When planning my travels in South America, I had made the decision to focus my time in Argentina solely on studying Spanish due to the fact that the "intensive" program I chose would take a decent amount of commitment. I wanted to be sure I dedicated enough time to truly get the most out of the course. Then I started learning a little more about this country and it's history (most recently the economic crisis in 2001 and it's devastating aftermath), and everything changed.
When spending time in Buenos Aires, it is very possible, even easy, to overlook the fact that poverty is a serious issue in Argentina. Yes, there are some very swanky neighborhoods in BA with high-end shops, classy cocktail bars and elegant restaurants. But there are also poor neighborhoods in this city and an even greater need in the many villages beyond. I began stumbling on statistics that truly surprised me (for example - 60% of children in Argentina live below the poverty line). At that point I decided I wanted to reconsider my plan of solely studying while I was here.
After much research, I was able to find an organization that was flexible and would take whatever time I was able to commit rather than requiring a certain number of hours per week. It's a non-profit group that works with soup kitchens/homeless shelters/community centers in Buenos Aires. They focus their efforts on children living in socially marginalized and extremely impoverished areas by providing recreational, educational and social activities as well as food, clothing and school supplies. I've been helping out once or twice a week and it's been working out great. There is a trip next month to a village in northern Argentina to deliver donated supplies, food, etc. that I may also join if I can work out the timing with my classes.
My research also extended beyond Buenos Aires and as of right now it looks like I will be heading north when I wrap up my studies. First to visit Iguacu Falls, then to visit Salta where I will hopefully also be volunteering a bit with a unique NGO in that region. One of their projects is a really cool concept that you can (and should) read about at the following link - Wichi/H20 Project. In the meantime, here's a very basic description...
(The following excerpt is taken directly from cloudhead.org)
We take the digital cameras you're not using and put them in the hands of children from a Wichi village near Hickmann in the Salta province of Northwest Argentina. The Wichi are an indigenous Argentine group who have a rich history and culture. Many currently live without electricity, potable water or enough food to sustain them.
All profits from photo sales go directly to buy tools, hoses and whatever else is needed to develop the 300 hectares of land belonging to the Wichi of Hickmann so they can grow crops to support the village.
I have other touristy type updates and some cool news but it will have to wait for my next post. (Mom, I know you just made that exasperated/annoyed sound followed by "Na-ance!" but you actually already know the news, we talked about it at Christmas.) For everyone else, take a peek at left hand side of the blog.