In September, a group of students from the Lincoln School of Buenos Aires traveled up to Recreo, Santa Fe for a week of volunteer work with HPHA. As Lincoln is an international school, members of the group hailed from all parts of the world – the US, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, the Netherlands and Germany! It was a great opportunity for them to see another side of Argentina, as well as learn about one of the country’s indigenous groups, the Mocoví.
The Mocoví is an ethnic group that resides primarily in the north of the country. Within the provinces of Santa Fe, Chaco, Corrientes and Santiago del Estero, there are around 15,000 Mocoví, with Recreo being home to one of the largest communities. They even have a Mocoví school, where the children learn about the language, history and culture. It was here that the students from the Lincoln school, along with two of their teachers, helped Vero and her family begin a “Casa Semilla,” a Habitat program that seeks to address the most pressing needs of families without repairable homes or infrastructure to improve.
The “Casa Semilla” project works to reflect the current economic situation in Argentina. Whereas the most common Habitat methodology is to build complete homes, here we’ve found that this does not allow us to reach as many member of our target population, as inflation has increased construction costs significantly. Instead we provide loans (at around half the price of the loan for a complete house) to low-income families so that they can begin building a core house, which includes a bathroom and kitchen with installations for plumbing, exterior walls and roof for a general living area with a cement floor to avoid flooding, and a septic tank for waste. As these aspects of the house relate most greatly to the health and well-being of the family, we believe these aspects of the house should be focused on first. Additionally, we also provide the family with a blueprint for a complete house so that after this first phase is completed, the family has the plan to make use of additional loans to develop their living space. The family can continue the process, building on the hours of hard work they have already put into it. In this way, the most basic needs of the family are addressed and a solid foundation for future growth has been put into place.
When the Lincoln students arrived in Recreo, Vero was still in the early stages of the building process. The walls had been partly constructed, but not much else. The main tasks at hand were quite strenuous – cutting down and removing a tree from the site, digging a deep hole for the septic tank, and making sure the ground for the main room was level and well-packed so that cement could be poured (if done poorly, the cement can crack), not even to mention the task of moving the construction materials from the street (where they were dropped off) to behind the house (where they could be kept safely).
It was a lot of work, but those teenagers worked hard! They toiled side by side with Vero all week, shoveling, mixing cement and carrying bricks (of course, with some breaks to play with Vero’s children and the adorable puppies running around).
And she was just amazed at how these young kids were willing to work, never showing how tired they were. It was a very new experience for both parties; for Vero and her family to open their home to foreigners offering their time without anything in exchange, and for the students to see a reality very different from that which they have experienced in Argentina. The group also had the opportunity to learn about Mocoví history through a performance that the local students put on at the school.