A long overdue blog:
Buenos Aires, August 8th
My friend Mariano from the excellent Vi Luz y Entre hostel has agreed to take me on a mission to one of the Buenos Aires slums. We want to meet a local priest who has set up a successful community project supporting the local kids. We haven’t been able to get in contact with the priest so we are just going to stroll into the slum and hope we can track him down. It isn’t without risk.
We park the car up at a supermarket a few hundred yards from the slum, leave most of our valuables in the car and walk into the shanty town. This isn’t particularly clever but it is a calculated risk. If it starts to feel too dangerous, hopefully we can backtrack.
Mariano has done his homework and we manage to find the small chapel and community centre without too much trouble. It is mid-afternoon and we don’t seem to have attracted too much unwanted attention.
The priest won’t be around until after dark and one of the workers from the community centre is scolding us for our foolishness. He says that walking in here without members of the local community with us is dangerous and foolhardy. He tells me I can take a couple of photos but then we need to leave promptly because they cannot guarantee our safety. We have ten minutes. If we stay twenty, we could get problems. Mariano swaps phone numbers, I capture a couple of images of the slum sports pitch project and the community centre, and we make tracks back to the car, watching our backs along the way.
I am very disappointed to not meet the priest and get full details of the slum project to share with you. In the evening, however, I do get the opportunity to witness first hand a very special project in Buenos Aires. Started just a couple of years ago, the project is both simple and effective:
Meeting at 8pm each evening at a designated spot in downtown Buenos Aires, volunteers meet, split up into around a dozen groups, and follow a designated walking route, meeting the homeless of the Argentine capital. The project is coordinated by the good people of Red Solidaria. During the winter months they give out blankets, cups of hot soup, provisions such as shampoo, but most importantly perhaps, they show a genuine sense of caring, concern and love towards the people they meet on the street. I have to say the experience is totally humbling and gives me a new insight into the plight of the homeless. The volunteers I accompany seem to possess more individual empathy than a dozen people put together. They are lovely human beings who give up each Monday evening to help improve the lives of others. Gorgeous Gi (who is in the band Profuga de Agua) is fortunately fluent in English and helps me to communicate with my other new friends over the course of the three hours we spend together as well as with those we meet during the evening, less fortunate than us.
The nights are cold in Buenos Aires during the winter and there are plenty out on the streets struggling to keep warm. We meet a couple with two young kids, a group of teenage boys, a large group of individuals with drug and alcohol problems, an extended family living in temporary tents, a former top lawyer who sleeps in a door way, a lady who sifts through rubbish every night so she has enough to pay for her daughter to go to school. The stories of how they all got here are all so different. You understand that short moments and seemingly unimportant decisions end up shaping the whole of your life in ways in which you could never imagine.
I will bring you detailed information about this project at a later date but I think it is important to realise that this project can be adapted to any city or town that has a homeless issue, of which most do. Get together with a couple of friends and set out to try and help and get to know the homeless one night. If you feel you have gained anything positive from this experience, then try to go back a week or two weeks later and maybe encourage others to join you. Before you know it you will have made a massive positive change to the lives of others and I am sure you will feel fantastic in yourself for having done it.
You can read more about Red Solidaria by following this link. Most internet browsers now offer language translation options, so although the site is in Spanish, you will be able to instantly translate it into English through Google Chrome, for example.
You can also read more about the other organisations that More Than a Game likes and supports by following the link to our 'Projects we like' page.
Photos (c) Justin Walley & morethanagame.info 2011