Volunteer stories : Philippa English - Human Rights & Spanish in Argentina Short-term special
I chose to go to Argentina on the Human Rights & Spanish programme because of my keenness to explore Latin American and my passion for human rights. The course allowed me to explore and develop my knowledge of Spanish, which I was doing back home, whilst studying more about human rights in Argentina, which aligned well with my Geography and Politics subjects. Argentina was the perfect place to do this, as it has a fascinating history with so much to offer as well as a challenging accent for keen Spanish speakers.
During the week I attended 2 hours of Spanish lessons per day (with the weekends off). This helped me to concentrate specifically on the language and speaking, whilst learning about different accents and grammar in Argentinian Spanish. At first it was difficult to grasp, but with the support of the teachers and my small class of 3, we were all soon speaking more confidently which also allowed us to interact better at our homes as well.
My host family
I chose to stay with a host family and I ended up with a house of 6 volunteers. There were 3 boys and 3 girls. The 3 girls shared a room which was lovely to get to know one other really well and learn about each other’s cultures – myself from England, Celine from France and Tessa from Texas. The 3 boys were all from Los Angeles with 2 of them being brothers.
We stayed in a beautiful house around a half an hour walk from the office, with a lovely caring host mother called Silvia. Her accent took us all a while to understand but her enthusiasm to chat to us was very helpful. She cooked us wonderful meals.
Life in Argentina
The culture of Argentina is one very different to England. Whilst walking to the office at 8.45am every day, there were barely any cars on the road which contrasted completely to the rush hour I would have experienced in England, as well as the taxi prices being around half the amount than back home! Argentinians also have a different meal schedule as well as sleeping one; most of them do not eat breakfast, which was a struggle for many of us to understand as we routinely woofed down our bread and coffee every morning!
Lunch was another change as it was eaten at around 3pm after coming back from the office before hastily walking back. For dinner, we were expected to eat much later than normal which took us all a while to adjust to, but on return to England I found myself wanting to eat at 10.30pm instead of 6pm!
My Human Rights placement
With regards to the placement, the human rights office was run by a fabulous group of Projects Abroad staff that guided us, and made sure we knew what we were doing. Firstly we had an introduction to Human Rights in Argentina and their relation to domestic laws. This was interesting as the 12 people on the project all came from different countries and therefore shared different cultural opinions.
We took part in office debate on Women’s Rights, (covering prostitution, abortion, marriage and abuse) and discussed how the legal systems differ between countries and gained an understanding of daily lives of people living in poor communities in Cordoba, and the hurdles related to poverty, crime and xenophobia. This was all such valuable information to take in.
Throughout the 2 weeks, we prepared for a mock trial, for this we had an introduction to court etiquette and the trial process, and then close to the end of our placement, we performed the mock trial with 3 judges and 4 witnesses. I was part of the defence team, which covered cross and direct examination as well as opening and closing statements. This was a serious process, which really helped us all to learn about the judicial system and was especially useful for those wanting to study law.
Working in the community
We prepared teaching materials and visited a local slum containing about 95 families to engage with and educate local children aged 4-10. Our aim was to educate them about their Human Rights. We planned creative activities to demonstrate their rights such as painting posters with key words such as Education, Health, Voice, Thought, and Expression. This was a challenging activity as the children were not your typical primary school children, most of them couldn’t read or write and many did not know the etiquette of a classroom.
It was such a brilliant experience to have, as although we came across some very cheeky children who ended up having a paint fight, we saw how much they loved being with us, and we hoped that even our one day trying to educate them had made a difference.
More examples of our wider activities included helping some homeless people in Cordoba. We prepared and cooked a meal for around 300 homeless people and transported and organised the distribution of the meal - including drinks and sweets, in a square in Cordoba and cleared up afterwards. Some day trips included visiting a detention centre from the Dirty War, and Che Guevara’s house. These trips helped us to see the problems Argentinians had faced in the past and some they were still facing. We could see how even the small work we had done would have a positive effect.
Free time in Cordoba
As well as the historical visits we also had a bit of a party time as well. The events organised by the team were brilliant, they included a tango class, bowling and pizza, karaoke and sampling Argentinian food! At the weekend we went on a coach trip to La Cumbrecita, where we took part in amazing zip wire and high ropes activities. This was great as we got a chance to get to know all the other volunteers as well as the leaders who looked after us for two weeks.
This trip was one of the most amazing experiences of my life and I would recommend it to anyone who is an enthusiastic Spanish speaker and is ready to make a difference in wider community life. I also enjoyed enriching my knowledge of the culture and making lifelong friends and memories.
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