Working at Centro Conviven was a hugely fulfilling experience. The relationships I built with my pupils, and with the team of volunteers was something unique; like being part of a family. It is not often that you find a diverse group of people determined to fight against the odds to achieve a common goal. I was lucky to be part of this team, and even if only for six weeks, those weeks have been etched into my memory forever!
Greeting you at the door is Carmen; she is a grandmother from the villa oscura, and also the founder of Centro Conviven.
Like a true matriarch, she was always concerned for us, accompanying volunteers to and from the bus stops, providing students with afternoon snacks, making Conviven a truly warm and welcoming centre to visit.
Upstairs sits Valmir, always
laughing and sipping mate as he
welcomes the students to their afternoon English classes. He is incredibly dedicated to his role as leader of this centre, and is a great anchor for the students, who can always rely on him, no matter which volunteers may be coming or going at the time.
During my time volunteering, I saw perhaps forty infants, teenagers and adults walk through the doors for English lessons alone. To be honest, I arrived having no idea how I would be helping and what to expect from the children - nor did I speak much Spanish! All the volunteers met in the preliminary weeks to share what they knew, and together we established our own method of teaching Engllish and running the classes, developing a system that supported all of our strengths and nurtured those of our growing number of students. Before long, at least twenty five students were coming regularly and were assigned to specific teachers and classes, depending on their level and age.
Having gone through this program I feel that the impact was so much greater than I expected… I thought I had come to do my small part in giving support to children in need, while on my travels. In fact what I got out of it was the chance to really touch the individual lives of my students and the community, and for them to touch mine. It felt satisfying to be part of the process, strengthening Conviven through our team of volunteers, in a way that will hopefully continue through the years. Although I was the teacher, I also had the unexpected chance to learn a great deal from my pupils; from their way of life and all that they had been through. I saw a thirst for life and learning that I would never had imagined!
It is clear that this NGO provides a much-needed safe haven from the streets and las villas of Mataderos and Lugano. In a country with so much turbulence, Conviven provides an accepting environment for people of all ages, races and capacities.
Through this experience an awareness was born in me… I began understanding on a personal, social and political level what I saw – the plight of the Argentines and of those behind them, the hidden people of the villas...not to be forgotten.