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Posts Tagged ‘comedor’

Once on of the ten richest countries in the world, recurring political corruption and an economic crisis in 2001 has greatly impacted the economic stability of the country.

The Argentine “comedor” is a mixture of a soup kitchen and community forum depending on the location. Generally comedor’s provide one daily meal for people living in the community. These meals are either eaten at the comedor, or taken home to eat. Some comedors even act as a daycare or after school program where kids can come to do homework or other activities.

koehlerj-1My name is Jacquelyn, I am from Kansas City, Kansas. I graduated in 2006 with an economics degree and was unsatisfied in my job. Wanting to enter the world of microfinance, I felt hands on experience working for a microenterprise would be essential in getting a feel for how microloans effect a community. In June 2008, I came to Argentina to work with a comedor and the baking cooperative they wanted to implement.

La Estrategia de Caracol is located on a dirt street and is a light green building thanks to a fresh coat of paint. The neighborhood is referred to as an “ausentimiento” or essentially privately owned property that was usurped by people moving to the area after the 2001 economic crisis. Houses in the area are precarious built using any materials they could find, cardboard, tin, wood boards, bricks, concrete. The street running past the comedor is not paved (as a majority are not in the area), which also means that no services pass by, including trash trucks, so people have taken it upon themselves to throw their waste in the street. Just the other day I noticed a tennis shoe embedded in the dirt road…

koehlerj-3The building consists of two rooms, one for the comedor and one for a Panadería. The comedor side is slightly older and has a tin roof speckled with holes left by a hail storm last fall. (Eventually they will lay a thin layer of tar over the roof to prevent the leaking every time it rains.) During the week, a couple women come each morning to cook lunch for the community. Community members come with their own containers in order to take the food to their homes.

However, the kitchen is lacking various basic cooking utensils. The knives in the comedor are comparable to steak knives. These small knives are used to cut hard vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, and butternut squash, not an easy task – I have blisters to prove it! They did not have a can opener and one day I used a wooden stick to pound a broken knife blade and into 15 cans opening them inch by inch. After telling my host mom this, she immediately donated a small manual can opener which they have made good use of since. Old wooden cutting boards and stirring spoons are used, whose potential hazard for bacteria prevents me from eating the food as much as possible. The same three dirty, grungy dish towels are used over and I have never seen anything disinfected or a table washed with soap.

koehlerj-4This prompted me to raise funds from friends and family members in the U.S. in order to buy some of these kitchen supplies that you and I take for granted. Thanks to their great philanthropic spirits, over $400 was raised to buy these materials. In my final week here I will be buying the supplies for the comedor. I will also be holding a “hygiene” workshop to talk about proper cleaning and disinfecting procedures.

I accepted this internship to get experience working with a microenterprise. La Estrategia de Caracol started the idea of a panadería or bread baking cooperative early 2008 spurred by the construction of a mixed material oven due to the help of another local NGO, Biosfera, and the previous intern, Arvil. Thanks to a grant received by Arvil, they were able to buy many of the materials to realize the baking cooperative, including a 30 kilogram industrial mixer. However, when I arrived in Argentina, the baking cooperative had not yet been fully realized. The comedor provided a room in which the cooperative could be housed, but it need various repairs, including fully sealing the room (large cracks were left between the ceiling and walls), routing water and electricity from the other side of the comedor and adding locks and sufficient security to protect the expensive equipment. Many of the materials to do the repairs had already been bought with the previously received grant, the man power is what was needed. Marta’s husband, Daniel, was fully capable of doing most of the repairs, but was very busy with his job, so most of the work was put on hold.

My seeds fund grant was used to pay for some of the work to be done. My host dad, Claudio came and installed all the electric work (using both volunteered time and materials). Daniel installed the sink (though as of today water had not yet been installed.) The lock has been bought for the door. Once the lock is installed, materials can be moved to the panadería and the women in the community can start their business. Hopefully I will see some movement toward this by the time my internship ends next week.

koehlerj-5Working with the comedor and panadería has been quite an experience. It has taught me that expectation are not always met, and just because they are not met as intended does not mean that outcomes will not have an impact. It has been difficult for me to see work that is being done that I feel does not meet my “American” standards, but I have had to learn that what is acceptable for me and what is acceptable for them are two different things. They are making the best they can out of their limited resources. Whatever assistance I or other interns can give them along the way is greatly appreciated by them. We are then repaid with the satisfaction of knowing that the work we have done has hopefully helped them take another step towards a more sustainable future.

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“Promocionar y desarrollar integralmente al hombre, generando igualdad de accesos y oportunidades.” This is the central mission of Fundación Pro Humanae Vitae, a group of dedicated volunteers tied together by overpowering belief in the equal development of the human person in every sense of the word – economic, social, cultural, political, moral. Founded by Sra. Graciela Sánchez in 1995, the Fundación supports numerous community development programs in the La Plata- Buenos Aires locale, working alongside universities, businesses, and municipal-provincial governments to develop and realize public initiatives. Within my first few days as a member of the FPHV family, I came to the realization of how ample the field of human rights work truly is. FPHV is not an organization that focuses solely on the well-being of one particular demographic, in one particular place or time. It is, rather, an institution dedicated to serve the needs of the community, whether in the form of organizing conferences for university students, workshops for small-business owners, Christmas recitals for children, outdoor programs for incarcerated persons, or exhibition fairs for local artisans. Even after 6 weeks at the Fundación, I still do not fully grasp the immense community reach of this great organization and its university, business, and governmental counterparts.

