Volunteering in Tablada, ArgentinaDecember 12, 2005
Elizabeth Thorne - ArgentinaIn June 2005, I traveled to Argentina to work with a church there. It was an incredible opportunity for me. I had just graduated from college, and would be starting my master’s in the fall, but I really had no plans for the summer. I just knew I wanted to do something different, something that would challenge me and also be fun. My brother, who is a Disciples minister, recommended that I contact Global Ministries to see if there were any opportunities to volunteer for the summer. I was immensely pleased, then, to learn of an opportunity to serve in Argentina.
I worked with La Inglesia de Discupulos de Cristo, which is located in Tablada, Argentina, about an hour and a half bus ride from the center of Buenos Aires. The church serves the neighborhood of Tablada, including several slums (villa de emergencia), by offering a variety of services. The church’s main services are to the children of the area.
The church offers a kindergarten program for five-year-olds from the area. Everyday, children from the neighborhood come to the school where they follow a curriculum designed by an education specialist. They also are fed lunch and a snack, which many times is the only food they will get in a day. These children come from families that would generally be too poor to afford kindergarten (because it is not part of the public school program in Argentina) so would enter school far behind their peers who had attended classes as a five-year-old. By teaching the children to count and read, the church gives them a chance to succeed in school. In addition to regular curriculum, much time is spent teaching children acceptable behavior. All of the children come from the poorest areas of Tablada. They generally live without running water or electricity, and are sometimes very violent. The teachers and staff at the church are incredibly kind and generous to the little kids, teaching them how to act and behave, and showing them that they are loved.
There is also an after-school program offered for teenagers who live in the neighborhood. On Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday teens come to the church after school to work on homework and make crafts. While I was in Tablada, we made paper mache animals out of old bottles and newspapers that the kids would be taking to a craft show later that year. The after-school program gives teens in the area a chance to have fun and socialize in a safe environment.
The church also supports a casa de comida, basically a food kitchen, which provides really good food to workers in the area. The food is extremely cheap, so nearly anyone can afford it, and it gives people living in Tablada an opportunity to get “restaurant” food—something that they normally wouldn’t be able to afford. My very favorite food from the casa de comida is a delicious torte. It’s basically ham and cheese (something like Swiss, I think) between two crusts that are similar to thin crust pizza-crusts. It is delicious.
Many (most, really) of my meals were eaten at the church because I spent most of my time helping with the little kids. Every day, two women from Tablada cook a delicious meal for the children. They serve a huge variety of food, from spaghetti to polenta, pizza to chicken fried steak. They also eat a lot of beef, from every part of the animal. The Argentineans have no qualms about eating it, but they understood about me not wanting to eat stomach, liver, or esophagus.
Finally, the church also has regular church services. There is a regular Sunday service, a Wednesday evening service, and a Thursday night Bible study. There is also a women’s group and a youth group, which meet weekly.
There is an enormous amount of poverty in Argentina now, largely because of problems with the economy. I knew before I left that I would see that poverty. I also knew that it would most likely have an impact on me. What truly moved me, though, was pretty simple. People in Tablada (and Corrientes, where I spent a wonderful week) were just so nice. They worried constantly about whether I was safe, and whether I was happy. They worried that I didn’t eat enough (well, the Gonzalez family has four boys, so compared to them, I didn’t eat that much) or that I was tired from playing with the kids. Keli, Osvaldo’s wife, constantly worried that I wasn’t warm enough, because it was winter there. When I got sick, Keli brought me hot lemon water, and offered to go to the store to get me anything I needed. It wasn’t for me, though, because I was special or from the US. They treated everyone with that same amount of kindness, and with that same amount of love.
I don’t think I know, yet, what impact this will have on my future. I know that I want to, in some way, serve Christ and serve His people. I know that poverty is much more devastating than I could have imagined. I think, though, that this trip emphasized something that I have always been taught, but maybe never really understood. It is important to love people, to take care of people. Every material thing you have can disappear in a flash--the stock market can fall, a tsunami or a hurricane can wash everything away. But what really matters is the love you give to other people. Nothing can take that away.
Elizabeth Thorne served as a Short-term Volunteer missionary with the Disciples of Christ in "La Tablada" in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Elizabeth helped out at the Community Center with their ministry to children at risk. She was also involved in the youth group activities of the church.
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