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Where to next Argentina?

Wow, It’s almost August! It’s going to be Christmas before we know it! At the moment the number of kids in Food for Thought has dropped to a constant of about 16. We are not worried about that number as we know that it will come back up again. What I have realised is that the kids that we have right now are the kids who really need the project. What I can see is that the children who are living in very vulnerable circumstances are sticking around. That aligns with one of our long-term goals of supporting those who most need it.

We can also take advantage of the low numbers and truly focus on spending more time with each child. We live in a world that values quantity not quality. I am more of a quality person myself. We have an opportunity at the current point in time to really focus on the individual needs of each child. Many children, particularly those that we work with, need one on one time, but we just don’t have enough resources to be able to provide that. We can see the damage that is caused by the environment within which the children are living, therefore having fewer kids in Food for Thought can be a huge positive for individual children!

What we are witnessing are psychological problems. Kids that need therapy, and we don’t have the training, let alone hours in the day to be able to properly support them. We have support from the psychologists from Foundation ARCHE, but that is only one day per week. There are three psychologists but two are working with mothers, so that only leaves one for the kids. There literally is not enough support for those who most need it. We have tried to get support from local council services, but it is just a waste of time and energy. We are all the support that the kids have.

A month ago, one of the young girls who has been with the project from the beginning four and a half years ago, walked out the gate. To make a long story short, she has been literally rejected by her mother and lives with three of her siblings, her grandma and her violent, substance using father. The rejection by her mother, amongst many other things, has been absolutely devastating for her. She is extremely paranoid that everyone is against her, doesn’t really have any friends, and is desperate to be accepted by everyone. As she was under our supervision I had to go after her.

She was not in good shape! She hadn’t arrived in a healthy state, and when she on the receiving end of some verbal bullying from a couple of younger kids, things got a lot worse. I was trying to talk to her but every time that I got closer to her, she would run further away. At one point she began to yell at me, ‘Just leave me alone!’. It must have looked quite bad from an outsider’s perspective, and to his credit, a neighbour stepped in to ask who I was and what I was doing. Understanding how terrible it looked I stopped to explain to the man what was going on. At that point the girl kept running. Luckily, she ran around the block and entered back into the venue.

She entered the toilet and closed the door. Now that she was back in the venue, there were a lot of risky variables taken out of the equation. It was obvious that I was not helping the situation. I called in our young female volunteer to sit outside the toilet and try and talk to her. After fifteen minutes, lots of calm talking from our amazing volunteer, and a few hugs, the young girl had calmed down enough to enter back into activities.

Afterwards when we were playing outside on the hardcourt, the neighbour approached. It was very comforting to know that we have people in the community like him, looking out for others. After the girl and I had ran off, the neighbour went looking for the venue that I had described (Food for Thought). He had asked at a venue across the road from ours, and nobody knew of either I nor the girl. At that point, rightly so I might add, he went to the police. He explained to me what he had done. I thanked him for the efforts, and continued playing with the kids with one eye out for the police. The worst thing about this whole experience is that even though the police station is half a block away, we didn’t see any police officers that day.

I’m not sure if it is a question of resources. It probably is a factor as the police in the provinces are very badly paid and under resourced. But, how can anybody, especially the police, in any circumstance when told about a middle-aged man chasing a young girl who was repeatedly screaming at him to leave him alone, not at least do a lap of the neighbourhood to investigate the situation. It is the horrible reality of the near total collapse of a system that’s reason for existing is to protect citizens.

I had an insight into how badly the police are paid the last time I took taxi to the airport. The driver was an off-duty police officer working night shifts to make enough money to get by. He was a police officer who worked in the city too. They are paid better than those who work in the provinces. It’s no wonder we hear so many stories of the corrupt police.  

Last year the ministry of social development began funding certain projects for adults and children run by community organisations. We applied for funding for five projects. Music, Ecology, Healthy Cooking/Nutrition, School support, and Family support. All of which were accepted and a small amount of funding for each program began. This was in November last year. Each program would be funded for six months. In January we were told that the funding ran out. Less than three months after the programs started, the funding stopped. Luckily, due to many amazing volunteers, we have been able to sustain all the projects, apart from the Ecology for adults.

The economy is also crumbling. At the start of the year, an Argentinian peso was worth 5.2 American cents. Right now, it is worth 3.4 cents. The peso has lost a third of its value in less than seven months. The hyperinflation is really making it tough! Utilities costs are skyrocketing and the price of everything has to rise or businesses will be out of business. Salaries aren’t rising at the same rate as inflation, so the peso today, just doesn’t go very far. Everybody is feeling the pinch.

We have been in the process of making the big concrete shells that we have been working in, more user friendly. Thanks to a grant from a local bank’s fondation, we have turned the concrete walls and roofs into two classrooms. The next stage is to convert what is literally a large concrete bunker, where our makeshift kitchen used to be, into a music room, two interview rooms, and a large multi-function space. Because of the rising prices of everything, it looks like that project might have to be downsized. The simple reason being that the price quoted for the restoration one year ago is nowhere near what it will actually cost today.

We were also lucky enough to be visited by the architect who works for the foundation who is in charge of sustainability. She promised us solar panels and a rain water collection system. Because the foundation sources all of the solar panels from the United States, it looks like that project will be downsized as well!

Well, despite all of the negative aspects of Argentina, there are still loads of great things going on! The kids are going crazy for the percussion classes. They are improving every week. They are all growing up fast and we are seeing positive changes in habits and attitudes. We have a few events planned in the upcoming months. A children’s day event, and our annual music festival. We are improving and changing as educators every day. Not all bad. Until next time!