Megan Short - General Care Projects in Argentina
After disposing of a gruelling twenty six-hour journey I finally arrived at Cordoba airport where I was greeted by a friendly smiling face clutching a reassuring Projects Abroad sign. My adventure in Argentina had begun and I couldn’t wait for what the country had in store for me.
I had originally signed up for a two week care project in Cochabamba, Bolivia but after some issues with my work placement there I was moved to Cordoba. I was very wary of the change at first because I had my heart set on going to Bolivia. However, I would say to anyone else in this position, just go with the changes that Projects Abroad facilitate for you because they will ensure you have a great time no matter where you go!
My Host Family
The journey from the airport could have lasted ten minutes or it could have lasted an hour because I was taking in the new surroundings that would shape my home for the next two weeks. The July cold that immediately began scratching at the tips of my fingers upon stepping outside greeted me again as I stepped out of the taxi and was welcomed by Patricia, my house mum. I was staying with another volunteer from Paris called Paloma but she was arriving a day later so for the first day I was on my own with Patricia and although there was a language barrier, this proved to be no problem whatsoever as she was so friendly.
After all the flights and hours in airports I was feeling very grubby so I decided to take a shower but was surprised with ice cold water. Literally bending over backwards as if I were in a yoga class to avoid getting my body wet for too long I began to worry that I was going to have two weeks of cold showers I headed downstairs for a delicious dinner of chicken and salad. After a while though I plucked up the confidence to politely ask Patricia if the shower water got any warmer where she burst into laughter as it turned out I had turned the tap the wrong way! This broke any initial awkwardness between the two of us and made me feel even more at home as Patricia continued to giggle as I described my awkward stance in the bathroom.
Patricia’s daughter, Sofia, arrived a few days after Paloma and she was fluent in English so it became much easier to communicate and my Spanish improved so much because I still had to converse with Patricia in Spanish but Sofia helped me out. I cannot put into words how amazing the Scolari’s were in the sense that they could not have welcomed me into their home anymore. I am extremely interested in Argentina’s history and especially the people that disappeared in the middle to late 1970’s. La Perla is an ex detention centre where hundreds of people were kept and tortured due to the fact that they were opposed to the regime that was being led by Benjamin Menendez. I desperately wanted to go in order to get a feel of the place and learn more about the atrocities that happened there. Patricia and Sofia made this possible as they took Paloma and me there and when the tour was entirely in Spanish and we were struggling slightly to understand everything, Sofia translated for us.
My care placement in Cordoba
Before I left the UK I stocked up on loads of entertainment for the kids that I would be working with in Eva Peron Orphanage such as bubbles, balloons and other goodies, which, like any child, they loved playing with. I was briefed before I entered on what to expect and how to interact with the staff and most importantly how to behave around the children. At the beginning I was quite daunted by the fact that no one at the orphanage spoke any English but this helped me to improve my Spanish so much even after such a short time there.
All of the children have had very difficult backgrounds but I anticipated this before I arrived. However, you could not tell from their behaviour as they simply behaved like every other child I have interacted with, cheeky sometimes, playful and full of life. There were two exceptions however, in two little boys that had only arrived a few days before us and they wouldn’t speak to Paloma and I for the first couple of days. It was quite hard at times as it was apparent that they had been through so much previously but I made sure they were included with the rest of the group when I brought out the giant balloons and they opened up more and started speaking to us and the rest of the group as well, which made me feel as if we had really given something back to the children by working there.
Before I arrived at the Eva Peron Centre I expected the experience there to be very difficult because it would be so filled with tears but the only sad moment was when we had to leave because the children didn’t properly understand that we were leaving until we were half way down the drive when the staff explained it to them. They chased us down the driveway full of kisses and hugs for us. The tears started coming then, but they were ours not theirs!
Before I left the UK I had my own preconceptions about Argentina. I expected shifty eyed drug barons whispering behind cocaine stained hands on every street corner. However, “mistaken” is an understatement. I never once felt unsafe on the streets of Cordoba, even in the heart of the night. I am sure that there are dangerous parts but this is the case in every country in the world so it would be unbelievably unfair to cast this stereotype just to Argentina.
Another factor that I was pleasantly surprised about were the people of Argentina. I was in a restaurant one night with another volunteer and we could not ask in Spanish where we needed to catch the bus to get home. Within seconds a woman from a nearby table was on her feet giving us her details if we ever needed any help because she could speak English. Another women appeared in front of us with her details and she explained that she lived near us and would give us a lift home with the rest of her family. I was so touched by how much the people there wanted to help someone if they were in need and that is one of the main things I will remember from my trip to Cordoba.
My Time in Argentina
My experience in Argentina changed the way I look on things entirely. I now appreciate how good my life is as I have seen how difficult it can be for so many people around the world. Although the first couple of days I was swallowed by homesickness, every day still blasted me straight in the face with amazement by how different the culture is there, how beautiful the country is as I was lucky enough to see the amazing views from the ‘cien curvas’ road.
I would definitely love to return to the country and to reconnect with all the amazing people that I met there! I would advise anyone to travel there if they got the chance so they experience something similar to what I did.
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.