Context is everything.
My Argentinean experience is continually teaching me things. At the moment what I am learning, and thinking a lot about is how we as humans are constructed. We are results of our social environments. We are influenced by family, friends, society, politics, media, government, culture, the list goes on. We reflect the complex social conditions in which we live.
I come from a very structured and safe environment where almost none of my human rights have ever been violated. I have never had to worry about; not receiving proper education or health care, my safety and security, not being able to find a job, the government not supporting my family or protecting our rights. None of these things have ever been a concern to me.
I am now living and working around people who live with these concerns everyday. Not only that, but some of them have also lived in worse times where all of their rights as human beings have been seriously violated (crisis of 1998-2002 and dirty war of 75-83)
So the types of decisions that I make, the way I act, the way I treat people, the way I talk, the way I think, the prejudgments I make, are all parts of my environmental construction. An environment of which is pretty damn different to that of the people around me here in Argentina.
What I find fascinating is the role that this perspective plays on everyday decision making! I’ll give an example. There are a huge number of people who don’t use bank accounts here is Argentina. The reason being that in 2001, the banks were locked down and accounts of everyday Argentineans were raided. From an Argentinean perspective there is good reason not to trust the banks.
There is also the hyper-inflation which devalues the Argentinean Peso. Many people change the pesos that they want to save to American dollars. They do so on the black market because it is almost impossible to buy dollars legally. They want to have their savings in dollars because the dollar is much more stable. The result of this is that you will find a very large amount of Argentineans with American dollars tucked away under their beds.
Here is an example of how the history, and the current laws of a country (the environment in which the people live) have a massive effect on how an everyday person views something such as money and savings. My view on money and savings before I came here was definitely very different.
Another example. Missing school where I grew up was a huge no-no. One of the most important aspects of a child’s development is education. In the community where I am working, children are hardly ever at school. I see the results of the education that children receive in these schools and for this, it is no wonder that parents aren’t worried if their kids miss out. I’m not blaming the schools or the teachers, as there are many reasons why the schools in this area are so bad.
There are also a million other factors that we wouldn’t think of for why parents don’t send their kids. For example, the family doesn’t have a shower in their house so a child smells really bad. For this, the child get’s picked on at school and nobody will even sit beside him/her. The child returns home from school upset because of his/her isolation. The parents see their child happier when he/she is not at school. I understand why this parent may not motivate their child to attend school.
From a mother’s perspective here in Monte Chingolo, there isn’t a lot that a child is missing out on by not attending school. Where I’m from school is a huge priority. The parents, the school and the nation make it a priority. Here, there isn’t really much fuss about it from any of those parties.
We have a rule at Food for Thought (F4T) that no child shall come to our project if it means that they are missing school to be attend. Families have two options for school, morning or afternoon. We function in the afternoon, so children who attend school in the morning can also attend F4T.
We sometimes find ourselves in a difficult situation where we know that a child is not attending school in the afternoon and passing that time on the street. Half of the time the child is just skipping school. The other half the time there is no school because the teacher hasn’t turned up, the teachers are on strike or there is a maintenance problem. In one school all of the teachers were on strike for the first month of the school year.
We feel that the child would be much better off eating one healthy meal and participating in a creative educational activity with us than hanging out on the street. It is a difficult decision to make considering the implications of encouraging children to attend our project and not school. We still exercise that rule and children who are supposed to be attending school in the afternoon do not come to our project.
I am interested in humans, human behaviour, why we think the things we think and what effects our decision making process. Ever since I landed here in South America, I have been constantly challenged with questions about who I am, what decisions I make and my social construction that leads me to make those decisions. I am constantly trying to put myself in the shoes of one of the children with which we work, or one of the parents. I try to see things from their perspective. As Valeria taught me, context is everything.
There is a part of me that gets angry at a parent for the way that he/she treats a child. What I have been trying to do is see from the eyes of that parent. Would I treat my child any different if I was living that same life? The answer that I keep coming to is ‘no’. We reflect the complex social conditions in which we live.