Way back when, in 1998 to be more precise, I came to Argentina to volunteer for Aldeas Infantiles SOS for a year. And while I haven’t run a marathon for charity or anything like it since, the intervening years have seen me do my tiny bit for another local project called Todos Juntos.
It was this Anglo-Argentine foundation that British soul singer Joss Stone teamed up with in March to hand out 100 rucksacks filled with school kit to kids living in a Buenos Aires slum in March – a big moment that helped Todos Juntos raise its profile. As the only journalist accompanying the singer and the charity on this excursion, I got to witness Joss’s genuine interest and caring attitude first hand. Which got me thinking: which charities should travellers and visitors who are learning Spanish volunteer for? The following organisations are all great options if you’re looking to donate your time while in Buenos Aires.
If your Spanish teacher just cancelled a class, invest those few hours in something more productive than the subjunctive tense. Fundación Sí’s open-door policy means you can drop by its Palermo Hollywood HQ any time if you’re willing to be put to work sorting clothes or books, cooking, sewing or whatever needs undertaking that day. These past few weeks have seen volunteers making face masks for residents in Bariloche affected by the volcanic eruption in Chile and its ashes, for example.
Set up by lawyer Manuel Lozano and with bases in 18 cities in Argentina, the beauty of Fundación Sí is that it addresses all manner of needs as and when they arise, helping impoverished children via the Sí Pueden programme to creating a musical instruments bank or building a university residence in Santiago del Estero for students with limited economic means among others.
One ongoing project is Recorridas por el Frío, locating vulnerable people living on the street to give them a hot drink, snacks and some chat while acting as a bridge, offering advice on legal issues or employment as and when required. Started up by three volunteers in 2009, more than 2,000 volunteers now help out every night of the year.
On a walkabout in Recoleta with Fundación Sí; photo by Sorrel Moseley-Williams.
I went on the Buenos Aires city walkabout with Adriana, Sabrina and Nicolás to Recoleta, a neighbourhood normally known for its abundance in glitz and wealth; others went to Retiro and Congreso. We chatted to some regulars – who know what time to expect the volunteers – as well as some new faces, talking about their day while preparing a hot soup for them. To participate in walkabouts, simply turn up at 8pm any night at the corner of Riobamba and Mitre in Congreso.
Club Unión de los Pibes
When Club Acorn, an NGO that Atlanta transplant Will Aquino volunteered for, wrapped up its work in Buenos Aires, he and other helpers decided to continue best they could, literally with their own good will. Despite having no funding to speak of, in 2012 Acorn morphed into Club Unión de los Pibes – what Will calls a kids’ club without a physical clubhouse.
Young people hanging out at Club Unión de los Pibes; photo by Heliana Toledo.
Aiming to give adults and children a place to come together with the long-term goal of opening a community centre, he focuses on the city’s southern barrios Barracas and La Boca. Every weekend, he and a team of volunteers – mainly foreigners as well as a smattering of Argentines – head to a conventillo or tenement where various families reside in precarious living conditions. Kids from age five to 18 use it as a meeting point before heading out with Will and Pibes volunteers for an outing or afternoon of activities in a local park, such as sports or homework, encouraging them to play and learn together, before sharing tea-time. One outing recently saw the kids meet the US ambassador to Argentina at his Buenos Aires residence.
Given that it often takes time for these children to adapt to new adults joining the club, director Will requires volunteers to commit to at least three months or three Saturdays a month. He and his committee also organise fundraisers for the UK-registered NGO throughout the year.
Foundation Todos Juntos
When President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner declared in February that Argentina had the highest consumption of fizzy drinks per person in the world, Fiona Watson probably released a few expletives – and with good reason. She founded Todos Juntos in 2005 to offset that consumption and provide dental care to children living in the Greater Buenos Aires villas or slums. Why would people living on the bread line consume vast amounts of pop? Because the cheap bubbles fill up hungry bellies and sugar gives them energy while slowly rotting teeth, something Fiona says is a huge problem in the villas.
Besides funding dental clinics within already-established medical centres, this UK- and Argentina-registered NGO has also set up a nursery school and helps to cover basic needs and improve living conditions where it can within Buenos Aires’ slum communities.
Todos Juntos came into the spotlight in Argentina earlier this year when singer Joss Stone visited Villa La Cárcova in the San Martín district of Greater Buenos Aires with Fiona to distribute school kit donated by pupils from Lincoln School.
Joss Stone visiting kids with Todos Juntos; photos by Sorrel Moseley-Williams.
With regards to volunteering, Fiona always welcomes dentists or dental students looking to undertake work in the clinics as well as fundraisers looking to back a local charity – you can donate via Just Giving. One of her current aims is to raise money for bricks or chapa (tin) to improve housing conditions.
Benefactor of the Buenos Aires Chili Cook-off’s (an expat fundraiser) proceeds, Send A Child To School does what it says on the tin. Given that the academic year in Argentina kicks off in March, SACS volunteers are busy from November onwards, purchasing school supplies over the summer, filling backpacks with age-appropriate supplies and helping with the school selection process before distributing kit in February. In 2016 they hope to donate 1,500 kits.
Kids with their school supplies from SACS; photo courtesy of SACS.
That said, there are plenty of opportunities throughout the year to help out with this expat-led organisation based in BA’s northern suburbs. Hot on the heels of their Casino Royale event and auction at Palacio San Souci, organisers Stephanie Bruchou, Tina Montana and Marcia Williamson are currently planning a vintage sale for August. Moving back home or having a spring clean? Why not donate that bookcase or those trashy novels in English to SACS instead of trying to score a few last-minute pesos. They accept all manner of donations from furniture and clothes to sports equipment and kitchenware; reliable expat collection committee members pick up your wares. Even more importantly, SACS is looking for volunteers to work the day of the event.
English teachers wanting to undertake some pro bono work should get in touch with Centro Conviven, a centre that teaches English to children and adults near Mataderos. This is a twice-weekly commitment on Monday and Thursday afternoons and Conviven is looking to expand its classes to teach in Retiro’s Villa 31.
A more central project is Soles en el Camino, a chilren’s home in San Cristobal. They welcome foreign volunteers to help out with homework groups or go on outings.
Argentina has its own food bank or Banco de Alimentos, which helps to feed 93,000 people in and around Buenos Aires. An efficient organisation, the bank’s work is mainly manual and it’s a good place to meet Argentines.
Voluntarios Sin Fronteras organises numerous projects from serving lunch at soup kitchens in Villa Soldati to translation, teaching – language classes include French, German, Italian and English – and holding talks on HIV prevention. Their next meeting for potential volunteers is on 14 May at 7pm.
If sports and the great outdoors is more your bag, look into Fundación para el Atletismo Asistido, an NGO that helps disabled people to access recreational activities.
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