SANTA FE, Argentina (April 18, 2012) – A team of 14 from the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Malaysia arrived on March 26, 2012 and became the first group to work on a new initiative in Villa del Parque and Barracitas Sur in the city of Santa Fe.
Habitat for Humanity Argentina (HPHA) began working in Santa Fe starting with projects in Complete House construction and Progressive Improvements in Recreo, Santa Fe in 2003 and has since hosted 26 Global Village teams. Just this year however, HPHA embarked on a new partnership with the local organization ACDI (Cultural Association for Integral Development) to assist families in the neighborhoods of Villa del Parque and Barranquitas Sur. While the original project in Santa Fe was launched outside the city limits, this new endeavor will be carried out in the eastern part of the city close to downtown. It is here that HPHA invited the first team to engage and empower local residents through mutual assistance and an atmosphere of volunteerism.
The site that awaited the international volunteers on their first day of work was, at the onset, one of dirt alleyways that had been filled with mud from the previous night’s rain, followed by a ten-minute walk through pure trash. While some members of the team had previous experience working with Habitat for Humanity in Romania, Portugal, Brasil, the United States, and Canada, the conditions that they faced were unlike any they have previously seen. Inadequate housing and precarious living situations are widespread here; “slum” doesn’t begin to describe the first thought one has upon entering the community. Most families have four to nine people living together in one-room houses; walls are put up with corrugated tin, broken bricks, cinder blocks, or whatever material can be found; doors are few and far between; and one is greet by darkness upon entering most houses due to a lack of windows or electricity.
However, despite the challenges, the team was greeted by family members excited and ready to work with the first Americans and Canadians they had ever met in their lives. The children smiled playfully from behind their parents legs, shy yet eager to meet the new people that stood at their doorstep. It was the start of something new, something better. The volunteers immediately walked up to the families with a smile, positive attitude, and a timid “hola”, ready to jump in wherever they could. And did they!
Together, the team logged more than 250 volunteer hours in both construction work and community development activities. Collaborating along side three distinct families, the team helped to advance the auto-construction process of one Seed House and two Progressive Improvements. In doing so, they were able to excavate two septic tanks, one of which has now fondly become known as “the hole” for the three days of backbreaking work that was required to pump out the water, mud, and trash to make way for the cement rings that would become the support structure. They moved over 3000 bricks and 15m2 of cement, sand, and rock; they laid the foundation for what will eventually become a living room; they demolished a wall and began putting up a new one; they painted eight windows and three pieces of furniture in the community center; they aided in the installation of a new roof, and affixed new bathroom plumbing. They also spent a morning with students at the local school helping them to paint hopscotch squares and other games in the courtyard.
In addition to the physical labor, they became friends with the locals that they were working with – sharing mate, the Argentine kiss, and a few stories along the way. Most would say that the actual facts and figures of what they were able to accomplish pales in comparison to the impact that the families made on them. In the end, the team remarked that the experience had opened their eyes to a different Argentine reality and that the build challenged them to look at their own lives in a new way.
While the volunteers called the trip “life changing” because of the individual interaction they had with the community members, the local families called their first experience with an international team transforming because of what they were able to learn. Habitat calls that success.
Courtney is a long-term volunteer from the US working as a Field Assistant for Brigades in the HPHA National Office.