Sat on the bus from the hostel in the city, to the impoverished outer city areas of Buenos Aires I felt both excited and anxious. I had never done anything like this before and I really didn’t know what to expect. All of the other volunteers chatted happily on the bus ride there and this helped to ease my nerves.
Looking through the window I watched the glamorous shops and high rise buildings fade into the distance, to be replaced with rubble filled streets and half derelict buildings. As we entered the visha (this is the name for the poor areas in the city) we spotted some of the local children dressed up and dancing. They looked absolutely adorable and so we stopped to watch them for a while.
Unfortunately during my time here the swine flu epidemic was prominent, and therefore all of the schools were closed. Traditionally on this placement volunteers would go into the local schools and help with English teaching, arts and crafts and so on. However, although the schools were not open, Life Argentina (the volunteer organisation that works with Original Volunteers) were very pro-active and had arranged alternatives for each day outside of the school location. The volunteering was very flexible and I could sign up on a day by day basis. This was great for me as it gave me the chance to spend a few days exploring Buenos Aires too which certainly is an amazing city!
Each day there were one or two different activities to choose from. Most days there was some sort of sport activity, often football-the Argentinian kids were AMAZING at football! However not being hugely sport inclined, I normally opted for the other tasks. On my first day, after stopping by to watch the children dance, we drove another five minutes or so into the visha to one of the houses that had been built to a semi-reasonable standard, within which the days activities would be held.
I looked around me in amazement at my surroundings, it was an area that normally I would expect to feel extremely unsafe in, but by being with the volunteer group and the welcoming and grateful locals, I felt surprisingly at home. We entered the house, that had no doors and an incomplete upper floor, to find a pleasant homely setting. It was like an ordinary old fashioned looking living room filled with excited children and my fellow volunteers. Some people went outside with a few of the children to play football, whilst the rest of us remained inside to teach cookery. The morning was then spent teaching the children how to make pancakes and feeding them at the same time! It was all great fun.
Each day we arrived to volunteer the children would be so excited to see us. It really was heart-warming. They were so appreciative of us to give our time to them, and to bring them little goodies such as cookies and milk. One day that was particularly memorable for me, was when we did face painting. Being extremely un-artistic I did a terrible ‘hombre arana’, otherwise known as spider man, but the little boy was over the moon with it none the less-it was so sweet! The children loved the volunteers, and everytime you saw them you would constantly have children following you, trying to hold your hand or cuddle you.
When visiting the city as a tourist you do not see any of this, it is hard to imagine that there are people living this type of life, when only minutes up the road you are surrounded by designer gear and expensive restaurants. By volunteering, I was given a unique and incredible opportunity, not only to learn more about this culture and the way of life, but also to feel that I have had the opportunity to do something worthwhile and rewarding. Although I was only there a short time, it was a life changing experience that I would definitely recommend!
You can find out more about volunteering with Original Volunteers or LIFE Argentina at; http://www.originalvolunteers.co.uk/destinations/argentina.html