By: Felicita Invrea
I walk to the Sarandi station, twenty minutes from my house, and grab the train to go to my project. I have to change two trains and a “colectivo” (bus) crossing a section that crosses the Buenos Aires Conurbation, towards the South of the Province of Buenos Aires. On the train, full of people, women with babies, workers, housewives, every minute you hear the cry of the vendors who propose alfajores, pens, bags of consortium, candies and each kind of product. These screams accompany me throughout the trip and if at first they made me smile or sometimes despair, over time they began to become background noises, part of the environment, until I stopped paying attention to them. The journey takes an hour and a half and ends, between streets full of holes that make me jump every minute, in a humble neighborhood that has the name of Villa Independencia. In Buenos Aires there are two types of humble homes, the “miserias”, which are located in more centralized and urbanized places and the “informal settlements”, which can be found in rural areas. The difference between these two is that the towns are born as temporary places, in the hope of finding a better place to live, while the settlements from birth are conceived as permanent, therefore the construction of a more urban environment is foreseen stable, such as parks, courts, schools, kindergartens, among others.
Villa Independencia, despite the name, seems more like an informal settlement, born to face the overpopulation of that neighborhood in the 90s. Here came the picnic where I do my project, where every day from twenty to thirty boys and girls of all ages come to play, socialize, learn, paint, take the snack. The picnic was born in 2004 in a place much smaller than it is now. In the following years, thanks to the support of the Foundation that sponsors it and to a private donor that was committed to the cause, work began on another land to expand the building and now it is a fairly large place, with a nice patio in which Children can run and play. Here workshops are given by the Ministry of Social Development for free, with scholarships provided to boys and girls who want to participate, such as baking, professional makeup, computers, music. It also has a psycho-social and school support service. The person in charge is a kind lady, spends all her time in the picnic, it is like a job for her but without payment and receives everyone, be they children, parents, local or foreign volunteers, with a big smile and a few words of welcome.
After three months in that project, I asked for the opportunity to do another in parallel to be able to expand my knowledge about dining halls and educational organizations in Buenos Aires. The second place I started to go to was a small dining room in the neighborhood of La Boca, in front of the soccer stadium of the famous team La Boca Juniors, where Diego Armando Maradona played, which does not lack figurative representations anywhere. That neighborhood is very different than the other, here we are in the center of tourist interest, there are souvenir shops that sell T-shirts, flags and any object with the emblem of the team. Everything from the facades of the buildings and the stadium to the souvenirs sold in the stores, the furniture in the cafeterias and the decorations, everything is painted in the same two colors of the team: blue and yellow. In that neighborhood I see a soul of contrast, because on the one hand it is one of the most famous places and populated by tourists from Buenos Aires, on the other hand it is still poor and with a low level of security. The fame that it has is due to its particular urban aspect that has its roots in history. In fact, the first Genoese who migrated to Buenos Aires founded La Boca giving it the name of a Genova neighborhood (Boccadasse), and painted their metal houses with the colors left over from the boats of the nearby commercial port. That is why the houses have these particular characteristics, they are all made of sheet metal painted in different colors, thus forming a type of landscape that has become famous over time.
It is in this neighborhood that the dining room is located, in size and number of children that serves much smaller, in which I could expand the range of activities, for example providing school support to the children and helping to paint the place to make it more beautiful . With the attendant of the dining room and other collaborators, one night we went with a van to distribute food, clothes and shoes to families who live in a street situation, it was a nice experience. Another day we went to the pediatric division of a public hospital to give clothes and sheets to babies born prematurely. It is interesting for me to see the difference between the two organizations, one inserted into the urban fabric and the other away from the city. The children in the two canteens have different resources and attention, also those in charge have a way of relating to the different volunteers and for me the challenge is to take the good that both have and try to compensate for the disadvantages that each of the two projects has the advantages of the other.