How Volunteering in Buenos Aires Accidentally Took Me Back to my Roots

From November 2009 to January 2010, I volunteered with a nonprofit organization in Buenos Aires, Argentina called L.I.F.E. I found them through Google but what I really found came back to me with a surprise. I was about to volunteer in an area where my mother had spent years growing up in and I had no idea.

When I told my mother that I was going to be volunteering at an area called Laferrere, she was shocked. She spent years here as a child and a few of my family members stayed there even longer than she did. My uncles and aunts were just as surprised. I remember her telling me about her childhood but I never put it into perspective. I would listen to her stories but for some reason I could never actually picture it and neither had I remembered the area she talked about.

Laferrere is about an hour away from the city of Buenos Aires. Although it has improved dramatically since my mom had been there as a child, it’s still predominantly known as being extremely impoverished and dangerous area. We couldn’t even take the train there because it was too dangerous and instead we would take a private van. The air was dusty from all the smog and dirt roads. You can immediately see a change in environment compared to downtown Buenos Aires. While McDonalds may help remind you of the current year, everything else has an old fashion grungy look to it.

When I told my mom there was an old ferris wheel to give her an idea of where I was volunteering in the city, she was excited to tell me she remembers that ferris wheel well and she used to go there as a child. The old house that my grandma had is still there and she even still owns it but rents it out. A few blocks away was also where my mom had first met my dad. My family history was created here. My experience here gave new meaning to the concept of tracing my family roots.

Laferrere LIFE Argentina
Drawing and worksheets.

I was so amazed that I was volunteering in the exact area that my mom grew up in that I took a leadership role for this area. My title in the organization meant organizing all activities, leading the group, and getting to know the kids well. I had no volunteering experience before but I felt inspired and motivated to help these children. At L.I.F.E, we had children from ages of 4 to 16. Our mission was to have after school activities to keep educating them and to keep them out of trouble. Sometimes we taught them English, played soccer, or just built things out of legos. The children were all great and high spirited. Our goal was to make sure they had a brighter future and to keep them smiling.

If you’re in the Buenos Aires area and staying for longer than two weeks, check out L.I.F.E Argentina. They have accommodation options as well.

Was this fate?

(This is in a two part series. My next article will be when I went with the organization to volunteer in a indigenous village in the northern part of Argentina.)

Laferrere LIFE Argentina
Streets of Laferrere
Laferrere LIFE Argentina
They loved getting their picture taken.
Laferrere LIFE Argentina
Motivated children working hard on their worksheets.
Laferrere LIFE Argentina
Smiles all around.

Michael Tieso

Michael Tieso travels around the world writing, photographing, and filming his adventures. He is the Editor-in-chief of Art of Adventuring.
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