Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Volunteering in the villas

One of the younger kids learning her ABCs. 

Group of girls gather around one of the tutors. 
I joined a local volunteer program called LIFE a couple weeks ago. It is a non-profit family run program that works with children and youth living in the extremely poor areas of Argentina. We work with five different community centers, four inside the city and one on the outskirts. The centers are in the backyard of someones house or basically just rooms with large open spaces in the middle of the villas. We provide a after-school program for kids ranging anywhere from two years old to 16 years old. I found this program while doing some research and it was one of the few programs that don't charge a hefty fee to join (pay to volunteer? I know crazy). Most of the volunteer programs offer housing and other overhead costs that are mandatory if you want to volunteer, which for someone like me is unnecessary.

For my family and friends at home who have ever been to Buenos Aires, the poverty rates in Buenos Aires are staggering. Perhaps not as bad as other countries like Peru and Bolivia that are less developed, but certainly bad enough to make your head turn and a good reminder that Argentina is a third world country. The community centers we visit are in areas called 'villas', basically slums. One of the villas is adjoining neighbors to the city's wealthiest neighborhoods. The houses are made from whatever materials can be found and are stacked on top of one another. Electicity is taken illegally from the city;s main power lines. A large number of the residents are immigrants from other countries like Bolivia who left their home in hopes of finding more opportunity and better lives on the streets of BA, giving you a little insight on what their lives must have been like in their home countries.

Assuming there is enough volunteers, the program goes to three different villas everyday of the week. On Wednesdays we throw a party for the kid's who have birthdays in that month. We are there for two to three hours. We help them with their homework or bring our worksheets. We save some time at the end to play. Most of the kids are eager to learn and will fight for your help and attention. We keep a log of what level each child is in and a folder with worksheets that they have completed or partially completed. Some days the ratio of volunteers to kids is five to one so it can be difficult to keep track of who is supposed to be doing what. When there are fewer kids we are really able to focus our attention on one or two children and built a stronger connection with them.

During orientation the leader asked what we thought the attendance rate for school was in these areas. In my head I guessed 40%. Some people said 10% or 20%. Her answer was 95%. We were all a little surprised but she explained to use that the schools provide lunch. Skipping school means skipping a meal. Our hopes are that we can teach the children how importance school is for their lives. Our goal is to give them a hopeful future and more opportunity to create a better life.

1 comment:

  1. so cute! i need to go to orientation already...