Volunteer Story – Grant Simens (published in Argentina)
March 12, 2015 by Argentina Social Manager
There’s a gap between people. It shows itself in a number of ways. From the problems being faced halfway across the world, to the private issues in the house next door; the gap between humans can separate you from taking on the challenges and problems of others. This trip, I found that was no longer the case for me.
I spent the last six weeks in Cordoba, Argentina working at the Human Rights Office. New to volunteering, in general, let alone human rights, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew is that two things are true.
- I love meeting new people and cultures
- I wanted to have a positive impact in a community.
I would soon come to realize, my experience would not only do that, but far exceed my expectations in how much I’ve seem to grow as a person since I arrived.
Working in an office may have been the headquarters of our operations, but I soon found the real growth came from the work we brought with us when we left to go to our different placements around the city. My work entailed a variety of tasks. As a human rights group, it was our duty to acquire and follow-up on human rights cases to help in the best way we can legally. This meant for me, helping out at the Legal Clinic at Blas Pascal, and interviewing and interacting with the homeless people at Plaza San Martin. Cases were probably my favorite thing about the work. Being able to find and interact with people who need our help, and follow-up with them throughout the process of their case, really allowed me to care and try to help the specific people I’ve been tasked with helping. It allowed me to take on their problems as well and put a face to the paperwork we did behind doors. One often hear statistics about the poor and homeless, but for many people those problems feel far from home. So as a volunteer, starting out with a name on a sheet of paper, then moving on to face-to-face contact, and seeing progress being made, really helped that gap close for me. It let me be a part of the solution – a friendly face in an organization standing up for each person in need to help give them a voice. I will miss my cases, and the people I’ve become acquainted with, but I know I will be leaving them in good hands.
Other parts of my work here included helping initiate the ID program. In order to take care of government benefits in Argentina, you need a DNI (identification). For many people however, they cannot benefit from these programs as they do not have one. Either they were never registered, or they lost theirs (a common circumstance when living on the street). My task was figuring out and conducting a plan to get every client without an ID, a new one. Drawing up a plan, we dove into figuring out who we could help get a new ID, including getting a poverty certificate and taking their information to run through the process. Overall, I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken and glad to be leaving behind a plan to follow.
One other project I was proud to be a part of was sitting in as a representative of Projects Abroad at the Tumbando Rejas magazine meetings. This year, they are doing a larger issue including all the other NGO’s in Cordoba. I was tasked with attending meetings at Freire to help with ideas and relay information back to the office. It was great to meet so many outgoing people working together on a project across multiple groups.
Overall, I’d say I was thrown in the deep-end, when it cames to learning how to communicate in Spanish. I remember being tasked with talking to clients on the phone to tell them about their appointment. For the first one I created a script to read because I was so nervous. But for some reason, for the second one I had a burst of confidence, and decided to wing it, and was so proud of myself being able to come up with the words I needed to say. At first speaking in Spanish to clients seemed intimidating, but the human rights group gave plenty of practice in tough situations that eventually I found myself speaking with clients back and forth very easily after a couple weeks, which was a really rewarding experience.
I recommend future volunteers to get started right away and jump right into their work. It is definitely true that you get back as much as you put in. Also, to really invest in your placements, and try to get out of the office for personal work as much as you can, as it was very rewarding working with the people you are here to help.
As I said, there’s a gap that exists between the lives of others. If I were to be thankful for one thing out of this whole experience, working with human rights in Argentina, it would be for allowing me to close the gap between my world and the people I’ve come to help. I was brought closer to issues far removed from me, and yet, as I leave, I feel that they were my own. If only the whole world could experience something similar, perhaps we wouldn’t feel so far away from each other. Tonight I’ll be travelling thousands of miles away, but the people of Argentina will still be with me.