¡Hola amigos de Hábitat para la Humanidad Argentina! I just wanted to stop by to introduce myself to you all (and I’m only one post late!). My name is Gillian – I recently started working as a long-term volunteer at HPHA’s national office. I’ll be supporting the team doing international resource development until March 2011.
Born and raised in New York, I decided to transition into a career within the sphere of non-governmental organizations from a job in entertainment production. Having lived in Buenos Aires as an English teacher after college, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to come back to Argentina and work for such an important issue in this country. And I’m confident that this experience will change my life in so many ways.
Although I began with the national office just over two weeks ago, already I’ve gained a much deeper insight into the housing problems faced by millions in this country both in the capital and throughout the interior. I’ve so far only had the opportunity to see the urban communities in which HPHA works, which has been a study in contrasts, to say the least. For locals going about their daily routines, it seems fairly easy for many of them to look past the poverty Buenos Aires province. For visitors and tourists, while the homelessness and villas (slums) are plainly visible around the airport and major transit stations, the distractions are plentiful – the beautiful buildings, the delicious food, the fashionable boutiques, the rolling countryside dotted with estancias (ranches). But it is shocking how close to each other these two worlds exist. Behind the colorful facades of La Boca’s Caminito lies the unfortunate reality of overcrowded conventillos (tenements). From the heights of the luxury apartment buildings and hotels of Retiro and Recoleta, it is possible to see directly into the villa surrounding the train tracks and under the highway. It is the painful truth of progress, with which the necessary housing and community infrastructure can’t keep up.
But at the same time, I’ve been exposed to another important truth: that there are selfless and loving people both here and abroad that give so much of themselves (be it time, money or physical effort) to fix the housing problems around the world. While I’ve participated in volunteer projects in the past, last week I had my first chance to work with an Aldea Global (Global Village) brigade that came to work for a week in an asentamiento (informal settlement) in Buenos Aires. Although I was not at the work site for their whole stay, I feel lucky that I was able to be a small part of the experience. When a GV comes to work with us, we spend some time encouraging everyone to talk about their views on poverty, why they decided to spend their vacation volunteering abroad, how they hope this trip can be part of the change in the families’ lives as well as their own. I was not necessarily expecting to feel emotionally involved listening to a discussion among people I just met, but the passion, sincerity and humility conveyed through their words were very touching. The desire to help comes forth so strong and while each individual understands that their personal commitment might not completely fix the situation, it is a shared belief that each person can play their part. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do for a living, where you come from, how old you are, what faith you belong to, what you have – there is always a way you can help those in need.
On that note, I’ll wrap this up (until my next installment about our most recent Global Village with our friends from Central Arizona, coming soon!). I look forward to keeping you all informed of the great things we have planned for the coming months, and I hope you’ll do your part in spreading HPHA’s message of “fe en acción” (faith in action) to relieve the problem of inadequate housing in Argentina.