My name is Benjamin Whitaker. I am the founder of Social Opportunity Group. This organisation, SOG for short, is all about creating sustainable social change. We formed in Australia, where a group of us decided that if we combined our powers we could make a difference in the lives of people who aren’t in the position to help themselves.
We formed in Australia because that is where my first business is located. It is a cafe called The Final Step. This cafe it is now a social enterprise that funds SOG’s first project. After officially setting up SOG in Australia with the Australian based contingent of our organisation, I moved to Argentina to team up with one of SOG’s directors Valeria Taraborrelli, to start our first project.
In December 2013 we started our first project. This project, Food for Thought, is designed to bring nutritious food and creative activity to the children of a poor community Gonett, in the Lanús suburb in Buenos Aires province. Through this project we are also involving and training members of the community to not only help us cook for the children but also to give them the knowledge and skills to create healthy dishes for their families at home.
We chose the provinces of Buenos Aires for two reasons. The first reason is because, as many people don’t know, there are struggling communities in these provinces. Over half a million families live in 864 slums and irregular settlements in metropolitan Buenos Aires surrounding Argentina’s capital. Corruption, abuse of power, and governmental restrictions prevent most of these communities from bettering their situations.
The second reason is because of Valeria’s connection with the area. She grew up in Quilmes, a suburb not too far from where we started Food for Thought. She has contacts with organisations who work within the surrounding communities. Through these contacts we negotiated a space for us to feed and engage children.
Valeria has a strong cultural relationship with this region. Her parent’s families migrated to Buenos Aires from Italy after the Second World War and have been there ever since. Her mother tongue and cultural knowledge allow us to communicate and form vital relationships with the people, which in turn enables us to function within the communities of this region.
I am a primary trained music teacher and Valeria is an actress, so between us and some creative volunteers we involve the children is music, theatre and art. Every week day we prime the children’s bodies and brains with nutritious food and follow this up by engaging them in creative activity. We see this as the best way to stimulate the child’s brain at such a vital point in their cognitive development.
This is our first project. We have learnt and are learning a huge amount every single day. To date we have provided over 300 healthy meals for children. Our relationships with the children are growing, thus we are able to be more experimental and imaginative with our lessons.
We are receiving a lot of interest from volunteers and specialists such as dentists, teachers, doctors and artists who we are involving in lessons with the children, so our hope is to one day step back and let this project sustain itself. If we achieve this, it will allow us to begin new projects.
We still have a lot of work to do in creating a solid base for Food for Thought, so at his stage our focus lies here for a good period of time. We are encountering many opportunities to collaborate with fantastic people and organisations so we are really excited about what this year will bring for us.