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Where To From Here Argentina?

It has been pretty crazy here in Argentina since the new President Mauricio Macri was elected in December. The country was desperate for a change from the previous government, so for that simple fact, many people voted against he party of Cristina Kirchner and for the new Government of Macri. Macri has been using his power to implement changes in all areas. In January/February 110,000 people were let go from their public sector jobs. That is the official number. It is estimated that up to 200,000 jobs in total were lost as many contracts were not renewed in March. Most public sector jobs are now contracts of 3 months at a time.

In Monte Chingolo there are social workers who work for the provincial councils and also for the national government. They are heavily under resourced which means they have difficulty maintaining any form of support for the people of the community. It became blatantly obvious to us the extent of how bad the social support system is functioning on a Friday evening a few months ago.

Two mothers arrived at the gate to the venue as we were closing up for the day. They told us that they had seen a child from the community with a large welt on her face from where she had been hit. We know of this child because the foundation with which we are collaborating (ARCHE), works with her. We have heard horrible stories of how she has been treated more like an animal than a child within her household. The two mothers came to us because they were too scared to take it any further. They didn’t want word getting back to the girl’s family that they had reported the problem.

Valeria took the bull by the horns and went straight to the police station. The police said they couldn’t do anything so they sent her the National Commission for Women. They also wanted to pass the buck. Finally, she ended up in the Department of Children and Adolescents. For anything to happen, Valeria had to lay a charge on the family. This would mean that a judge would get involved.

The unfortunate thing is that nobody reports these cases 1. because of fear and 2. because they know that nothing will be done about it. The police and social services literally don’t lift a finger if something is reported by a local. Valeria is in the fortunate position of not being from the community, and also being part of Food for Thought. The governmental social institutions know of us and our work. They also know that we are doing the work that they aren’t! Valeria had to threaten the director of the Infancy department. She threatened that if nothing was done, she would go to the media with all of the details of how this case has been dealt with.

We found out later that an ambulance had been sent out to the house but didn’t go in because they felt it was too dangerous. This meant that the little girl had to stay another night within the household where the violence had occurred. Unbeknown to the family, the girl came to the venue as she does every Saturday to participate in the activities that Foundation Arche provide. At this point Valeria was notified of the young girl’s location, so she rang the director of the Department of Children and Adolescents. The director informed a local social worker who came to take the child to an orphanage.

We have also heard appalling stories of the orphanages. I believe that because of the pressure that Valeria had put on the director, she sent her to a safe orphanage run by nuns. Valeria visited the young girl and was pleased to report that she loves the orphanage and is very happy with her new home! The problem is that it is only a home for her for six months. Afterwards we are not sure what will happen. It is the obligation of social services to attempt to return the child to her home.

Since all of this has occurred, we have been in contact with the department of social development and been invited to various meetings. We had a workshop with local social services to help us understand exactly the steps that need to be taken if something like this happens again. This is important because we cannot be the ones laying charges all the time. This is not what we do. We run a food and activity program. This is where our skill-set is. This is where our energies have to be! It’s ok one time but we would like to know that if a child is in danger that something will be done about it.

It is obviously not a good thing that a child has been physically abused but it is a good thing that this case is in the light and others like it may also hopefully get more attention. We would like to hold social services accountable for doing a job that up until now they haven’t been doing. What I understand is that it is also a question of resources. This is the biggest problem. With this new government it looks like funding for social programs don’t seem to be high on the priority list. In saying that, we were paid a visit by the Mayor of Lanús last month and he has shown a little interest in supporting our project. We´ll have to wait and see what comes of it!

I ask the question, “where to from here Argentina?”. I hate to be pessimistic but the future for Argentina, at least for the lower classes, doesn’t look great. Last week I paid AR$105 to fill a gas bottle for the kitchen. Today I paid AR$140. When I arrived in 2013 the bus cost AR$1.50. Today it is AR$6.00. Gas and water bills have increased 1000% in under a year. The prices of absolutely everything have been rising constantly. Hyper-inflation is making it very difficult for us as an organisation, I can only imagine how it must be for Argentinians.