Last week I started my volunteering project, which is called Vecinitos, or Little Neighbors, a little hole in the wall place out in Soldati that serves free lunch to 100+ kids and a few adults 5 days a week. My roommate Kim, and our friend Bridgitte (from Chapman!) went together. It was their second time, but my first.
Soldati is the neighborhood in Buenos Aires where this place is located. It is a much poorer area than tourists ever go to, and is a big change from my middle class neighborhood where I live with my host family, but it isn’t the poorest area of BA. It isn’t really safe to take pictures there, because I don’t want to get mugged, but maybe some day I will take pictures inside the dining room. Maybe the org. that sent me there has some on file I can show you…Anyway, if you are familiar at all with Tijuana, Mexico, it’s like that, but the houses are more solid. There are places in BA where you can find houses made of cardboard, but that’s not where this is. In Soldati, they have dirt roads and a LOT of garbage out on the streets, and behind houses, etc.
It is safe for us to go there during the day, but that’s especially because there are three of us together. Kim and Bridgitte found a woman there the first week while they were looking for Vecinitos, and we stopped by her place again, and she walked us to where we were going. We thought she just wanted to so we could visit, but then when Matilda, one of the women who volunteers there every day, walked us to our metro stop afterward, we realized they think we need protection in that neighborhood, which we definitely appreciate. While we were waiting for the metro, Matilda was telling us a bit about herself and asking us a few questions, but she really wasn’t talking a LOT, and then she told us that we shouldn’t really talk too much in that area because people would know that we aren’t from there. It’s VERY interesting.
Vecinitos itself is a government funded free lunch program. It is in a fairly small building that may or may not have some living space above it. The ground floor is a big dining room with prob. 5 tables in it that seat from 8-15 people each. There is a kitchen past that, and 6 or 7 women that are there every day to cook food and wash dishes, but only 2 or 3 of them are paid, the rest are volunteers, and all of them live in that neighborhood. The government only provides a small amount of money, but they do provide all the food. This location has been operating for 16 years, and Matilda has been there the whole time. She told us it was better before, but since the economic crisis in 2001, there’s still enough food, but as much variety, etc. It’s incredible that they have these lunch places set up the way they do, and evidently they are pretty common in those parts of town, but they are lacking, you know, it could always be better, but it is a good system. I think the main thing is that the women there should be employed, but there isn’t always money for that.
So they pretty much have their routine down, but what they need us for is to serve the food to the kids. They dish it up on plates from small to large and then serve the littlest kids first. We just run food out from the kitchen and make sure everyone is fed and that they have enough water and bread out at the tables. The kids are SO cute, but there isn’t really any opportunity to talk to them, so that’s a bummer. The volunteers there are really cool though, and have really interesting backgrounds, so I will be interested to get to know them better in the next few weeks. We have time to chat with them when we clean up afterward, so I’ll have to take advantage of that.
Marcelo is Matilda’s son, and he was really helpful in telling us what we need to do, and I don’t think he speaks any English, but he’s really patient and explains things really well and speaks clearly. He even taught Kim a bunch of new words that she’s going to have to teach me. It’s a great opportunity to get out into the city and do something for someone else, even though it’s just a small contribution. We’ll see what happens with that! God does amazing things with seemingly small opportunities, so I’m just going to keep my eyes open and serve the best that I can.