Since starting school we have had 3 or 4 long, holiday weekends- Argentines have a holiday for everything. Since arriving, we have celebrated Kid’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Boss Day, Labor Day, San Martin Day, Independence Day and, my personal favorite, Secretary Day. This past Monday was the “Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity” (I’ll take it), so we had another wonderful long weekend.
I spent my time working with an organization called Un Techo Para Mi País or “A Roof for my Country”. On Friday evening I was assigned a neighborhood and team. Along with about 50 other people, we took a 2 hour bus ride to La Plata. On Saturday morning, our team of 6 met Maria and her family. Maria is a single mom with six children. Her oldest daughter also has a 9 month old baby. Here you can see the house where they were/are living. It only has two beds and 8 people! And it is falling apart. The roof was essentially made up of tarps stapled together and each time it rained all their belongings got soaked.
On the first day we put the posts that support the house in the ground. We had to break through some concrete, but it wasn’t anything too difficult. This project also confirmed to me that I could never be an engineer: our group leaders were perfectionists (thankfully) when it came to measurements. If it was up to me, I would have said “close enough” and the house would have collapsed by now.
On Sunday we put the floor and walls up. Unfortunately, we did not have any power tools. Shortly after we began nailing things together, it became clear that I was one of two people that knew how to use a hammer. I kept extremely busy and by the end of the day I thought my wrist was broken from nailing so many things together.
On Monday we put installed the insulation, windows and door, put the roof on and painted the house. This was by far the busiest day. Luckily, Maria’s family came to help and all the kids painted the house. Even the 6 year old had a tiny brush in her hand, painting the planks at the bottom of the house.
The best part about the whole experience was getting to know the family. Even though they have practically nothing, they were all so happy. The live in a pretty filthy place- at one point we looked out to the road and saw some neighbor kids playing with a dead bird. They had a string tied around it neck and took turns tossing it up in the air and yelling “VUEEEELLAAA” (IT’S FLYINNNGG). After nailing the roof down and walking inside to see the finished product, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty; the house was one room, about the size of my own dining room (which we rarely use). It didn’t have plumbing or electricity hookups. It really was just a dry, clean place to sleep.
But then, as we were painting, we asked Maria why they chose the color green. She said there had been a debate between multiple colors but that Lujan, her 8 year old daughter, had made the most convincing argument. “On a traffic light,” she explained, “the color green means move forward.” Interacting with this family, learning their names and playing with the kids put a face on poverty. In Buenos Aires, it is easy to forget that many parts of this country are impoverished. My guilt dissipated into happiness as we packed up our tools and left the family to move into their new house. On this holiday weekend, we all had something to celebrate: a new home for a deserving family.