It’s so hard to believe that I’m now officially done with my mission work here in Tucuman. These past six weeks have FLOWN by faster than I could have imagined and I truly am grateful for this amazing experience that I’ve had teaching English in Argentina. Yesterday I returned from my last three day mission trip to La Soledad and I have to say that it was definitely the icing on the cake for my experience here. This mission was a little bit different than my past two missions to La Soledad. This mission was three days long (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) and we went with about 25 volunteers. Some of these volunteers are secondary school students at Santa Rosa and others have already graduated and are studying in the University now. I knew some of these volunteers before I left for the mission from various activities throughout my past 6 weeks here and others I recognized from visiting their English classes or going with them on the retreat. The leaders that went with us were Rossana, Sister Mariana and Sister Vicky. Sister Mariana and Sister Vicky are both also Dominican Sisters but they live in the other convent in Tucuman, which is very close to the convent that I’m staying in. Below is a picture of the Chapel and little house that we stay in at La Soledad:
We left for the mission at around 8:30 AM on Monday morning and arrived in La Soledad around 10:30. After unpacking the bus and getting settled in, it was time to do some home visits! There are about 50 families that are considered part of La Soledad (they are very, very spread out so we often have to walk about 30 or 40 minutes just to get to one house from where we stay). Each of the volunteers has a “zone” that they are assigned to when they first become a volunteer for La Soledad. These zones consist of about 5 families that each volunteer gets to know very well and each time they come to La Soledad for mission trips, they visit the same families in their zone each time so they can continue to build their relationship with them. I went with one of the volunteers named Flor to her zone, which was about a 30 minute walk from the chapel that we stay at. Although it was far, it was very nice to walk with her and get to know her better. She is 20 years old just like me and is studying Economics at the University of Tucuman. We had very nice visits at the houses. We sat and talked to them about what us new in their lives, played with the kids, drank mate and ate bread and it was very nice getting to know the families. We also reminded all the families that we were having a clothes fair that afternoon so they can all remember to come to the chapel and buy some used clothes for their families for a very cheap price.
After our visits to the families, Flor told me on our walk back that one of the families in her zone that we had just visited has been having a lot of problems with abuse in their household. She told me that the father is very violent with his wife and all their children and even though they hide it, some of the other volunteers have seen marks and bruises on the children. There have been times when the mother has had to leave with the children and go to stay in neighbors or other peoples houses in La Soledad, but they can only stay in other houses for so long before they need to go back home. Some of the other women in La Soledad notified the police about the abusive father and so they came to try to take the father away but he his from the police so they were never able to take him. The family is in a very difficult situation; they are not able to leave because the father is the only one in the family who works and makes money because the mom stays home to take care of the children. It was very difficult to hear about this horrible situation and it broke my heart to see that the family is in such a tough place. However, I am happy that now that the volunteers and leaders from La Soledad know about this bad situation, they are able to have some control over it and look out for the family a little bit better. This is just one of the bad situations that the families in La Soledad face–there are many other problems that many have to deal with as well. I am very glad that this community has volunteers like the group I went with this time to give love, care and help to these people a few times per month.
Below are some pictures from the home visits:
Once we all returned from our home visits and ate lunch together, it was time to start setting up for the clothes fair! (The last time I was at La Soledad we had a clothes fair as well..the clothes fair this time was for all the leftover clothes from last time and some additional new clothes that we brought as well). The clothes fair was very successful and just like last time, people were lined up outside waiting to come in and buy clothes. Right when it his 3 oclock, the time the clothes fair began, the mothers ran in and began grabbing articles of clothes. In no time, each mother was carrying piles of clothes to buy. I think these clothes fairs are a great opportunity for families to be able to have clothes for their families. These are really the only times that most of these families get clothes for their families so I think that it is wonderful for the volunteers at La Soledad to run these fairs.
Day 2 at La Soledad was very busy as well. In the morning, we once again visited the same families as the day before to talk with them, spend time with them and also tell them about the exciting events that were about to happen later in the afternoon! We told them that we were going to be having Communion classes for the children preparing to receive their first communion as well as Confirmation classes for those who are about to receive their Confirmation. In addition, we told them about the little tutoring session that we were holding for all the children who would like to attend and also that during this time we would be playing a movie for all the women in La Soledad (with popcorn too!). After the classes and movie ends, we told them that we will also be having a prayer service for everyone to attend.
