Buenos Aires, Argentina 2011
Granaghan Outreach Volunteer experience in Argentina
I’ll begin at the end! Wednesday 16th November
2011 a large group gathered in festive mood to say
goodbye and thank you to Siobhan O’Kane,
Colm Kelly and John Mulholland. You could see
there was great rapport between Argentines and
these three hardworking Irish people: lots of teasing
and laughter. Each one spoke their appreciation and
mentioned over and over again the success in
overcoming the language barrier, as not one of the
Irish had a word of Spanish. The other barrier was
the expectation about working pace: Colm Kelly
wanted to go at 100 miles an hour , 10 hours a day
and poor Guricho, who was the chief mason, badly
missed his siesta. Some tension there had to be
resolved but happily it got sorted out without any
breakdown in relationships. The cultural difference
was very obvious in the eloquence of the Argentines
and the tendency to minimize and say little on the
part of the northerners! Lots of gifts were exchanged: Granaghan Outreach shirts for three of the men who were on site every day and traditional argentine objects for the Irish.
So to go back to the beginning. I was approached about the end of August by the committee of an NGO set up in Granaghan parish (Swatragh and surrounding area) re the possibility of builders going to Argentina to help with some building project. They had gone to Kenya five times and were looking for a change of venue. Fortunately Sr. Mirta had a plan to extend the Arco Iris resource centre for the coming year so as to have a classroom for the second year of the BACHI (a second chance for secondary education for those who never hoped to do it). So on 6th November I drove down from Rosario (4 hours drive) to pick them up at the airport and was surprised to see that the two men were in their late fifties. That evening instead of resting from the long trip they wanted to see the building site. This was their attitude throughout: we came to work not to rest!!
Arco Iris had a total ground zero look insofar as not a sign was there of what was to come. On Monday early they were up and on the job, cutting down bushes and clearing rubbish, unloading the bricks, gravel, sand and so forth from the delivery truck. So at the end of the 13 day visit, the structure of two classrooms and a toilet, walls and roof timbers were all in place, and even some plastering of walls was done. TOTALLY AMAZING!
The response of the local community, sisters and lay people was marvellous and the witness of such solidarity given by all will stay with me for a long time. The locals were inspired to be generous and loving because they felt impressed by the generosity of these three people. They brought with them the money to buy the materials, as well as to cover all the expenses of their upkeep. The community of Mayor del Pino housed them and cared for them in every way and translations were done by Brigid, Mirta and Javier.
On the social level, the three were able to visit Lujan, national shrine of Our Lady, and attend the wedding of Javier’s sister. On the last day I took them into the city centre and they did the tour of the city and enjoyed a tango concert in the traditional cradle of the tango: Barrio San Telmo. Souvenirs were bought in Kelly’s shop, so Colm Kelly was delighted to get a photo under the shop sign.
WE ALL HOPE THAT THE EXPERIENCE WILL BE REPEATED AND MAYBE EXTENDED TO OTHER VOLUNTEERS.