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This was a newsletter that I wrote recently but I realised that there was more that I have to say on the matter so here is the extended version.

So, I’ve been back on the ground here in Argentina for a couple of weeks now. Luckily, my first day back at Food for Thought was followed by a long weekend to get over the jetlag! It has been full-on. The harsh reality of Monte Chingolo is that the underlying problems of systematic poverty are always there bubbling away under the surface. Being systemic, it’s not going away any time soon.

Our work is with a small group of people. We aren’t going to change the larger causal factors but we can definitely support children and their families in making the appropriate changes in their lives to become healthier, physically, emotionally and mentally. The changes are gradual but will have a ripple effect little by little.

I spoke of a 12-year-old boy in my speech for our Australian and New Zealand fundraisers. His father had been put in Jail about three months ago. The family could visit him on occasion. Recently, he was moved to a jail in another city which now makes it impossible for the family to visit. This fact, coupled with beatings given out by his mother and other siblings, means the young boy is hitting rock bottom. We had to give him a day at home because he was being violent and threatening with every child at Food for Thought.

I am fundamentally against exclusions unless there is literally no other option. In this case, it had gotten to the stage where he was a safety hazard for the other children. On the day of his exclusion, our child psychologist and I visited their house to talk to the boy and his mother. It is of utmost importance that we accompany this child in every step of this process so that he isn’t confused about the intentions behind our actions. We had a good talk to the mother and we are also now in communication with the school so that this boy is being supported by all sides.

To make things worse, the family hasn’t had any running water in the house for the last two and a half weeks. Every couple of days we have been filling up a large barrel of water to take to the house. Now that the father is in Jail, there is also no breadwinner in the house. They have been relying on a church up the road for most of their food.

We are focussing on the boy and along the way supporting the family as much as we can. The boy had not been going to school, is getting back to the house at 10 or 11 at night and as his brother told us is basically fighting any young person that he comes across. He is drinking alcohol but we don’t think he is consuming drugs. Right now, he needs more support than ever. Because of his environment, he is on the verge of following in the footsteps of his father -violent, an addict, and a criminal.

Last week has been one of the toughest weeks for me in the last 6 years working here in Monte Chingolo. About 4 years ago we had to say to a mother that we didn’t have the resources to maintain her son in the Food for Thought. We just didn’t have the skills or the know-how of how to support him whilst at the same time supporting the other kids in the program. His behaviours were too extreme, and they had become a risk for the other children. We came to a similar realisation this week.

The problem with the government here and the rest of Latin America is that the outsiders of society all fall through the gaps (the gaps are like chasms). There are not enough resources directed at those who are most vulnerable (It would be impossible. There are just too many.) Young people, like the boy we are dealing with today, end up dropping out of school, spending time on the streets, and getting into drugs, violence, and crime. This young boy has all of the prerequisites. I feel that we are on the cusp of losing him. One more step and there won’t be any turning back.  

4 years ago, we didn’t have a psychologist and we didn’t have contact and support from the school that the boy was going to. Today, we do have those, and we have 6 years of experience under our belts. Even though we have these tools in our toolbox, I had the sinking feeling that we can’t maintain him in Food for Thought.

We have had a few children drop out of Food for Thought in the last few weeks because of the threatening behaviour of this one boy. He is truly an amazingly kind, gentle and compassionate person but when he is put in a social situation surrounded by his peers he turns into an alfa-male. He is physically abusive, threating and a bully. He is an exact replica of his father. It’s scary because he even looks like him.

We had a Food for Thought outing organised for Thursday of last week. After a lot of toing and froing in my mind, I decided to let him come on our day trip to a local activity park. We just keep giving him chances to improve some of his habits. He had three goals that he had to try and achieve on the outing. I know they are all negative instead of positive, but we have literally got to the stage that it is very difficult to find positive ways to write these phrases. 1. No spitting (he literally spat about 3 litres of saliva the other day. All aimed at other children. I wore some of it too) 2. No physical violence. 3. No insulting other children.

To be honest, he managed to complete the first 2 goals. The problem was that he had one girl hysterically screaming at him and trying to attack him, then bursting into tears. My day turned into damage control putting myself in between him and another boy who he had recruited, and several of the girls in the project. The two boys had the evil spark in their eyes and were out to cause damage. (The ‘evil spark’ is when you can see that there is absolutely no chance of collaboration. The switch has been flipped and any reasoning or rationality has gone out the window) Maybe I am naive, and it was always going to turn out his way, but I’m finding it really difficult to stop giving him chances. We are his last hope.  

So, that was Thursday. The kids don’t come on Fridays, so there was a day off before our big music event on Saturday. It is a traditional music festival with drums, wind instruments, and dancing. The young boy participated, and it was beautiful to see him playing drums, collaborating and even integrating with the other children. I had a little talk to him afterwards congratulating him on his performance. I also told him that the next week he can only come to the project for lunch and afterwards he has to go home. On Thursday he can stay after lunch to talk with our psychologist. It is a trial period for him to see if he can begin to change a few of his habits. If he can do so, then he might be able to join in on the activities next week.

In reality, he needs a lot of one on one therapy! We can give him therapy but only once a week.  It is Monday morning and I am off to Food for Thought. We only have three weeks until we close for the year. It will be interesting to see what we can achieve in that short time because as of December 19 we don’t open the doors of Food for Thought until February next year. My worry is that in that space of time without much support anything could happen.