The hustle and bustle of the soup kitchen's daily grind in suburban Barracas is an impressive sight. As the volunteers involve themselves in the humdrum, already very much alive from the early morning, I am aware of just how special this place is. Enormous hot pans steam in unison and are the piping centre piece in a kitchen equipped to feed the many hungry souls who come here. It is clear from the sheer quantities of beef, lentils, sauces, vegetables and fruit that feeding the throngs of men, women and children is no easy feat. As the chefs prepare the food, count out the numbers of dinners and give and take instructions, I am left in awe of their will, discipline, organisation and immense energy.
They start as the sun rises, along with the volunteers from Voluntario Global and with jovial expressions and warm spirits, face the heat of the pans, the endless chopping and occasional stirring that lays ahead of them for the rest of the day. Mel, the regular volunteer from Germany, is being taught by one of the ladies here how to make empanadas and the look of concentration as he handles the wraps carefully between his fingers and seals each one delicately is clearly a direct result of this mentor's advice. Despite a significant language barrier, they work efficiently and cooperatively without a drop of sweat or a hint of fatigue.
Leon, another German helper, places piles of bagged yoghurt for the dessert int he fridges as he chats to his mentor, whom he has appropriately named 'mama'. You can see why and I am almost tempted to give these lovely, characterful ladies a thankful hug for making my day and reminding me of home. They may be on a terribly tight schedule, only stopping to sharpen their knives or stir a pot but they still have all the time in the world for a smile and are grateful for the added support these boys offer.
Whilst I watch amazed at the productive atmosphere of this facility, I talk to Mel who tells me that he loves the feel of this place and describes it as 'like a family, where you feel at home, not at work'. He talks to me of the past month working for this kitchen and tells me how open, warm-hearted and helpful these people are. "People in Europe wouldn't give you something for nothing, they would not load you with food like they do here". He is completely aware of how this will change him and how perhaps he will not be able to see things the way he saw them previously at home.
When asked about the skills he has taken away with him, he laughs and tells me that other than his ability to make empanadas, he feels more involved in this type of social work, that the time he is spending here allows him to see both himself and the project change. ' I do not just want to come here one time and chop some bananas. The ideal time is at least eight weeks'.
He later tells me that he is beginning to realise that this experience has taught him never to give up on his dreams, even if it is a struggle to make it all work out at first, ' You need to outgrow yourself", a line I personally appreciate as a wise lesson for all of us who come here to find out some things about us and the new world that surrounds us.