Pictures of the apartment

17 07 2010

We’ve finally uploaded pictures of our apartment. Find them here:

Independence Day in Rosario

13 07 2010

This weekend was Independence Day so we had a three day weekend. After much deliberation, we couldn’t decide where to go to and, more importantly, weren’t sure where we could get to without having bought bus tickets in advance. So we trekked to the bus station with a list of places we were willing to go, asked where we could get to first, and ended up on a bus to Rosario.

It was a beautiful city and we spent most of the weekend outside by the river. We walked a lot, ate a lot and did a lot of people watching. Here are some pictures:

The Comfort of La Plata

6 07 2010

I’m currently looking for a place to volunteer, particularly in the villas outside of La Plata. I’ve been feeling a strong urge to expose myself to new and uncomfortable situations, to confront head-on the challenges that accompany poverty and to meet new people. Thankfully, I am fortunate enough to be in a position to choose to deliberately expose myself to these things. I am lucky enough to get to put myself in these situations temporarily, use them as a learning tool, and then return to the luxury of an apartment in the city center when I’m done. And, hopefully—hopefully— I’m able to apply what I’ve learned to make a positive difference in the lives of the people and community where I decide to volunteer.

I was recently asked what surprised me most about coming to La Plata. At first, I couldn’t think of anything that had genuinely surprised me, but then it hit me. I was really struck by how comfortable, easy and, well, developed La Plata was. Having done FSD in Ciudad Sandino, Nicaragua, where there were two “paved” roads in the whole city and frequent water and electricity outages, I was constantly being thrown outside of my comfort zone, continually being reminded that I was in a world different from the one I had grown up in. Comparatively, La Plata seems like paradise, a walk in the park. With luxury home improvement stores, gyms and storefronts filled with the latest fashion on nearly every block, it doesn’t immediately seem like putting food on the table is a difficult thing for most people in the city. I just got a degree in international development, and THIS is where I’m working, I remember asking myself in disbelief when I arrived. While the overall standard of living here is certainly lower than in many places in the United States, most people seem to live in well-built houses with access to water, electricity, public transportation, medicine and education. There’s almost no homelessness and very little visible inequality.

Before we moved, I was clearly aware that the general level of development in Argentina was much higher than in Nicaragua, and than in many of the other places where we had applied for jobs. But there’s always a need, right? Even in the richest countries in the world, there are communities in desperate need of resources, training and hope. Of course this is true. It’s true in the US, and it’s true here. The communities where FSD Argentina works, often located in the outskirts of La Plata, are generally immigrant communities, where the residents don’t have access to the benefits offered by the government. Bolivians, Paraguayans and Peruvians work long hours for low wages in neighborhoods where they’re rejected and resented because they’re outsiders. And the Argentines we work with generally do receive the huge (and never-ending) welfare packages from the government; however, the strong history of clientelism here has lead to a culture where people lack the knowledge and the incentive to capitalize on their own skills, strengths and interests to improve their lives and grow their opportunities. So there is clearly a need, and I feel strongly that FSD’s partner organizations, with the technical assistance provided by international volunteers, are doing their best to address these needs.

The thing I struggle with is that I rarely make it to these communities. I rarely get to see firsthand the needs—and assets— found in the outskirts of the city where FSD volunteers work. I spend my days in the office, located in the city center, staring at a computer screen. I also spend a lot of time talking with the interns about the challenges they face as they implement their projects (which I love!), but I rarely find myself in their organizations or communities. And, unfortunately, that is just the nature of this position. It’s a project support position, which is primarily office-based. I knew that coming in, and I’m really happy that I’m doing it. I’m gaining valuable skills and meeting some great people, but it doesn’t allow me the direct connection to Argentine people that I’d like.

That is why it is time for me to find a way to plug in above and beyond FSD. I have this nagging voice in the back of my head, pleading to be “more in the field.” Begging me to make myself a little more uncomfortable, to expose myself to new situations that push my personal limits, and to meet those people who can’t afford the luxuries of the cappuccinos sold at Café Havanna or the leather boots on Calle 12. There are needs in and around La Plata, and providing support the interns is one way of helping to address those needs, but I’m ready to get my hands dirty and to get more directly involved.


Trip to Tigre

5 07 2010

This weekend María and I went to Tigre with the interns who arrived in May for their Midterm Retreat. Tigre is located 17 miles north of Buenos Aires on an island in the delta of the Paraná River. It’s a quant, touristy town known for its rowing clubs, amusement park and artisan fair.

We got lucky and had really warm, sunny weather while we were there. After watching the Argentine team get absolutely destroyed by Germany in the World Cup on Saturday, we took a relaxing boat trip through the various rivers and streams, weaving in and out of the different islands along the way. Then we browsed the artisan market, El Puerto de Frutos, before dinner. I didn’t buy anything, but the fair had some neat wicker furniture, paintings and clothing. The next day we went to the art museum, a beautiful, European building on the river’s edge that houses a small but impressive collection of Argentine paintings, before heading back to La Plata.

The purpose of the trip was to allow the interns to get out of the city (although these girls have been traveling every weekend since they got here!), reflect on their work with their host organizations and discuss any challenges they might be facing.

It was nice to get to know them all a little better and to talk to them about their experiences with their host organizations. The one thing that has been challenging for all of them is that the pace of life here is much slower, which can be frustrating and often leaves interns feeling like it’s impossible to accomplish anything in a 9-week internship. The key is to have realistic expectations, find ways to best utilize your strengths and to focus on a specific and narrow goal.

In addition, each and every one of the interns said this weekend (and I remember saying the same thing), that the experience has been a wonderful learning experience, they have just learned very different things than they expected to when they arrived. It seems like all of them are really enjoying their time here, and one of the girls is even going to move to Buenos Aires after her internship ends.

All in all, it was a very relaxing weekend. When I got back from Tigre, Tim, Ana and I ate cheeseburgers and apple crisp in celebration of the Fourth of July. Oh, and Argentina’s Independence Day is celebrated this Friday, meaning that it’s only a four-day work week! More from us soon.