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I’m Back!

It’s been a while since I’ve put some words to the page. It is an indication of how busy we are at Food for Thought. As usual the year is steaming right ahead. The construction of the kitchen is well under way and the arts curriculum is in full swing! We have a new oven with gas stove-top burners so our make-shift kitchen is bearing the weight of feeding 30 hungry children and half a dozen staff every day. ­We have a permaculture specialist ‘Jose’ from Portugal here to help us with the most sustainable garden plan for the new venue.

I am completely stoked with the new venue! Foundation ARCHE (who we are sharing the new space with) are a really great group of people with whom we share the very simple but broad common goal of ‘building community’. The actual site is truly a breath of fresh air compared to our last. There is a lot of outdoor space with grass and a large concrete pitch. If the kids arrive early or are waiting for their parents after the Food for Thought day, they can run around and play with complete freedom (the only outdoor space we had at the last venue was on the road).

So the team is a little tired, but also enthused and excited about the big year that has begun. The start of the year is always a little hectic with new programs and logistics. This year particularly so because we are starting again in a new venue, and therefore putting new systems in place and slowly trying to integrate ourselves into this new community.

Last year we were located just around the corner from the local community services venue called ‘La casita de Chingolo’ – ‘The small house of Chingolo’. We are now ten blocks away but our hope it to maintain contact with them. We are a good source of support for each other as we often deal with the same children. We had a meeting with Guadalupe the director of ‘La casita’ yesterday.

To give a little bit of background, there is a new Government in Argentina. That also means new governors and representatives in all of the provinces. There have been thousands of people laid off, many without warning nor reason. Some had turned up to work to find that the locks on the doors had been changed. Many had been laid off because they used to work for the opposition party and now there is no funding or position for them. It is much more complex than the way that I am describing but I can’t even begin to try and comprehend, let alone explain what goes on politically in this country…so I won’t.

What we learnt from Guadalupe was quite concerning. She told us that her and her staff members have not been paid since the start of the year. They have been paying for supplies such as toilet paper and dishwashing liquid out of their own pockets. ‘La casita’ provides support for mothers and children that come from the families who need it most in this community. I’m only hoping that it is a short term thing.

There is an air of uncertainty within Argentina. Nobody knows what is going to happen. Many wanted a change from the previous government, which they got, but the president Mauricio Macri is making a barrage of changes, and quickly. There is a special law that allows the president to make on the spot decisions without consulting congress. It exists in the case of say a natural disaster, so that quick decisions can be made. The previous president Kristina Kirchner took advantage of this law around forty times in the two terms that she was in power. Macri has made over seventy decisions in this manor in less than three months at the reins. We can only hope that he has a good plan.

Despite all of the chaos, Food for Thought kicks on. Because of the change of location, we lost a few of the old kids from the previous venue. Those spaces have been filled with a lot of new kids, all with their individual challenges, so there is a never a dull moment.

There is a family of nine children, four of which come to our project. They have been with us from the beginning over two years ago. Some of the most difficult challenges that we have faced have been with the children of this family. Their grandmother looks after them as both parents are hardly ever present. When the father is present he is either drunk, drugged or both. The grandmother is the shining light for those kids, but even she is violent.

The youngest of the children is six years old. When she began with us she didn’t speak. I think it was about six months before she spoke her first word to me. She was extremely shy and wouldn’t participate in any of the classes. This year she has been speaking much more and even participating in the classes. We are seeing great changes in her.

This year Valeria and I decided that instead of teaching the small children (6/7/8 year olds) separately, we would group teach a mixed lesson of music and theatre together. The lessons involve a lot of games, singing, acting and moving (also Valeria and I behaving like complete lunatics!). As we have a couple of children in the group who can’t count past three, we decided to incorporate a basic song involving counting from one to ten.

At one point after singing the song all together we asked if any of the children wanted to have a go at singing it by themselves in front of the others. They were sitting in a line in front of us with the little girl who only began talking to us at one end. Starting at the other end, one by one they got up and sang the song to the other children. In my head I knew that she was the last one and there was no way that she would talk, let alone sing, in front of the other kids. Fortunately, I was proven wrong. It came to her turn and after a little coaxing from Valeria and I, up she got. I couldn’t believe my eyes or my ears. So much so that I struggled to fight back the tears and maintain control of the guitar chords that I was playing so that she could finish singing to ten.

In December 2011 when I first emailed Valeria to ask her if she wanted to start a project with me, I never imagined the life changing experiences that I would be having. I thought it would be a challenge, and there would be some peaks and troughs but nothing to the extreme of what we have experienced over the last two years.

Even though we have had struggle after struggle with this family, moments like this one make it all worth it. We haven’t even finished the first month of 2016 with the kids and my year has been made. I’m tired, excited, sensitive, and motivated. I’m feeling a mixed bag of emotions. Lucky it’s the long weekend so we all have four days off to recharge the batteries and prepare for the week to come.