My experience so far in northwest Argentina
Chilecito is a small city with a main plaza. This plaza is where I hang out, drink coffee and meet with my friends. The plaza is only a 5 minute walk from my host house so I am in walking distance from the banks, shops and post office. The landscape is extremely dry here, with the only water supply coming from the Famatina Mountains. I feel very lucky to have been granted the individual travel award to volunteer in this beautiful place. Winning this award has given me the opportunity to travel to the northwest of Argentina an area less travelled by tourists, which is something that really appealed to me about this particular award. The idea of travelling on my own and spending a summer in a strange place did scare me a little at the beginning but this feeling has long left my thoughts. I travelled to Argentina on my own however once I arrived in Chilecito I was surrounded by friends and my new family. I am honestly taken back by how warm and welcoming the people in Chilecito are. My host mum Betty is like a second mother to me now and I really enjoy listening to her stories about her family and Argentina itself. My house is always busy with people coming and going, Betty also owns a little dog that is adorable and waits for me at the door every day. I attend Spanish lessons every evening for 2 hours. Esther has been very patient with me as it is my first time learning a different language with someone who doesn’t speak English. She greets me at the door every day with a warm smile and a big hug, and after our class we sit and drink mate and of course we eat some dulce de leche a delicious delicacy of Argentina. We have become really good friends and I know I will keep in touch with her when I return to Ireland.
Initially when I arrived everything felt strange and different. I didn’t know the language very well or what people were saying to me. I was adapting to a new country, customs and people.However now I can honestly say it feels like home here in Chilecito and I will truly miss the kids from the project and all my friends and host family.
I love waking up every morning and having the amazing view of the Famatina mountains, and soaking up the air and sunshine as I cycle to the neighbouring village San Miguel. San Miguel is a small little village outside chilecito situated in the province of La Rioja, at the foothills of the Andes in the northwest of Argentina and it is where I go to the soup kitchen to work Monday to Friday. I work in a neighbourhood centre where residents gather for classes or celebrating festivities. The centre is basically one big room. In this room we store a sink, cooker, fridge, cupboard for all our cutlery and some tables and chairs for the kids. A lot of work has been completed on the comedor over the past few years and this September the comedor will celebrate its 3rd birthday. Before the renovations began the walls were cold, grey and sad, the floor bumpy. There was only one fridge and two gas stoves; the remaining equipment was limited and very old. However now the walls are painted and new flooring has been put down.
The comedor (soup kitchen) project is named after the Quirquincho which is a regional term for the armadillo living in the province of La Rioja. This animal has a hard protective shell to protect itself from danger. The two girls who founded the project Caddy and Anita believed that the comedor should follow the same ethos, and become a safe and secure place for the kids to come after school, enjoy a hot nutritious meal , receive help with their homework and most importantly be given the opportunity to be kids, play and have fun. It was founded in 2008. When it began, the kids were aged between 6-9 years. However now the kids have grown up and their needs and wants have changed .A game of Ring a Ring o' Roses isn’t going to cut it with 12 and 13 year olds. However this is where the real fun begins. Like with most projects it is necessary to be adaptable and use some creative thinking to help generate an environment that these kids will enjoy and come back to every day.
When I arrived back in July two volunteers from Germany were working in the project for almost a year, so my first 2 weeks involved a lot of learning and work shadowing. The daily routine of the comedor begins when the kids arrive after school. Every day we are flooded with hugs and kisses. The comedor is run by us (the volunteers) and we hold full responsibility for what the kids will eat on a daily basis, the educational activities and games the kids will take part in along with buying the necessary ingredients for their meals. It is a lot of responsibility and a little daunting at the beginning, however I enjoy the challenge and I have learnt so much in such little time. I am glad that I have two great volunteers working by my side. However in a few weeks time the guys are returning home and I will be given the keys to the comedor. I have two weeks working on my own in the comedor before the new volunteers from Germany arrive.
We work hard to prepare a nice meal that the kids will enjoy. They love to play with cards, and really enjoy drawing or painting. They always ask us to draw pictures for them to colour, so my drawing skills have really been put to the test. A room full of kids is packed with noise and banter and every evening I return home exhausted. It is important for us that the kids respect both each other and us, so on a daily basis we teach the kids to respect the comedor by cleaning up after their meal, and ensuring they take responsibility for their things. When our day is over we clean the comedor and pack all the toys and games away for the next day.
So that is my life at the comedor in a nut shell. I have really enjoyed my experience so far and I look forward to putting some of my ideas and hopes for the comedor into action. Speak soon again