My experience with VIDES Argentina was three months filled with love and learning. I really believe the children and the community welcomed me wholeheartedly for which I am so grateful. Sharing stories, meals and journeys with so many was what made this for me not a tourist expedition but a time spent taking part in people’s lives, and them in mine. I lived with five Sisters and one volunteer from Argentina. Each day we had lunch and dinner together, went to Mass together, and served at the Centro de Día (Day Centre). The kids would come after school at 1 pm. We would give them a small lunch, then we would help them with their homework for a few hours. I mostly helped with English homework, but I did a little math as well. We had a recess time where we would play soccer (the kids love soccer!), and finished the day off at 5 pm with bread and jam, and either hot chocolate or a warm drink called mate cocido. My favourite part of the day was working one-on-one with each student and getting to know their personalities, tendencies and the things they were good at as well as things they struggled with. I loved working at the Centro de Día, as I am a newly graduated teacher! I was able to combine my love for being with children with practicing in a real educational setting. I learned that teaching requires a lot more patience (from both sides) than I had previously thought — especially if the teacher and the student speak different languages!
I struggled most with language. Let me explain: I practiced a lot of Spanish before I arrived in Argentina, but having never taken Spanish in school I was limited to what I had taught myself, and I was not exactly mentally prepared for speaking with people all in Spanish without much option for English. I could function in a basic way, and I learned so much as time passed, but with the language I felt the most vulnerable. I read a book by Jean Vanier that helped me called “Becoming Human,” and he addresses this feeling of loneliness. Not always understanding things that people were trying to communicate to me was profound loneliness, and so was trying to communicate things to people without all the vocabulary to do so. What helped me a lot was practicing with Spanish exercises everyday, watching tv shows and listening to music in Spanish, as well as taking breaks from having to think so hard, by chatting on Skype with family and friends back home. I am now happy to say that I often use the language skills I learned to communicate with Spanish-speaking friends here in Canada, but it wasn’t easy!
What I loved most about being in Argentina was the loving community I encountered. Though I couldn’t always grasp every word, the Sisters, volunteers, children at the Centro de Día, and my wider neighbourhood welcomed me with smiles, hugs and lots and lots of food! I must say that I did witness poverty and family conflict, and I don’t want to paint a picture of the place and the people as perfect, because none of us humans are. However, looking back at the hospitality and love that I felt, and my growth in the particular virtues of love, joy and patience, have helped me to better recognize Jesus in all people and situations. I can say for certain that going to Argentina for that particular time in my life was in God’s plan for me, and I hope that I am a better human being and a better Christian because of it.
May Our Lord, and Mary Help of Christians be always close to your heart.