When we think of ourselves as children, we remember ourselves surrounded by games, freedom, family love and the warmth of a home. This happens when we had the privilege of being born and growing up in equal-opportunity contexts. However, the childhood scenarios of the vulnerable sectors of Argentina show extreme fragility and forgotten rights.
According to data provided by the Observatory of the Argentine Social Debt, almost one third of Argentine children live in Greater Buenos Aires. In this area, where 63% of children live in poverty and 15% in extreme poverty, social and grassroots organizations become assistance and support networks that play an increasing role in contexts of social injustice.
At Engineers Without Borders Argentina (EWB-Ar) we seek to strengthen childhood in Greater Buenos Aires through infrastructure works that are mainly aimed at upholding basic rights such as education, health, food and leisure. We do so by establishing strategic partnerships with the State and local organizations, and with a volunteer workforce.
In 2018 we finished building a nursery school in José León Suárez together with more than 270 volunteers, members of cooperatives and engineering students from Australia. This Child Care Center, intended for children who live in the area, is managed by the Municipality of San Martín.
In a context in which 40% of children living in Greater Buenos Aires rely on meals provided at school to eat on a daily basis, works were completed this year at the soup kitchen “Todos por una sonrisa” (All together for a smile), located in the neighborhood “Altos de San Lorenzo”, in the city of La Plata. This soup kitchen is run by a group of local women who offer food and support to more than 300 children and to the local community From now on, their activities will no longer take place outdoors.
Statistics show that 4 out of 10 children in Argentina fail to receive speech stimuli (story reading, storytelling). Thanks to the extension of the Daycare Center “Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza” (Our Lady of Hope) in La Florida, Quilmes, more than 80 children now have an appropriate space to receive general and learning support, to carry out cultural and recreational activities and, above all, to share experiences and stories. This work was made possible thanks to the efforts of more than 150 volunteers from 16 countries who worked on the construction of the hall. In the same neighborhood, work was also done on the construction of a 100 m² multipurpose room, together with the local municipality. The capacity of Kindergarten No. 4 was increased from 80 children to 180 and the teaching staff was doubled.
The right to play, rest and recreation are distinctive features of early childhood and fundamental aspects in development processes. These rights, which are recognized by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, seem to be relegated to basic subsistence needs. Thus, 85% of children in Greater Buenos Aires do not engage in artistic activities, 91% do not engage in extracurricular cultural activities, and 68% do not engage in physical activities.
At EWB-Ar we understand that play is also a universal right of all children. That is why we are working on the construction of a community swimming pool in Bernal Oeste, Quilmes district, for 1500 boys and girls from social organizations in the area to attend. The project is carried out together with 13 social organizations and represents a great challenge to strengthen the bonds between the community, the schools and the families.
Each infrastructure project includes arduous days of volunteer work, tons of construction materials, technical challenges, collaborative work, decision-making instances, seeking funding and integration with social organizations and with the Government at its different levels.
However, the results are encouraging. Where there are areas of exclusion, stigmatization and children vulnerability, each new classroom, each school and each community kitchen are, beyond infrastructure works, spaces of affective availability, where relationships of trust, closeness and care are woven to forge other possible childhoods.
Translated by Gabriela Llull y Cecilia Esther Van Cauwenberghe .