Mashudu Nonkwelo - Law & Human Rights in Argentina
I first arrived in Cordoba on the 30th of December, 2012. Traveling alone to a continent I barely knew anything about left me feeling both slightly nervous as well as excited. The Law & Human Rights project would be launched a few days after my arrival. Thus, there was little or no way to research the exact kind of work I would be doing. As a law student, the possibilities for my job description would be endless.
Arriving in Argentina
Upon my arrival at the airport, I met up with Victoria Marton, the Coordinator for the Law & Human Rights Project at Projects Abroad. This was the women who would subsequently introduce me to the city of Cordoba. She also introduced me to my family, she taught me how and where the buses I needed would be. We were communicating on a daily basis as well as working in the same office. She explained exactly what my role for the next month or so would be.
Law & Human Rights work in Argentina
I was to work with an institution associated with Paulo Freire - a Brazilian educator, philosopher, and influential theorist of critical pedagogy. This particular institution is located approximately 8 minutes from the Projects Abroad Office in Cordoba. The institution focuses on correctional services, seeking to help reform young boys who have committed criminal offences. The institution serves as a better alternative to prison for these young offenders as they are given a chance to not only change but also to contribute positively in society whilst also being educated and thus empowered with knowledge.
The age of the boys ranges from 12 to 19. All of them come from impoverished backgrounds and as anywhere else in the world, poverty and crime have a strong correlation. The children who are a part of this program still live with their respective families and thus, this becomes more like a school for them. The tasks that the young boys are given includes activities such as working at the public swimming pool or in a bakery. The bakeries were usually located in some of the marginalized parts of Cordoba.
The children would help bake the bread that these people would make and sell for a living. Thus, the children were filled with a sense of purpose as they would help create a product that would generate some sort of income in their impoverished neighborhoods. This would also give them a glimpse of how they can actually make a difference in the lives of others in a positive manner.
January in Cordoba is, however, part of holiday season thus, the institution would organize trips for the boys to the mountains more regularly as a sort of reward for their work throughout the year. Traveling to rivers and mountains is a common tradition in Argentinean culture.
My role on the Law & Human Rights Project
For the entire month of January, I would have to form a rapport with the children in an attempt to gain not only their trust but also to gain an understanding of the circumstances that they live under. This would help me in planning activities for them to do. I would have to plan activities that would help empower them with not only working experience but also knowledge of what their rights were. Many, if not all, of the children come from broken homes. Their lack of access to resources in the form of education or technology meant that most of them had no idea what human rights were.
This was the most humbling and fulfilling aspect of my job. A chance to teach them what human rights are, how they work, why they exist as well as how they can be enforced. For example, sometimes at the institution, we would show the children some documentaries related to violations of human rights. After this, we would explain the documentary to them and illustrate how it affected their everyday life. At many points, the children would be amazed at how this all affected their lives in ways that they couldn’t perceive. We would also use examples of human rights violations that they would have little difficulty in identifying with.
Other duties and responsibilities for me at the institution would include supervising the children when we traveled to the mountains and rivers of Cordoba. Although this had little to do directly with human rights, it was where the trust was gained. It was here that the strongest relationships with the boys were formed. It was here that I was able to understand the circumstances that the children lived under and what sort of challenges they faced on a daily basis. This information was crucial in deciding what activities to plan, what examples to use, what movies/documentaries to show them and what methods to employ when teaching them about their rights.
Recommendations for future Law & Human Rights volunteers
For volunteers who subsequently enroll in this internship, I would recommend planning activities that empower the children in one way or another. This could be in the form of entrepreneurial activities or social activities. The idea behind this is that the children need to be validated. They need to be taught that they can be positives influences in their respective communities. They need to be convinced that they have a crucial role to play in the future of their country as well as the sustainability of their respective communities.
Another important facet of my internship with Projects Abroad would be the work I was assigned to complete at the Projects Abroad Law & Human Rights Office. Since the project was in the launching phase, I assisted in creating the structures that would guarantee a sense of continuity when I or any other volunteer complete the project. This would be done by practically documenting everything that I did with the children as well as giving detailed feedback to Victoria. We would have to constantly communicate ideas for activities as well as ways to help inform the boys.
My experience in Argentina
In the end, I was successful in my attempts to teach as well as learn about the children I was working with. This project is a very effective way to penetrate the lives of those who are vulnerable in society due to their lack of knowledge in human rights or any rights in general. The opportunity to help in this vital aspect of a human beings life was incredibly fulfilling.
The Projects Abroad Law & Human Rights Office in Argentina facilitates the opportunity to exchange cultures, languages, experiences, knowledge and ideas in an exceptional manner.