The month of September brought sunshine and more Global Villages to HFHA, including a group from St. Luke’s, a Lutheran church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The congregation has had a connection to Argentina for some time now, through previous brigades with HFHA and through the growing relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and La Iglesia Evangélica Luterana Unida de Argentina y Uruguay (IELU). Thanks to these bonds, this particular brigade was able to participate in both construction work and spiritual development.
From the first day of orientation, it was clear the importance of faith in the members’ journey to Argentina. In attendance throughout the week were Pedro, delegate of IELU, and David, who with his wife has been serving as ELCA Global Mission Regional Representatives for South America for the past five years. Pedro and David were vital in facilitating the interaction between St. Luke’s and the various churches the group visited within Argentina during their stay. The volunteers had the opportunity to attend local services, schools and community centers, and despite the challenge of the language barrier, the group gained a great deal from the sermons and the interaction with the congregants.
In addition, three members of the brigade, along with David and Veronica, a seminary student, set off for a few days on a medical mission to San Gregorio, Santa Fe province. There, along with local doctors, church members and social workers, they assisted the local Lutheran mission congregation in evaluating the current public health infrastructure, assessing risks and identifying the needs of the community by conducting home visits with families and meetings with hospital staff.
While this process was taking place in Santa Fe, the rest of the group threw themselves into their tasks in La Matanza. Working in the settlement Un Techo para Todos (A Roof for All) within the community of 22 de Enero, the brigade spent the week rotating among families and various construction tasks. With an unlimited source of enthusiasm, they split up daily into different groups, tagging each with a creative team name.
No dirt pile was left unturned, and the amount accomplished was truly impressive. They assisted families both with and without HFHA loans (the latter identified by volunteers within the settlement) in laying dirt to ready the ground for cement floors at multiple housing sites, pouring concrete (mixed by hand!) into columns to create the skeleton of a new house, raising a front yard to avoid future flooding and building a ramp for the special-needs child of one of the families.
In just a few days, they were also able to dig a hole of 7 feet for the septic tank of a new Seed House. It was extremely difficult work digging and lifting out the dirt and clay mixture, but by the end, the volunteers needed a ladder just to climb out. Additionally, they had the innovative idea to use the excavated dirt to fill the holes on the unpaved road in front of the work site. A neighbor saw this and started doing the same with extra dirt from his own construction materials. It was great to see such a good idea spread throughout the community!
But the most significant aspect of the week was the atmosphere of warmth and open communication between the volunteers and the families. There was a great deal of sharing between the locals and the international volunteers – of mate, of music (creating new fans of the local cumbia hit “Por Panamericana”), of empanada recipes, of stories about their children. Many of the families were excited and so thankful to have “important” foreigners come into their homes. In response to these very gracious sentiments, the brigade came up with “igual, igual,” to express the simple but important notion that we are all equals – that no one is better than anyone else simply because of where they come from or how much money that have. We are all the same.