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A day in Lanus.

Valeria (SOG project manager B.A.) and I met with a friend of hers called Rolando (Rolo). This man is a legend! He works for an organisation called “Fundacion SES”. SES works with the youth of B.A. We didn’t see any of the sites or projects that he is involved with but he kindly introduced us to some people that could possibly help us with our cause.

The first place we visited was in an area just outside the city called Lanus. Operating here is the organisation “MTD”. They are a movement aimed at the unemployed. We stopped off at the headquarters of “MTD Lanus” where they were having a community meeting where problems that locals have are addressed. I immediately felt a sense of community, even family! Everyone seemed to be participating in the discussions.

Here is where we met Esteban, who gave us a tour. We first sat down and had a small discussion on the history of their organisation. They gave us some tortilla and some tea that they supply for everyone on site. The tea was so sweet that I couldn’t finish it. This is the tea that they give to the children in the mornings at the schools in the area. I couldn’t help but think of the amount of sugar in the tea, especially for children in the morning! I’ve noticed that Argentina has a sweet tooth and they consume a lot of sugar.

The MTDs are base organisations. They are part of the national federation of base organisations “FOB”. Here in Argentina from the early 90’s to the early 00’s the government did exactly the opposite of what a government should. Neoliberalism was the government’s style. It sold all of it’s assets to large private companies at ridiculously low prices and even stole money from it’s people by freezing all of their bank accounts!

In 2001 the crisis hit peak, 4 presidents were forcefully removed from power in two weeks. The people had had enough and hit the streets. This is when the “piqueteros” movement (people picketing and blocking off roads) enforced itself as the weapon of the people. These base organisations were formed over this period because of the people having to fight for themselves. The government was pretty much filling it’s own pockets and those of the rich. Unemployment was around 50%. The people of the lower classes had absolutely no support from the government. It’s much more complex than this but that’s kind of the story in a nutshell.

Esteban told us that they are involved with 5 primary schools and a total of 1000 children. I asked about the breakfast that the kids receive. He said it’s pretty basic and not very healthy. We are organising a visit to see the schools next week. The school hours are from 8am – 12pm. It doesn’t seem like much time at school for the kids but I suppose it’s only one hour less per day than we are used to.

Esteban showed us around a few sites that MTD Lanus are involved in. We went to a brick-block making facility, t-shirt printing facility, tailoring facility and bakery. They even have their own radio station that spreads the word of the people! The bakery produces quite a lot of bread and pastries. It sells a lot of it’s goods at cost price in the surrounding areas. I was quite amazed by the social ventures around this community. I feel that after years of deprivation the people have become very resourceful and entrepreneurial.

The government is providing some support for their ventures in the way of an inadequate wage for some of the workers. It acts as a subsidy for the businesses around the community. The base organisations work autonomously but are seeking some support from the government. Going on past experience they find that keeping the government at a distance is a good idea!

We were very impressed with MTD Lanus. We liked the vibe of the headquarters. Everyone that we talked to seemed really happy to be part of MTD Lanus. They have 300 current workers and about 3000 members. On the surface it seems like an amazing organisation!

We talked to Natalie, a member of MTD Lanus and a teacher of art. We discussed the possibility of starting a project that involves feeding children healthy food within the Lanus area. She gave us a pretty positive response. She felt that a project of this sorts could be possible. We told her that our aim was to have the opportunity to start a small and simple project so that we can begin to function within the area and get to know it’s inner workings.

We don’t want to come in and take over existing projects. We want to possibly work along side of existing projects and not step on any toes. We want to tread carefully as at the moment we are just some outsiders who have no idea of the inner workings of this poor area. What we see as lacking within these communities is access to healthy food and the education around it. Everyone that we have talked to about this seems to think so too. Having access to food has and still is the priority for a lot of these families. Understandably the quality of the food has not been a factor!

So myself and Valeria walked away from this day feeling pretty positive about A. The type of organisation that MTD Lanus is and B. The possibility of starting a project within this area. We have other meetings with other organisations doing similar things so we aren’t getting ahead of ourselves, but this first encounter gave us hope in the search for a location for our project!