Nathalie Harris - General Care Projects in Argentina
Before going to Argentina I was confident that the 6 week trip would be a great experience and I was hoping to learn lots about the country, improve my Spanish and meet some new people. All of this turned out to be a good assumption as I can safely say that my time in Argentina exceeded my expectations and I would, without a doubt, recommend the experience to anyone thinking about going.
I chose Argentina mainly because I am trying to improve my Spanish and having spent lots of time in Spain, I wanted to see South America. I don’t know exactly why but Argentina was the country which most appealed to me. Having said that my only regret from the experience was not leaving enough time at the end to see other parts of Argentina and its surrounding countries.
Arrival in Argentina and First Impressions
Having travelled for over 24 hours by the time I arrived in Cordoba, I was very grateful to come through the arrivals hall and find a Projects Abroad representative waiting for me to take me to my final destination. It turned out that he was the brother of my host ‘mum’ so we immediately went to my host family for introductions and the usual merienda (afternoon tea). I felt at home straight away, especially because there were two other female volunteers living at the house with me as well as 3 dogs which created a very welcoming and familiar atmosphere with lots of activity. I was able to shower and unpack before my roommate asked me if I wanted to go into the city centre (my house was about a half hour bus ride away) and meet some of the other volunteers which was great despite the slight jetlag!
A couple of days later I had my introduction with another Project’s Abroad supervisor who took a small group of us around the city and showed us our placements and how to get the bus to work and home. We were also treated to a lunch and were able to buy cheap sim cards, bus cards and change money to use in Argentina. At this point I was very much looking forward to starting work and meeting the children at my placement.
My Care Placement
The following day I started work at my placement which was a residential home for children up to the age of 10 years old and during my time there housed around 16 children. I would say that at times it was hard to volunteer with young children who had either been abandoned by their parents or taken from them due to mistreatment. They constantly wanted attention which manifested itself in different ways according to the child, although often in a violent manner. It took some time to gain their trust as they see so many volunteers come and go and become friends with them.
Although I don’t think it’s essential to be able to speak Spanish with the host family as most people can speak a good level of English, I found it very useful that I have a decent knowledge of the language at work because it helped to be able to explain activities as well as discipline the children well. I tried to do as many activities with them as possible because they don’t get much of a break from living in the residence aside from half a day at school each day. Some of these activities included doing arts and crafts, making bracelets, playing football and doing informative things such as puzzles and play dough.
My fondest memories at the residence are usually times when I really helped the children to learn something, for example when I taught a 6 year old boy how to recognise numbers and would often help with the older children’s homework. By the end of my time with the children, I felt really close to them and couldn’t stop myself from crying when it was time to say goodbye at the end of my 6 weeks. The staff were all very friendly and nice as well and you could see how much they cared about the children. I hope I have made a small difference to their lives although I wish I could have stayed longer and helped more!
Host family and Social Events
In order to get the most from the trip I wanted to spend as much of my time off from work with other volunteers and with my host family. Luckily the Projects Abroad office in Argentina often organised socials events which could be a day trip to a nearby town, a dinner or a film night to name a few. Whilst I was there we played football one evening which was great fun followed by a dinner of the traditional ‘lomito’ (basically a very large pork sandwich!), another time we all went out for pizza and to try ‘locro’ which is another traditional dish from Argentina. I wanted to try as many of the traditional dishes as possible and embrace Argentinean culture! In this way I was very lucky that my host ‘dad’ is a chef and was always cooking the best of the country’s food.
Another type of event that the office organised were ‘dirty days’ which meant we literally had to get out hands dirty! I took part in a ‘clean-up’ at a local dog refuge where there were over 300 dogs and the following week we went to a night market and tried to get some of the puppies from the shelter adopted so that they wouldn’t have to go back to the shelter. I was happy to help out with this in my spare time because if you went to Argentina you would see how many wild dogs there are and what a problem it has become.
There is absolutely nothing I can say but praise for my host family. They were a young married couple and were very friendly and funny. I think living with them rounded the experience off perfectly and I have great memories of playing card games in the evenings, delicious food, going to the theatre and playing with the dogs. We would always have dinner together if my roommate and I weren’t out for the evening and we all made the most of this time to practice Spanish and learn about each other’s cultures.
Making friends and travelling
On my first weekend in Cordoba I was invited to go to Mendoza (another city in Argentina) with a group of volunteers. We went horseback riding, river rafting and went on a wine tasting tour. It was a great experience and I took the opportunity a couple of weeks later to visit Buenos Aires with the same group. It was extremely easy to make new friends and we spent a lot of time together in Cordoba - visiting museums, going to clubs and bars and playing sport. I am still in touch with many of them now and the good thing is that now I have friends from all over the world who I can hopefully visit one day!
It was hard to leave my host family and the children at my placement when it was time for me to go but I kept a diary the whole time I was there and have many pictures to remember my experience by. Maybe one day I’ll return to Cordoba and see everyone again and immerse myself once again in the amazing culture that Argentina has to offer!
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.