Melissa Jarrell - General Care Projects in Argentina
I abundantly loved Argentina in and out, and so I consider myself luckier than Argentina - as if it gave to me so much more than I have yet given to it, but I hope to be giving back in the future. I hope that my reflections will provide you with a little of what you are seeking in order to make your decision for a placement. My spirit was transformed by what it met in this special country. Five months later, I still am living my days with the canopy of vivacity that formed over me in Argentina and am ever grateful I chose to explore and volunteer there.
My care placement in Argentina
Often, volunteers in any arena far and wide will be asked if they know when they are “making a difference.” I learned quickly what "making a difference" really is. I worked in Bethel’s Children home in Villa Allende, which is about a half-hour outside of Cordoba City. In Bethel Children's Home (or in any care placement), that is seeing love sliding off of you and onto the children, pouring onto them what they need most and lack if volunteers from Argentina and international alike do not offer that to them. The kids' vibrancy of love back onto you reflects that love, and that is how you can tell how much you are giving them. Making a difference in the short term falls into that, and making a difference in the long term...that comes with making promises to the children that you won't forget them, that they aren't just a phase of your life where you were giving and then didn't look back...that you will either return to see them, or follow up on seeing how they are doing, or try to give more to the organization in some means. This is how I feel, at least.
Not a day passes where I do not think intensely of the children I played with in my days in Villa Allende. Their faces and giggles and even tears are present in my mind, day in and day out. I did bring Twister to them, though, after hunting it down in a toy shop in Buenos Aires. They enjoyed that game, any toys are really heartily accepted, since they have hardly any. Also they were overjoyed by the stickers I brought and bubbles one day. When I return to visit I plan to go with many more creative items and ideas in tow. I also sent them copies of the photos I took at Bethel. They loved that. Really our activities were subdued but our imaginations were honed.
I spent about 4-6 hours a day at the placement, walking about the quarters and playing with whichever age group I desired, merely playing or helping with the lessons in the “jardin” (pre-school) for the youngest children in the home. Preparing the younger but school-aged children for school was also an option, as was helping in the kitchen and with meals. Anywhere you offered a hand; your offers were warmly accepted. Everyday on my walk home, I thought of how little I had actually done but of what a huge emotive exchange had passed between the children and me. It was really incredible.
My host family
Argentineans made it an easy, fell swoop to fall into connection with. I felt as if I had known my host family for years within two weeks and did nearly everything with them, from things around the house, to social outings, to family occasions, to hiking. I just dove in and accepted everything with curiosity and vivacity, and I sank in. As far as bridging cultural gaps: I didn't bridge them...I lived as an Argentinean with no frets attached and loved it dearly. While I think my family and friends there still gleaned cultural nuances from me, I didn't impose them upon the family nor live them while I was there. Upon coming back to the States, I actually did not come back onto the US page nearly as quickly or willingly as I did onto theirs. I actually do not plan to, either. I will never relinquish the appreciation and outlook I gleaned within the Argentinean culture. They have a truly beautiful culture.
Currently back in the States, I am in an Anaesthesiology programme at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA, yet much of my heart remains in Argentina. I am in close and frequent contact with my family and will continue to be so. I have sent a few packages to both my family and to Bethel (with stuffed animals for the kids) and letters for a few of the kids at Bethel. My host mother told me that, upon receiving my letter, one of the older girls (14) was delightedly running in circles, savouring her excitement over receiving the letter. This same girl asked me if I could come back for her birthday (which is Christmas Day), and at the time I had no idea if it would be plausible. However, upon returning home and yearning to be back in the country that had enraptured my heart, I bought a ticket for my winter vacation, and, as I told Pipi in the letter, will be with her for her birthday.
My time in Argentina
My entire window into the world has been altered, even so much as been replaced. This whole experience was extremely profound and exciting for me. I feel like this realization unfolded every day for me in Argentina, not in one specific moment. It was as if every day was an "Oh WOW!” a giant breath of fresh air. It was really amazing. But at the same time I say this, I would not expect it of everyone. Our lives are all different, all falling into place at different points, some years and ages more loaded with realisations and turns than those of others. And so I would tell anyone who goes on such a journey not to expect anything. Not as if you are expecting disappointment...just you are not...expecting. I went lacking any preconceptions of what I would find, and I feel like the world was handed to me anew. So long as you do not take your culture into the country hand in hand, you are bound to be enhanced by something there, largely or slightly.
With best wishes to all who step out of their current selves to see if there is much more to them waiting in another country...
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.