My first impression of Argentina and of volunteering was the people, and it was a great first impression to have. I immediately felt welcomed by the staff at the hostel I was staying in, as well as Milena and the other volunteers who were there at the same time I was. This welcome was extended when I spent my first couple of weeks in the city at By Your Side, and I’m lucky to have made a friend in one of the teachers there (here’s to you Dana!)
The kindness of both Argentinians and foreigners has made my time here what it has been, on another continent to my friends and family (and another hemisphere for that matter), the care and good nature from strangers, acquaintances, and friends has made me want to give that kindness back tenfold. I’ve met people from all around the world and what strikes me the most is this care for others, which is something I’m definitely planning on taking back to my life in the UK.
In my role as a communications volunteer, I’ve had the good fortune to explore lots of different neighbourhoods. I’ve gone with other volunteers to projects all over CABA and Buenos Aires province, I’ve hung out in the touristy places, and I’ve got to see the more local barrios of Buenos Aires which I wouldn’t have thought to visit if not for the content I have been producing.
Each place has brought new insights and a different way of seeing the city, from the foreigner packed Palermo to the more local areas of Belgrano and Villa Crespo, and to less affluent areas such as Barracas, painting a diverse picture of a Buenos Aires that, without scratching the surface, could appear pretty homogenous.
Before coming to Buenos Aires, I had considered myself to be fairly open-minded; studying a liberal arts degree and having already spent five months living in France made some sort of cultural awareness a prerequisite. As I have spent more time here however, I have realised that that open-mindedness I had was limited to the context of the cultures I knew. Getting to discover a new culture here, especially one as rich as Argentina's, has been a delight, if sometimes challenging to come to terms with.
Something I hadn’t experienced before coming here, is an economy as precarious as this one. In my relatively short stay here I’ve noticed the prices rising in supermarkets, and what I have also noticed, is that the weakness of the peso puts my pound in a much stronger position. Talking to Argentines and seeing how almost all of their money earned is immediately changed into dollars in order to protect against inflation rates and currency instability is something that may have been very hard to understand without being here. Seeing how an almost double market of dollars operates with the most sought after goods, has been, at the same time as it is an eye-opening experience for me, devastating for the majority of Argentines, who do not earn their living in dollars. I had heard of passport privilege and luck in where you’re born before, but they only applied to extreme cases such as war and natural disaster, but having spent time here, I am definitely more aware of the things I take for granted and what a lucky position having money in a stable currency puts me in.
Within all of this financial chaos, there is the element of Argentinian life that I look up to and appreciate the most: the community focus, the solidarity between compatriots and foreigners alike. I’ve never been to a country where people are so thoughtful when it comes to others, where a kind word goes such a long way and where people are so actively looking out for each other and often militant in this. It’s a quality I admire, and will be trying hard to recreate even when I’m no longer in Argentina.
Overall my volunteering experience, as well as my time in Buenos Aires, has been great. I’ve had some low points, but I’ve also had so many highs and feel so lucky to have been able to explore a culture as great as this one. I’m confident this time in Argentina will not be my last, and I’d like to continue volunteering wherever possible as I go through life.