The first time I went to South America was as a participant of Greenheart Travel’s volunteer program in Argentina. I stayed with a family who lived in a suburb of Buenos Aires. My host mom, Adriana, actually ran the orphanage that I volunteered with, which was a short walk from where she lived.
The word “orphanage” sounds very cold and old fashioned to me…when I first heard the word I thought about Oliver Twist asking for more soup. However, in this case the orphanage was really a very warm place, with amazing women who lived with, cooked for and took care of the kids, like mothers. It’s not an easy thing to take care of even one child, let alone many, and in this case the children were either infected by HIV and/or had parents who had HIV and were no longer able to care for their children.
As a volunteer, I spent time with the kids doing arts and crafts, playing games, and really just hanging out with them. In many ways they were like any kids, going to school, squabbling with their siblings, playing jump rope and doing homework. I was only there for two weeks and wish I could have stayed longer, but I’m so glad to have had the experience.
Besides being able to help at the volunteer project, it was a great opportunity for me to practice my Spanish with my host family and with the kids in the orphanage. I also got to meet and hang out with other volunteers in downtown Buenos Aires, where I was taken in by the charm of a city that’s modern and colonial at the same time. (You really can see people dancing tango in the street!). One day my host family took me to a ranch (many hours away by car) where they had a day of traditional dances and a feast of Argentinian cooking. I never would’ve seen it had I traveled on my own. I hope I can return and see more of the country one day.