Law & Human Rights in Argentina by Robert Eveson
Working in the Project Abroad Human Rights Office was a great experience! My time in Argentina flew by and sometimes I wish I had stayed longer.
My Human Rights placement
As a Human Rights volunteer, there are several different placements that you will be involved in. There is a legal clinic which takes place every Monday. This involves attending placements with Lalo (our lawyer) and listening to different legal queries. People would come in asking for legal advice or for an update on their case and we would then work to help them resolve their particular issue. A good example of this was when we would contact the necessary people, to help get the client an identity card. Be prepared for anything! People would come in and require advice on any number of topics ranging from retirement plans to domestic abuse cases. Nonetheless, it is a valuable placement.
We also attended a homeless shelter on Thursday evenings. This involved offering legal advice to homeless people, for example by obtaining the necessary documents they need to get a job. It is an effective way for homeless people to get legal advice whilst also communicating with a friendly face. It is often quite popular, as food was also distributed.
Blas Pascal is a ‘barrio’ of Cordoba. We attended the neighbour’s council meeting and took notes on what was being said. Our role was to mediate over what has been said and ensure the meeting was ‘democratic’, as the councillors are extremely passionate over governing their barrio and hence it can get quite heated! Meetings last for about an hour and take place in the local centre.
As a volunteer on the Human Rights project, we also attended the Federal Court in Cordoba where you see the La Perla trials on the last dictatorship in Argentina. These court sessions do not always take place, however if you can attend one of these sessions, it is really worthwhile. It was a memorable experience for me because on the day I attended, lawyers were trying to defend people accused of torture.
Social work placements are extremely valuable as they help those who require our assistance. We worked with a detention centre on the other side of Córdoba that holds young vulnerable boys who have either committed a crime, or are likely to commit a crime. Our job was to teach them valuable life lessons, such as respecting others. We planned activities for them to complete, before ending with a game of football. It was important to talk to the boys and strike up a relationship with them, as they really appreciated having someone they could communicate with.
We also worked with a care home for young girls who may be orphans or who have been abused. The approach was similar to detention centre. We designed educational tasks for the girls to undertake that taught them important lessons. The girls can be quite shy at first, but once you start talking to them they get involved and take part in the activities. It is important as a volunteer to reach out to them.
Travelling around Argentina
Over weekends you have the opportunity to travel and see the rest of Argentina. This is something that simply has to be done! I went to La Cumbrecita and Villa General Belgrano, which is about 2 to 3 hours away by coach; some people went as far as Buenos Aires and Mendoza! It is very easy to get to the bus station and tickets are easy to buy. You should also try to see as much of Córdoba as you can. There is Patio Olmos - a large shopping centre that is the meeting place for several activities – a cathedral and popular market amongst other things! I would also recommend trying to attend a football match - it’s amazing to experience the atmosphere that supporters at the game generate!
My host family
I was quite nervous before meeting my host family; however I need not have worried. My host family was lovely and extremely hospitable. The food they cooked was extremely tasty; I certainly looked forward to it every evening! Furthermore, I felt that I had the freedom to do what I wanted in Argentina such as going out with fellow volunteers or going for a run. It was nice living with other volunteers, as it was great meeting people from all over the world. Spending time with my host family was also the best place to practice my Spanish, which improved during my time in Argentina. I would say that having some knowledge of Spanish is useful, as it will aid your communication with everyone in Argentina; however it’s not essential as most of the other volunteers usually speak English and people can translate for you.
Staying in Argentina was amazing! Though I landed in the pouring rain, this thankfully did not set the tone of my stay! The weather itself was very good, even though it was winter and the food was amazing, especially if you eat meat. Bon-Bon sweets and Alfajores are very tasty; I made sure I brought a lot back with me! The Argentinian people were also extremely friendly. I often had discussions with taxi drivers and with people on buses and in restaurants, who were genuinely interested in what you were doing in Argentina. People were also very generous in sharing Mate (a drink which you’ll come across). If you accept Mate, don’t say “thank you”! I made the mistake of saying this and I did not get any more because in Argentina, you only say “thank you” when you have finished and don’t want any more!
Overall, I had a great time in Argentina. I would really recommend this project to anyone!