Before even signing up to come to Argentina as a ‘Roadie’, I knew I wanted to spend my semester abroad volunteering in South America. Actually organizing this however was much more difficult than I had anticipated. Not only do Argentines have a specialty at taking longer than needed to organize things but most organizations failed to get back to me or my university told me it was not safe enough to go. This then left me with six weeks to plan where I wanted to be in South America and where I was going to be volunteering. Thankfully, I came across Road2Argentina who not only set up volunteering placement at two different villas but also sorted out my accommodation and my time spent in Buenos Aires.
Creating laughter in a run down neighborhood
My time spent at LIFE has been what I expected and more. The first time I drove into the villa, I couldn’t believe what I could see. I found it crazy that we turned just one street to then find ourselves in a run down, dirty, rubble ridden street. As we drove through, Lili the co-coordinator rolled down her window. As we passed each family who was sat outside their homes, Lili smiled and waved and it was clear she was very known amongst the families living there. I found this very special to see how much time and effort Lily had put into helping the children and families who grow up here. We then got out of the car and set up tables and colouring for the children. After about 10 minutes the children started arriving.
As I drove back from my first day of volunteering, the time I had spent there that day was a complete blur. I had felt like I was on fast forward at 100 miles an hour. The energy in the playground was remarkable. Kids fighting, playing, skipping, running, football and colouring. I felt I was being thrown from child to child attempting to give each one the time and energy they deserved. Thankfully only my first day was this blur of emotions and activities. As time went on I was able to spend longer with each child and get to know them more. Some days there was less children and it was a calmer environment allowing me to properly form bonds with the children. Some days we also went to another end of the villa where we volunteered indoors in a soup kitchen, doing similar things with the children.
The lack of language barrier
One of my favourite memories of my time in the soup kitchen was choreographing a dance with 3 of the girls to their favourite Latino song. Their dancing skills were seriously impressive and when we finally videoed it, they loved watching it back. When I returned a week later, they were so excited to watch the video back and practice doing their next dance.
The most remarkable thing of all was the language barrier, or lack of it. With my level of Spanish being so basic, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to a) communicate what I wanted to say to the children and b) understand what the children wanted to say to me. This however has never been a problem. Whether it be through drawing out what we want to say, attempting to speak Spanish or solely through sports and playing games, there was never a silent moment. The kids were always keen to try and learn some English and teaching me Spanish was always a game that made them laugh. Five weeks on and my Spanish is slowly, slowly starting to improve. Swallowing my pride and just trying has really been the way forward. Although the extent of my conversation doesn’t go further than asking what their favourite colour is or what they did that weekend, it is definitely a step in the right direction!
Spending some time with a 25 year old boy was different and interesting. He had grown up as a boy in the villa and despite still living there now goes back to volunteer some afternoons. I felt so fortunate to have met him. Lili asked me if I could speak to him so he could practice his English so we sat for about an hour talking in English. His English was amazing and it was incredible to hear about his life growing up on the villa. His motivation to have a good education and do well at university really inspired me to not take my education for granted. On other occasions I helped him with his university work and helped prepare some presentations he had at uni and his gratitude for my help was so touching. The love and affection I hope to have given the children is a fraction of the love and affection they showed towards me. From the moment I met them, their hugs and kisses have warmed my heart.
A memory that will stick with me was on my first day volunteering there. A little boy wandered in wearing only some grey, dirty, oversized underpants. He must have been about three. He ran over to me and I put my hand out gesturing for a high five. Instead he grabbed my hand and pulled himself up to me for a big cuddle. He squeezed me tight for about one minute before giving me a kiss on the cheek and giving me the biggest smile. He was the happiest kid I met during my time volunteering there. His laugh was infectious and keeping him entertained was what I looked forward to doing most every day. His favourite was being flown across the playground pretending to be an airplane (somehow we could do this for a long time and he would never get bored)!
As I now move on to my next chapter in Argentina, the memories I have created in Villa Oculta will definitely stay with me and I do hope to go back one day to spend more time volunteering there.