neither should we. One day Josephina, a volunteer, made paper planes for the kids. What a joy! The kids were overexcited, running around playing soldiers from a previous century. Or like when the other volunteer Rebekka made French braids on the girls. They were all little princesses. Every morning the lucky parents of Suarez drop off their 3-5 years old with Viviana and Lorena. I used the word lucky, because the kindergarten has limited seats. Not every child in town has this amazing opportunity. Normally the kids will stay there for four or five hours. Besides playing around, the kids also gets educated, both school wise and socially.

They learn the letters, numbers, colors, animals but also how to respect, treat and behave around other people. Most of the children know how to spell their name, count to ten and name the colors and animals. The educational learning they take in easily, the social part is more of a challenge. They are happy kids, definitely, but it was clear, that they also have a heavy baggage. We could feel that. Besides being good friends, playful, imaginative, joyful and naughty they were also angry, uncontrollable and desperate for hugs and recognition. I would not say they were neglected from home, because what the hell do I know. Again, they were happy kids, smiling and laughing. But something was smouldering behind these happy faces, something I will never know. What I do know is that this kindergarten has created an opportunity for these kids, a way for both the parents and the kids to believe. Believe in education and believe in the ability for these kids to grow up and be good people. The kindergarten gives the kids some basic needs and tools to handle and stand stronger when facing the world outside. And in Suarez that world can sometimes be scary. Joy and satisfaction can be many different things, depending on your world. For the kids in Suarez it is as simple as a paper plane. I refuse to write some cliché about us taking things for granted, not appreciating the small things. Because it is not about that. It is simply and literally about different worlds, different perspectives. That day in Suarez I was lucky enough to experience another world than my own. Not a simpler world or a more black and write world, simply just different.  As I wrote in the beginning, you cannot change the world, and it would be too obvious to end up saying that the world can change you. Why do we need change, why not just absorb, take in and learn from the different feelings we get during the day. I believe that feelings are the strongest tools to add new perspectives to your world. And the smile I got from the kids in Suarez might have added tons of new perspectives to my world. And I owe these kids a lot for that. Conversely, one might hope that the smiles I send back did the same to them.      

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