Rosemary Rees Jones - General Care Projects in Argentina
Walking through the door of the house that was to be home for the next four months was the moment when I truly realised I was in Argentina. I didn’t speak any Spanish and my host family didn’t speak any English and yet I was made to feel so welcome. To set the tone for the rest of my time in Argentina I was instantly presented with an array of Argentine favourite foods; milanesa, cake and the maté. Maté must come with a warning: addictive!
My host family in Argentina
I still think of my host family as exactly that; my family. My host mum, ĺnes, unbelievably was 73 (although she never exactly told me this). She had brilliant red hair and was never out of a pair of skinnies. I am certain that she still goes to the gym everyday and tangos until the early hours every Saturday night. Her husband, Carlos, is one of the coolest men I’ve ever met. Not only did he have the glasses, but I distinctly remember him serving up the best asado (meat feast), whilst casually dropping one liners.
My equine therapy placement
After a quick introduction to Cordoba and Cordobean life it was time to get to work. The stables were situated in a little oasis just outside of town. My first placement came under the heading Equine Therapy. I’ve been describing this to my friends as a similar idea to swimming with dolphins but with horses. No I do not mean the horses are swimming. Equine therapy is where children and adults with special needs or disabilities have the opportunity to ride horses through our help. It has been proven to significantly improve their emotional, mental and physical welfare. In order to achieve this we talked, sang, played games and occasionally rode horses with them.
When there were no classes we did light stable work and groomed the horses. Many, including the most stubborn (Milton), ended up with makeovers. The owner: Vera cannot be described with words. She is the most energetic person I have ever met. Her persona is so unbelievably welcoming and upbeat and yet patient and understanding as well. Each afternoon in between classes she would disappear only to re-appear with a tray of licuados (milkshake/smoothie) and cookies. I should mention now that it is not possible to go hungry in Argentina.
My care placement
My second placement was a kind of a youth centre called El Naranjo in a small town towards the Sierras Chicas. I worked with people of all ages who all had varying disabilities and traumas, but primarily they were all “che”s (cool). It was these people who made me extend my time in Argentina by a month and who make me want to return as soon as possible. On Mondays and Fridays it was muger; a type of street dancing. Each time we would go to the nearest plaza to show off the big drums and dancing. At first I wasn’t sure what to do. I guess I was there to supervise and explain, which I did throughout. But after a day or 2 I realised that all they wanted was to have a laugh.
Once I relaxed and simply joined in, I became their friend, which wasn’t hard due to their extraordinary generous nature. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, this youth centre was transformed into an industrious kitchen producing treats such as, alfajores (sweet biscuits which, trust me, you will get to know well!) and then later selling these at the local clinics or on the street. I am proud to say that we did fairly well and on most days broke even, if not making a profit (all of which went back into funding El Naranjo).
My free time in Argentina
But life’s not all work, and in the evenings there were the infamous socials; an opportunity to explore Cordobean culture and to meet the other volunteers. These included music festivals, football, tango classes, paintballing, building schools, day trips to local parks, horse riding, BBQ’s to mention but a few. These are some of the fondest memories I have and where I met some of my now closest friends.
We often headed to find a little night life and get our reggaeton fix (a latin translation of hiphop). The best club I went to was a rave on the Villa Allende golf course which in true Argentinean style didn’t finish till 6:30 in the morning. Also there were a number of salsa/jazz clubs on the other side of the river of which I became a bit of a regular. For a touch of culture Cordoba is one of the prettiest and oldest cities in Argentina - no guide book can do it justice.
There are numerous museums, plazas & parks, activities, fairs, festivals which would happily fill a month in themselves. At the weekends there was the opportunity to travel. I was one of the people who travelled least and yet I managed to visit every town in Córdoba Province (La Cumbre comes highly recommended), Mendoza, Buenos Aires and Uruguay.
Having been there, done that and got the official Projects Abroad T-shirt, I can honestly say that my Argentinean experience was one that I would never give up. I have gained so much. Not only did I gain a language, cultural knowledge, and broader perspectives but I also have a global network of friends.
Top tips for other volunteers
If I had to give top tips they would be: (1) Eat the food – it’s good! (2) Do as much as possible all the time - life is for living after all. (3) Make friends with the locals; they’re so friendly and open .The most interesting conversations I had with people were with locals over their opinions on culture, politics and history. They also happen to know how to have the best night out. (4) Use the Projects Abroad team, (they’re more like friends anyway) they’re always there; they helped me settle in and continued to provide a massive safety net throughout.