Shenandoah Cornish - Equine Therapy in Argentina
Before I left Argentina was a concept, a mysterious, magical place. When it came time to leave, Argentina was more than a reality. It was life changing. From missed flights to less than desirable hotels and hostels, to dealing with the other side of language barriers. It should have been difficult to assimilate not only to different cultural elements (such as having dinner at 10:30 instead of 6), navigating public transportation in a new place (not being able to ask for help or directions did not help). It was kind of a sink or swim experience. Projects Abroad encouraged me to jump into the water without looking back.
Through all of this, somehow, miraculously, I learned how to swim. As the frustrations were overwhelming, this was a personal challenge the likes of which I had never faced before. All I wanted to do was stay in my room. My host family and the other volunteers encouraged and helped me to begin and never stop, exploring the city, the culture, and myself.
I owe most of the confidence I gained to my host family. Not only was my host mother, Marta, there to teach, warn and encourage me every step of the way, but because even when I stayed at home I had her to attempt to talk to, I learned an incredible amount of Spanish and the true culture of the Argentinians. It is because of her I had the courage to talk to people on the street, to get what I needed, and to learn more than I ever could have imagined.
My Equine Therapy project
My placement was Equine Therapy, located about a forty minutes outside of Cordoba. Veronica, the woman who runs the centre (Fundacion Cordobesa de Equinoterapia) was the most enthusiastic, energetic person I have ever met. Understanding her directions required every bit of concentration until I got used to her. Eventually, I settled in and understood what was expected. All of the volunteers helped take care of the facility and the horses.
For the therapy itself, we alternated between leading the horses (for the kids that required it) and walking next to them, making conversation and trying to invent way to keep them entertained and focused. Sometimes we would set up obstacle courses, or go outside, or play with a hula hoop or ball, even just ring a bell or make faces in a mirror. Some of the students got extremely anxious after a while, so constantly making sure they had something to focus on was essential, which was very challenging at times.
It was also difficult to think of conversations to have with them, because our gaps in linguistic knowledge combined with some of their developmental skills made things extremely difficult. With kids that had extremely severe motor and physical disabilities, we would ride double with them, making sure they felt safe and secure. The experience was incredibly rewarding, but after four odd hours of this each day, we all had our moments of frustration.
One thing that helped keep me going during the particularly busy days was watching the older students ride. Some have been riding with Veronica for almost over 10 years (Vero herself has been doing this for over 20). One example of this that stands out especially is a boy named Javier who is 17 years old and is severely autistic. He would arrive, get out of the car, and start throwing things everywhere, running around, or eating leaves or grass, but the moment he got on a horse, he was a different person. He calmed down and was actually a good rider. He listened and became gentle and responsive, almost the opposite of how he was the rest of the time. This is the magic of Equine Therapy, and why it is so wonderful to participate in. The smiles on their faces, and the complete change in demeanour is priceless, as is the welcoming nature of the children and their families.
Volunteers from around the world
In addition to my placement, the friendships that formed between the volunteers in such short times was amazing. From social trips organised by Projects Abroad to independent ventures, these relationships allowed us to explore much more than we would ever be able to alone. They also brought together people from all over the globe. On my last weekend in Argentina, I went to Buenos Aires with other volunteers from England and Italy. I took an overnight bus ride, stayed in a hostel, took tango lessons, went to markets, explored the city, went to a tango show, and got to visit the Lujan Zoo.
Before I knew it, I found myself in a taxi to the airport. I was not at all ready to leave behind the friends and experiences of my three weeks in Cordoba, but all I can do is hope that one day soon I will be able to return. Recalling everything that transpired makes me realise that the amount I grew is simply not quantifiable.
Beyond the Equine Therapy, beyond immense amounts of the Spanish language, I learned so much about life and the world. The more I think about it, the more I realise how much I have learned, not to mention the incredible realisation of how much I do not know, and how much I want to learn.
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.