We had a very good turnout at the confirmation and communion classes as well as at the tutoring session. Before we started the classes, I taught the group of children two songs in English as an ice breaker. We first sang the Hokey Pokey and then the song Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. I first demonstrated the songs for the children and then we all did it together. Most children love singing and dancing, so this was a great way to start and get the students energetic and excited. They had so much fun when we started singing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes faster and faster and faster. This was a great way for them to be able to learn how to say the words of some parts of the body and have fun with it as well. Below are some pictures:
We split all the students up into three groups for the tutoring session (Oldest students, middle age students and very young children). With the very young students, two volunteers worked with them to read two little books that were good for their age level. The middle aged students read a book about farm animals together as a group and then after I held a little English lesson for them. Similar to La Bombilla and when I was teaching up in the mountains, these children really did not have any English experience at all (even though it is technically a law for students to learn English in all schools in Argentina), so we started from the beginning. The English lesson went very well and the students did a great job. I always have so much fun with the children at La Soledad, they are always so excited to learn and they love asking how to say words in English because they never have the opportunity to speak with anyone in English. Below are some pictures from the different classes as well as my English lesson:
After the classes were over and the women finished watching their movie, we then had a small prayer service with all the people who were there. It was very nice, we sang some songs, read some verses from the Bible, and received the Eucharist as well. At the end of the prayer service, two of the volunteers walked around and placed either a statue of Jesus or the Virgin Mary on each person’s head for a few seconds. This is an old tradition that began in the mountains with the Indian people. They believe that by doing this, God is sending His grace into each person who’s head it is placed on. I had never seen a tradition like this, but it was very powerful experience for everyone. I thought this was a bit strange at first, but then when someone explained to me the meaning behind it, I thought it was an amazing thing to do. Below are some pictures from the prayer service:
Then it was day 3…In the morning, starting at 10am, the volunteers held Catechesis classes for any children that wanted to attend. While these classes were going on, me and three other volunteers walked to some other houses to deliver some food. This was a very nice experience because I was able to see some families that I hadn’t seen since my last visit to La Soledad and I got to meet some new families as well. When we came back, the Catechesis classes had ended and it was unfortunately time to start getting packed up and ready to leave. (It was game day for Argentina in the World Cup so everyone was anxious to get on the road so they could make it home in time to see the beginning of the game!).
One of the families who live next door to the chapel that we stay at in La Soledad always loves to be with the volunteers and the children love to come play with us whenever we have down time or sometimes they come and share meals with us as well. The family is wonderful and I have gotten to know the mother (Sandra) and the three children very well during my three visits to La Soledad. During my first time at La Soledad, when I held a little English lesson for a few children, Sandra attended the English lesson as well. I talked with her a lot afterwards too and she told me that she has been working very hard to try and learn English. She was taking notes during the English class that I held for the children and I worked with her on her English individually a little bit as well. When it was almost time to leave Sandra and her three children came over to say one last goodbye to me because they knew it was my last visit to La Soledad. With tears in her eyes, Sandra handed me a note and we then said our goodbyes. It was so sad saying goodbye to her and her three precious children. She told me that I would always be in her heart and she couldn’t thank me enough for the work that I have been doing here in La Soledad as well as throughout Tucuman. She truly is such a special person that I have had the pleasure to meet and I will never forget her. When I opened the note she gave me on the bus ride home from La Soledad, it brought tears to my eyes too. It said:
Reading this note (written in ENGLISH) made me so incredibly happy and could not have been a better end to my mission work here in Argentina. I was so proud of Sandra and how far she has come with her English, not only with my help but with all of her hard work as well. I was so nervous and scared before coming to Argentina–being in a foreign country for 6 weeks was scary enough, but especially by myself in a place where I am not even fluent in the language. However, throughout this journey, I kept reminding myself that my time here in Argentina is not about me…it’s about all the people I am trying to help and serve; all the people who are in need and who I can possibly improve their lives just a little bit. This note that I received from Sandra showed me that these six weeks that I have spent here have been beyond worth it. God certainly had a plan for me when I was blessed enough to receive the Smith Fellowship and come to Argentina to experience all these amazing things and meet all these wonderful people. Now that I am done with my mission work here in Tucuman, I look back on all the classes I’ve taught, children (and adults) I’ve worked with, and I could not be happier. What an amazing experience this has been; I can only hope that I have made half as much of an impact on the people here that they have made on me.
Below is a picture of me, Sandra, and her three children as we were saying our goodbyes.
Now that my mission work has concluded, I have a few more days before I return back to the United States to travel! Sister Cynthia, her niece Milu and I are going on a three day trip to visit some of the beautiful places in Argentina that I have not seen yet! In my next post, I can’t wait to tell you all about my experiences as a tourist! Adios!