During my second week at FPHV, I traveled with my supervisor Rafael Velázquez and my co-worker Marcelo Fernández to Santa Maria Magdalena, a neighborhood comedor located on the outskirts of the city. There we met with the director of the comedor, a woman by the name of Graciela de Cabañas. Graciela told us of the constant struggle to meet with the demands of the neighborhood, balancing the everyday nutritional and social schedules of some 100 children with limited resources. Together, we decided to undertake the construction and realization of a sewing workshop in the backyard of the comedor so as to achieve some measure of self-sufficiency. With such an undertaking, as I was told by Graciela Sánchez, “the comedor would not have to be so dependent on government donations. The people are poor because the government dependence keeps them poor. They need change. They need something sustainable.”

To this effect, I am currently working my co-workers to organize a benefit tea, the proceeds from which will go to the construction of the Maria Magdalena clothing workshop and the purchase of sewing machines. With the help of local businesses and government entities including Universitas, a group of culinary students, and the Commercial Center of La Plata, as well as with the charity of all those invited, we hope to raise sufficient funds to help our friends at the comedor achieve some level of self-realization. During my most recent visit to the comedor, Graciela de Cabañas related to me the story of five local boys, abandoned by the state after their mother was taken to jail to complete her sentence. These boys have no guidance, no direction in their life. They subsist only on the nourishment provided by the comedor. I am hoping, through FPHV’s charity drive, to indirectly touch upon the lives of these boys. By providing more for the comedor in terms of self-sufficiency, we give each community member who benefits from the comedor something more as well.

In addition to my work with the benefit tea, I attend weekly meetings with the other FPHV volunteers to discuss the organization’s grandest undertaking, the renovation of an abandoned community building into a new cultural, social, and educational center. The realization of this large project, rightfully called Vitae Polis, will be the paradigm of the Fundación’s mission, the exemplar of its focused efforts. With the help and support of other institutions, FPHV will continue in its goal of providing for others the access and opportunities they deserve as fellow brothers and sisters. And it will do so in an organized, unified, dedicated, modest fashion. As Graciela Sánchez once told me, “La improvisación es solamente para las mentes bien preparadas.”

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Living in the United States we are constantly wired—communicating with our friends via instant messenger, using the wealth of information that Wikipedia provides to research some unknown person, event, or place, or even reading articles from newspapers and magazines across the globe—all tools readily available with basic internet. Technology plays such an important role in our lives now that most of us cannot imagine a day during which we don’t check our email at least once, and we cringe at the thought of denial to such access. In a society with such a high rate of digital literacy, we often take for granted the conveniences that technology provides—complaining if a website loads too slowly or of the difficulty of formatting a document in Microsoft Word. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the marvel of the internet, or, even on a more basic level, of word processing programs.


For the past month, I have been working in the heart of La Plata, Argentina at a comedor called Asociación Civil El Roble. El Roble is a non-profit after-school program that supports thirty-five children living below the national poverty line by teaching important social development skills and offering supplementary educational programs. Although I assist in many different daily activities, my main responsibility has been as the computer teacher for the youth there. The Argentine public education system is drastically underfunded, and, as such, these children do not have access to computer technology at school, much less at home.

Recently, however, El Roble won a grant to purchase two new computers and also received several donations of used computers from friends of the organization. I have been working to get all of the computers up and running, and now El Roble has a working computer lab with five functioning computers. It is a true joy to see the genuine excitement and enthusiasm the children have about their new computer lab. Every day, after arriving at El Roble, the first thing they want to know is who will comprise the initial group to be in the computer lab that day. One boy, Marcelo, even tries to arrive as soon as the center opens—as early as possible in order to be able to use the computers before anyone else is here.

Before this experience, I would not have considered myself particularly skilled with computers (I still wouldn’t now, but my expertise has increased dramatically); however, for this reason, I have enjoyed the opportunity to learn more. So far, we have only been working on basic skills, trying to achieve a general familiarity with the mouse, keyboard, and essential programs like Microsoft Paint, Word, and PowerPoint. Nevertheless, the children have such an eagerness and interest in learning such programs, that I have been reminded of the same wonder I had towards computers when I was younger, just learning to use the mouse and type.

Because many of the children have never been exposed to computer technology before, during the first classes all the information I offered was completely new for them—how to save a file, how to delete text, how to double click. However, due to their subsequent experimentation with these basic programs, they have learned tricks even I didn’t know before. For example, now, thanks to the help of Ernesto, I can now make an eraser in Paint the size of the entire screen. It’s something small, but still exciting—it reflects their independent thinking and desire to share knowledge. We are hoping to install internet in the coming weeks to introduce them to the infinite wonder of the web.

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