One of the goals for our trip was to do some volunteer work somewhere, partly because of the experience and partly because we felt a need to give something back. The “challenge” with doing volunteer work is that you need to spend a longer time somewhere, as most volunteer organisations require at least 4 weeks commitment, and sometimes more. So far we had been eager to see many places and not rest too long in one spot, but after almost 6 months on the road we were ready to calm down and stay in one place a few weeks.
We searched the interwebs for volunteer work in Argentina and found La Casa Maria de la Esperanza in the BA suburb of Escobar, where we would be working with children and the minimum required stay was just 2 weeks – perfect! The casa works as a day care for children and adolescents before or after school, and there are in total 70 children enrolled, though usually there is anything from 3 to 30 at the same time.
We got in touch with them via e-mail and agreed to start up on Monday May 27th. In the hour-long bus ride from Palermo in Buenos Aires to Escobar we wondered how we would be welcomed, what we were going to do there and how the kids would react to two nerdy Norwegians with limited Spanish speaking skills.
They welcomed us with open arms as life-long friends, both the grown-ups working there and the children who had spent the morning making welcome-drawings for us. The children were really open to meeting new people and most became really close in a matter of minutes, addressing us as “profe” (short for “professor” aka teacher) and “seña” (short for señora) if they didn’t remember our names. Argentinian Spanish is quite different from Spanish of other Latin American countries, and with the kids talking fast and a little bit slurry it was somewhat of a challenge communicating with our “travel Spanish” skills – however with a little bit of gestures and concentration we usually understood what they wanted to say.
Our work consisted mostly of playing with and watching the kids, ranging from 1,5 to 11 years old, helping out with their homework and facilitating the usual happenings at the casa (lunch, milk and tea time, football outings, drawing time, etc.). We also helped the adolescents (12-18 years) teaching them English. Origami, drawings, funny tricks and fart sounds were also great entertainment for the kids, making us the cool foreigners who knew stuff.
During our stay we learned that all the kids at the day center are living in underprivileged conditions, some of them living with big families in simple shacks, lacking the basics. The casa is an important place for these kids to come to in order to get some hot food, a warm shower, help with homework, and just attention and love. Some of the kids were really eager to learn and get help, while others had severe learning disabilities and needed lots of attention from the staff.
The casa is a free service for these kids and they get some funding from the government, but it is not enough and they are dependent on donations in the form of food, clothes, toys, other material or money from local organisations and private people, as well as volunteer work from tourists and locals. While we were there, Branden from USA was also volunteering full time, some girls and a woman came by some days every week and several people stopped by to donate clothes, food and other necessities. In addition to the casa they also have a farm nearby where the adolescents can work half day and learn about agriculture, which is then a possible future job. They are also building a new school for the adolescents as the casa they have now is too small for everybody.
We spent in total 2,5 weeks at the casa and got really close to the kids and the others working there. It was very sad to leave after such a short time and we understand why many organisations require more time as it felt like we just had gotten to know them when we had to leave. As a parting gift we printed out about 120 photos to the kids (of themselves), as well as bought some necessities to the casa, but we really wished we could have stayed longer and done so much more..
We’ll follow up on their progress with the new building and we’ll also help out one of the kids with learning English. We also hope that we someday can go back to them and stay there a bit longer, as it was a very fun and moving experience.
If you want to help the casa there are several ways to do that. Contact information for Rodrigo (son of Sylvia who runs the place) who speaks English is on their website. You can do on of the following things:
- Donate money to help build the new school and keep up the casa. When we talked to them in June they needed about 250-300 000 Argentinian pesos to complete the building, and they are very happy for any small amount
- Sponsor a child with after-school activities or education (extra English lessons for example) at about 200-400 Argentine pesos a month
- Go to Argentina and volunteer!
More photos from Argentina can be found here.