Emily Shepard - Human Rights in Argentina
I spent 12 weeks immersing myself in the Argentinean culture while volunteering with Projects Abroad. I was a volunteer for the Law & Human Rights project, which could not have been a better fit for me! Projects Abroad gave me a ton of information that was so helpful upon arrival, additionally I was picked up at the airport by a staff member and shortly after given an entire induction to the city and my work.
Living with a host family
I must admit, I was slightly nervous to live with a host family! That being said, I lived with one woman, Cristina, who ended up being the best thing that ever happened to me in Cordoba! Cristina is a dressmaker and works from of her home teaching classes and meeting clients and was so available to help me with anything and everything I needed!
Cristina was amazing when it came to the language barrier! She was so patient with me and sometimes I feel like I should have paid her rather than my tutor for everything she taught me. The first couple weeks we would sit and have meals together I had my laptop out and Google Translate was assisting… eventually I didn’t need it anymore! I don’t say that because my Spanish was perfect – far from it, but we were able to hold really great conversations despite me fumbling through. A few weeks into my stay my roommate from Switzerland came and that helped so much because she spoke fluent English and Spanish.
My placement in Argentina
My project was the perfect fit for me. To be fair, I already knew I enjoyed working with people in the legal system and doing social work, so this was an easy decision for me. In the Projects Abroad Law & Human Rights Office (PAHRO) I worked with Vicky, a social worker, and Lalo, an attorney, along with volunteers from all around the world. Though it’s not a requirement, I already had experience working with vulnerable persons back home so the work we were doing was not new to me. Despite already having this experience, I had to adjust my behaviour and sit back to watch for about a week in order to understand how the culture plays into the lives of these people.
PAHRO works constantly, so if you are looking to really come to Cordoba to volunteer your time – do this one! Additionally, the Law & Human Rights project is very community oriented so you will have the opportunity to meet other volunteers naturally. A lot of the work we did as volunteers was social work; we went to different placements every week such as girls’ prisons and government homes for teens that have been removed from their families due to abuse or neglect, and we also worked with the homeless.
What’s great about going to these placements is that the staff truly gives volunteers the control over what they would like to do. Because of my background in working with victims of violence, I created a 3-week curriculum where we as volunteers discussed violence. We worked with each female placement about physical, verbal and domestic violence and it was very effective. Working in these field can be very discouraging, but every once in a while you have a week where you can see a light-bulb turn on and you know that you’ve had some type of impact on their lives.
Volunteering work abroad
Both Vicky and Lalo were so helpful and I felt comfortable to discuss with them what I was hoping to get out of my experience and areas in which I didn’t feel useful. What is so great about them both is that they respect your boundaries but also push you to do things that make you uncomfortable. For me, that was trying to speak to these people in Spanish!
I don’t have a problem going up and talking to anyone, but in Spanish it can be a bit scary. I also saw a need and wanted to fill it, so I asked to create a short training that can be given to all incoming volunteers on how to work with vulnerable populations. Aside from working at the placements, the staff gave me the flexibility in my schedule to create this, and now it’s being used every time the PAHRO office has a new volunteer!
Other opportunities presented by the PAHRO office getting involved in social human rights issues, such as human trafficking and attending the La Perla trials. The La Perla trials are the criminal court cases being argued with former officials for the dictatorship, which is responsible for heinous crimes. This dictatorship was over 30 years ago, but the Argentinean government is still prosecuting these criminals; we have the chance to watch human rights’ history unfold in court. As an office we were able to show our support of the community of Cordoba by participating in a march against violence against women.
Finally, I urge everyone who is coming to Argentina to take the time to travel! The staff is so wonderful and will help you make your travel dreams a reality, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take advantage of your weekends and get out of Cordoba. I realise that my duration of stay is longer than some others, but I travelled everywhere in Argentina…and to other countries. You will come back to work refreshed and ready to give back.