Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fernando: photos of Circo Festival on Matadero Nov 2008

Nichole: a rude awakening!

I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to live abroad in Argentina – to experience the culture, make new friends, and explore new areas. But more than anything, I am thankful that I followed through on my goal to take time during the trip to volunteer.

I remember scouring the Internet looking for organizations that offered volunteer programs. I had not realized how challenging it could be to find opportunities to donate time, so it came as a huge relief when I found Conviven, an NGO that promoted social and community development. The center only required your time and dedication to their after school English program. Conviven was located in the Ciudad Oculta, known for the poverty affecting 10,000 of its citizens. As I prepared to begin, I was excited about the possibility of learning more about this new culture through the opportunity to help children.

My first day at Conviven I was ready to take charge, and felt I could handle anything. I was in for a rude awakening. I was placed in a class with thirteen children from ages five to eight. I was responsible for teaching them English words and concepts. I quickly learned that I would have to speak Spanish in order for them learn English. I struggled with my rusty Spanish, and at times, the students were my teachers. Hand gestures and acting out themes was routine; I was responsible for their curriculum, and tried to be creative and resourceful. Many students were eager to learn while others were shy and unresponsive.

Over the course of my teaching at Conviven, I was amazed at the different relationships I built with the students and volunteers. The students all became dedicated and responsive to my teaching style. I was thankful for each student that came to class after attending a full day of school.

I realized it was the small triumphs that made the difference. Many students were not going to conquer the English language in the time I was there, but their dedication to working relentlessly makes me believe that they will master the language in the future, and reminded me that with persistence and dedication, any goal can be achieved.

Serge: my first day as a volunteer with Conviven

Serge from Austria started work with Conviven in November 2009. This is his account of his first day:

It feels fantastic over here! Today I had my first meeting with the NGO Conviven that I'll be working with and it made a big impression. It's a modest facility with little means, situated on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. I need an hour to get there by bus and it's not the best area (I finally needed much longer because there was a demonstration going on organised by the unions - literally thousands of protesters in a procession moving up the the Avenue 9 Julio, the main artery of the city).

The children at Conviven really benefit from the good work the organisation does. The kids aged from 6 to 12 benefit from English language classes but also from art and theatre workshops and other things. They all come from underprivileged families and the government education system for them is terrible. The classes are overflowing with 40 children sometimes and the teachers are often unqualified. They can participate voluntarily and for free in the organisation's classes and activities, which is of course intended to give them useful real-world skills but in large part also just to get them off the streets and expose them to positive-minded role-models from whom they get far more attention than in their public schools.

The organisation, Conviven, is badly equipped and always needing basic materials such as books, stationary etc. But the people working there are full of heart and are all wonderful positive individuals. They are from international backgrounds and most of them are young students volunteering during a gap year or in combination with their education or are simply doing it on the side while working. But there are also people who have come for no other reason than to do good and make a small but precious difference in a community whose youth desperately needs that kind of positive influence. Tomorrow I will be supporting another volunteer in holding an art class which is becoming increasingly popular with the children.

Although today was my first day with Conviven, this evening after work I ended up going with a few colleagues to an event held by other NGOs with the purpose of bringing together volunteer organisations (who are active in Argentina but also other South American nations) for exchange and meeting. All volunteers and would-be volunteers were also invited. The purpose of the event was for NGOs to acquaint themselves with other NGOs and make ties as well as for prospective volunteers to find out about volunteering options and to meet organisations with different aims and needs. I can tell you there was a lot of positive energy and goodwill in that room. I have never seen something like it and it was invigorating! We even recruited two volunteers, one teacher and another to organise the library and improve the website

On Friday I will be assisting an NGO that combats AIDS, called Fundacion Huesped, in making a movie which they make once every year, and which will be showing on Argentinian television on international Aids day December st. Apparently they need extras to play the role of students. This is their website: I made many interesting encounters at that NGO conference with positive-minded people and it turned out to be a very fruitful evening. It feels like there is so much happening and that there are so many options. Its very exciting and I'm looking forward with much hope and optimism.