I arrived in San Miguel de Tucumán this morning. It is a city in the north of Argentina. From what I have heard there are a lot of struggling communities in the north. There is a public holiday called carnival that occurs over a few days in Argentina so I took the opportunity to get out of the city and have a look around for possible collaborators and sites for future projects. I want to talk to organisations that are functioning here and get an idea of what is needed in the area. I failed to acquire any contacts of people who work in organisations here before I came so I had to resort to door knocking. I searched the internet this morning for local NGO’s, marked out the locations on my tourist map and set out on my mission.
I decided to visit the closest locations first and work my way out. The first address on my map was a dud. The House of Tucumán was not an NGO but an old historical building used as a museum for tourists. Next location. I found the address but there didn’t seem to be any signage, just a normal looking door. I rang the bell and waited. Rang again, waited. Nothing. Zero from two. I wasn’t off to the best start. The next closest location was 20 blocks away. I set off on foot.
Success. This location was a Comedor (soup kitchen) called Centro Don Bosco. I met the managers of the space at the door. I had to do a lot of talking to get my story across because quite rightly they had no reason to trust a stranger like me walking off the street. After 30 minutes of talking and questions they seemed to be on my side! Now that they trusted me, a started to throw questions back at them. This venue started 48 years ago as a soup kitchen. Now it is much more. They have all sorts of lessons for children and adults. They feed 80 children every week day and 120 on Saturdays. This project is everything that I would like “Food for Thought” to be. Healthy food is an integral part but also learning. This space seems to be building the capacity of the community!
Marta, one of the managers, told me a few stories of the people of the area. The children have many general health problems. Their teeth are horrible, they have a lot of skin problems, almost every family has a drug problem, and what goes hand in hand with all of these problems is a diet that consists of either very little unhealthy food. One child was a mother at 12 years old. Another had four children at the age of 18. One girl had started taking drugs at 9 years old. The great thing about this girl is that at 19 she began going to a drug clinic and has now been clean for two years. So there are also some great things going on in this community. I visited a house that a man and his mum had converted into a space for food and activity. Children of any age could come in to eat and learn computer skills and take other classes. Through donations they were building a toilet for the students. This house was in the middle of the slum. I will post photos when I get back to Buenos Aires.
The biggest problem in this area is drugs. One of the ladies Maria, took me for a drive around a slum called “Bombilla”. She was obviously well known in this are as she stopped on every corner to talk to the locals. There was a particular look in the eyes of every young man that we talked to. A slow reacting glare from glazed over eyes. I saw a few children playing here but there but mostly young males with that “look” hanging out on corners. When we stopped to talk to a group of three brothers who all had drug problems, another man staggered up to the car window with drool hanging from his bottom lip, ripped dirty clothes and unable to string a sentence together. He was mumbling something through the window when the boys shoed him away.
These boys were also very difficult for me to understand, but admittedly, they were in much better condition than the last man. My Spanish has improved but it will need to jump another three levels to understand these guys! Maria had dealt with them before and was openly asking them what drugs they had taken that day. Today it was only marijuana, which in the whole scheme of things here, was not the worst. Not great but not the worst. She was also asking them to come visit her so they could have a talk and get their drug problems in line. It was interesting to hear that Maria had purchased a new car not long ago. She said the first thing that she did was drive it into the slum and stop and talk to everyone she could so that they new the car was hers and wouldn’t steal it!
So that was the first day. I was lucky enough to get a personal tour of one of the slums. They told me that I shouldn’t go into these areas alone. I think I will follow this advise. The fact is that in these areas is that if you are a stranger then you would be in trouble, but if you are known or with someone who is known then you are as safe as houses. It is the same reason that the kids can play in the street without problems. As you may not think, there is still a sense of community here.