Kendré Barnes '13 Johnson Opportunity Grant Winner Travels to Argentina for Shepherd Alliance Internship

Kendré Barnes is a Spanish and English major from Omaha, Neb. She traveled to Buenos Aires, Argentina to complete a Shepherd Alliance Internship at La Asociación Formoseña/ El Hogar Dr. Maradona, an NGO that houses children and families from the province of Formosa who come to the Buenos Aires to receive medical treatment.

Anticipating the daily soundtrack of my alarm clock, the telephone and the hum of traffic outside of my window, my body is already prepared for its early morning wake-up call of 7 a.m. In spite of the fact that the temperatures are projected to be below 32 degrees this morning, I can't help but feel excited about the day's events: Today is Dia de Chacarita in my adopted barrio. As the immediate community is the life-blood and sustaining power of NGOs in Buenos Aires, the importance of bringing the NGO to the streets and showcasing the mission, work and goals of each organization is perhaps the most vital task of the year. And my job is to prepare my organization, La Asociación Formoseña/ El Hogar Dr. Maradona, for its debut.

Armed with an oversized poster board, pictures, bags of dulce de leche candy, and a peso veinti-cinco, I climb aboard Colectivo 65 for another 30 minute tango with Buenos Aires' notorious traffic. The landscape changes from visions of the relative wealth, shopping malls, and high end dining in the neighborhood of Belgrano to a very different economic mixture in Chacarita.

Stepping off the bus, I immediately become immersed in the eclectic sights and vibrant sounds that make up Chacarita, one of Buenos Aires' most historical and diverse neighborhoods. Grocers set up their morning wares, pedestrians overstep the uneven stones that are perpetually submerged in stagnant water and construction workers pause to take a breath of air between working and shouting colorful phrases to each other and those passing by. Everything bustles in a chaotic normalcy, and I become one of the many porteños, peruanos and other people making their way.

I enter La Asocación Formoseña's pea-green doors and give the customary round of kisses to my director and the others who live at the shelter. The Asociación Formoseña houses children and families from the outlying province of Formosa who come to the capital to receive medical treatment. Although not everyone in the Hogar is directly in need of medical attention, the majority are living examples of the disparity that exist between the access to resources in the Buenos Aires and the availability of vital services in the "interior" or outlying provinces. Using this knowledge as my basis, my goal is to set up a display for the Asociación that exhibits the humanitarian aspect of the organization's day-to-day work, celebrates the distinct originario or indigenous culture that flows from Formosa's land and people and creates a sustainable network between the NGO and the public at large.

But before any of this happens, I find myself surrounded by a group of children and an adult eager for their weekly English lessons. The students recite the alphabet learned from the previous weeks, participate in letter-word association exercises, tackle vocabulary related to nature, munch on cookies and then settle back for an aural cultural experience: James Taylor's "Walking Man." In an attempt to broaden their exposure to American music, I organize the day's cultural experience around folk music from the 60's and 70's and share the origins of one of my favorite musical genres. Discussions about the themes, visions, and messages in folk music are quickly related to Argentina's rich folk music tradition, including the famous chacarera music and dance. Attention is wonderfully maintained for an hour and a half, until the doors to the organization fly open and gigantic vats of locro (Argentina's mouth-watering stew dish) begin to enter. In other words, that's my signal that it's time for Dia de Chacarita to begin.

In the streets, the sound of salsa music weaves in and out of the crowds of neighbors, friends and visitors who come to enjoy the barrio's anniversary. At our table, artwork from Formosa is on display: figurines carved from holy wood, a representation of Pacha Mama, Mother-Goddess of the Earth, and long handbags woven from grasses that are intertwined with hand-made Formosan jewelry pieces. Pictures showcasing the daily events and activities of the Asocación give the table a familiar air, and I talk to dozens of interested neighbors about the organization's history, its purpose and its triumphs while passing out pamphlets I made to detail the most immediate donation needs. In spite of the cold, wet day, the community at large shows its appreciation and respect for the numerous NGOs that daily strive to provide services to all people in the barrio. The Asocación Formoseña becomes part of the social service fabric by serving in its own unique niche, and I become part of my organization, its people and mi barrio adoptivo, too.