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Day 7

In day 3’s blog, I talked about a boy who attends Food for Thought who had his bike stolen. Yesterday he arrived with some news. On Sundays, there is a market that runs a street the length of the community. There is nothing that you can’t buy at this market and the whole community gets out and about to hunt down bargains.

The boy and his father were at the market when they spotted the two youths who had stolen the bike. They were both riding bikes, one of them being the very bike that was stolen 3 days earlier. The boy’s father ran them down, gave them a hiding, and now the family has two bikes! Now, I will never condone violence. It is one of the by-products of all of the power games that are destroying civilisation and the planet. But, in this circumstance, I couldn’t help myself from having a little giggle.

In this community and almost every other one like it within the greater Buenos Aires, there is a type of unwritten law. -if there is a conflict, it is solved with violence. Within homes and on the streets. Outside of these communities, it is also demonstrated by the government when there is a protest that they are not happy about. One of those examples being when the pensioners and those barracking for them hit the streets because their benefits were being cut. There was violence condoned by those in power that day.

I don’t want to paint a picture of brawls breaking out on every street corner. It’s not the case. On any given day Monte Chingolo is a peaceful community. The problem is the macho society creeping around just below the surface. Just from the stories that we hear from the kids, there is male control in the households. The grandfather of two boys in the project rules the roost. There is 16 people in that household but they all answer to him. The number of times I have heard “your granddad is going to hear about this” from the boy’s sisters or mother. It is difficult for us because we want to have an open relationship with the families of the children but in this case, we limit the information that may get through to granddad.

For good reason, the feminist movement is strong here in Buenos Aires. One way in which social media is working today is in its ability to grow minority group movements. It does mean that changes are happening. The women’s march here in the city is a sight to be seen!!! The problem is that linked together, the women’s movement is strong, but within the home, power rules. What we have seen in Monte Chingolo in many cases is that a mother and the children are dependent on their partner/father/stepfather to provide money, shelter, and food. It is almost impossible for them to leave when they don’t have the resources, so many mothers stay in violent relationships.

For example, going back to the case of the family who now has two bikes. The 12-year-old boy who comes to Food for Thought had an amazing day yesterday. We talked to him last week in the democratic circle about his verbally abusive and threatening behaviour towards one boy in particular. Yesterday he changed his tune. He had the perfect day. He worked in the garden with several other children processing compost and making new dirt to fill our garden beds. He didn’t threaten or abuse the other child once. The beautiful thing about this child is that he literally shines with a big teethy smile when we give him positive feedback and encouragement!

The harsh reality is that this boy often defends his mother from his father and receives a bigger hiding because of it. I have seen father/son relationships go one of two ways. 1. The son becomes a clone of his father and replicates his father’s actions or 2. The son sees his father’s faults and moves in the direction of becoming the opposite of him. This boy is in the second category. The only issue is that it isn’t black and white. He is living in a violent world and he not only receives beatings but also has to defend himself.

So, here is our challenge. This child has witnessed and experienced the actions of a person who he doesn’t want to be like. He lives within a context that promotes aggression and violence. He can see its devastating results. There is light at the end of the tunnel and he can see, and possibly choose, a different path than that which he is being presented with. I am absolutely humbled by the character and strength of this boy. I believe that he is the instigator of his own change. He chooses to walk over a kilometer to arrive at Food for Thought. He chooses to defend his mother. He chooses to not follow the footsteps of his father.  

We have to present him with opportunities. Provide the right environment for change. Offer support when needed. He has to put in the hard work to fight against the current. I believe in the 90/10 rule. Whatever you want to do in your life, it is 90% you, and 10% outside support. So, going back to the ongoing theme of this 30-day blog. “We know nothing”. After almost 40 years of earth living experience, a boy who has had almost a quarter of that is my teacher today.