Archive for April 29, 2010

Tuesday 4/27/10

Today was a full full day. Osvaldo, the administrator of the elderly home San Martin de Porres, is only in Cordoba at that home on Tuesdays and Thursdays because he spends Mondays and Wednesdays at the other home he runs in Villa de Soto which is a 3-4 hour drive away. Osvaldo is an incredible man…jolly, happy, and completely devoted to the people he helps. He is a man of the church, and runs the homes through the church, completely reliant on donations. Donations for rent, for electricity, for food, etc. He has been working in this sense for decades, and has saved a lot of people’s lives because of it. He’s rescued people who were homeless, living in barns like animals, alcoholics, etc. who he brought into the home and taught them what true love and self-responsibility is. I have been looking forward to meeting him for several months now, since Ariel told me about him and the work he does back in December. Well, because Ariel worked until 3pm, we had the afternoon to see a bit of Cordoba since we hadn’t got a chance to yet. We went downtown and walked around a bit, and then I took my dad and Eason to the old clandestine building near the main Plaza San Martin in the middle of Cordoba, that was used as a secret holding place for the “prisoners” during the Process. The Process was going on from the mid seventies into the early eighties when the military government kidnapped people who were involved in teaching about and working in jobs that exposed the atrocities that were happening at that time. This included lawyers, teachers, students, and anyone else who realized that the way the military was running the government was wrong and started to spread the idea of socialism. 30,000 people disappeared during that era, and were taken out to places in the surrounding mountains and forests and killed, their bodies never to be found. While there, we met an amazing man who had been kidnapped and spent 8 1/2 years imprisoned by that government. He was so lucky to have survived, and to this day he works at the building, known as D2. The building is run as a museum and reminder to all of what happened…how many Argentines were kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed because of their opposition to the military government. It is run mostly by survivors of the era and children of people who disappeared. It was very intense, but also very valuable to learn about since it was a huge part of the nation’s history.

I got the contact information for the man who spoke with us, Juan Carlos, and told him about our efforts with Los Abuelitos. I told him that we aimed to bring volunteers here to work with the elders, and he offered to give talks to the volunteers who come here and teach them about this period. It is very important to me that the people who come to volunteer are obviously interested in the country, culture, and history of the place they are volunteering…in this case, Argentina. So it would be great if we could integrate that presentation by Juan Carlos into the volunteer program through Los Abuelitos. The tour guide, Ruben, from Sunday also offered to provide tours and informational sessions to our volunteers in order to help them learn more about the city and country. The more various contacts we have, the better and more well-rounded the experience will be for the volunteers here in Cordoba.

At 4:00 we met up with Ariel and hoped on the colectivo, the bus, to the barrio Villa Rivera Indarte where Osvaldo’s home is. After the hour bus ride from the downtown area, we finally arrived, walked down a dirt road, and came to the cute little house set back among trees. An adorable man named Ruben (not the tour guide!), greeted us in the yard, who has down-syndrome and was taken in by Osvaldo and his family when he was 20, abandoned by his mother and his brother, and after his father died. He had no one, and so went to live in one of those places that was set up in a barn for people: elders, homeless, alcoholics, etc., that need a place to live but don’t have money (and tons of it per month) to pay for a private home or rehabilitation center. Osvaldo found him there, and raised him as his own, surrounded by his own children. Anyways, we had a seat in his kitchen, passed around the mate’, and began a conversation which lasted about 2 hours. He wanted to know exactly what our mission was, how we intended to help, and what we expected of him and our relationship. He was incredibly organized, and was on the same exact page in terms of the volunteers and rules about how things would run. He’s been hosting volunteers from another local organization that hosts international students, and so already has a great deal of experience with volunteers, which is great for us. After our little, long chat, we finally got to see the house and meet the people who lived there.

Apparently, there usually are 10-12 people living in the house, but at this time there are only seven because some have passed away over the last several months. This place is just as run down, if not more, than San Jorge, and the elders are just as cute and wanting of attention and help. They were so welcoming and happy to see us there, and I just wanted to take them all in my arms, cuddle them, and tell them everything was going to be okay. At the same time, I could tell that they were as well taken care of as possible by Osvaldo.

The rooms were extremely lacking and terrible. There were spiders running around on all the walls in the bedrooms, the blankets had many holes and were old and fading, and the bathroom was even worse. The toilet didn’t even have a seat! No handles or equipment to help bathing and going to the bathroom easier, and no shower curtain either. The bed frames are rusted and the pillow cases were plastic bags. I could not wait to start working on this home. And it was cold in there too! Thursday we are going back and bringing all the blankets, clothes, bath goods, etc, and I can’t wait to see the faces on them! They are going to get new sheets, comforters, pillow cases, clothes, and so forth and they really truly deserve it.

After our lovely time at San Martin, we rushed back to Ariel’s home where his family was waiting for us to make dinner. They went out and got a bunch of meat, all different kinds and cuts, to make a proper Argentina asado, or parrilla, for us. There was SO MUCH MEAT. And with it salad, bread, cheese, chicken with vegetable salad, and lots and lots of wine! And some Grido (the best) ice cream for dessert and a fernet and coke to finish off the evening! The dinner was incredible, and what was even more incredible was spending the evening with Ariel, his son, his brother, his parents and his sister-in-law and niece and nephew. It was a classic example of how united families should be, instead of abandoning their parents to be found in a barn by Osvaldo. It was fantastico.

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April 29, 2010 at 3:49 am Leave a comment

Monday 4/26/10

April 28th, 2010 at 7:56 pm by Jennifer Levy

After the late night on Sunday, we slept in a little bit later than I had wanted on Monday and by the time we finally got up and out it was around noon-time. We went over to the Asamblea in the barrio, Los Boulevares, which is outside the downtown area. The Asamblea is the community clinic that I originally went to work with when I first came to Cordoba, and who connected me with the local church, and there a woman got me in touch with Geriatrico San Jorge. When we arrived, Liliana and Josepha were sitting down to their lunch and said they’d waited a long time for us to show up. It was a beautiful day in Cordoba, and very chill and quiet around the barrio. It was lunch/siesta time so no one was in the clinic besides Lili and Josepha. They decided they wanted to make us some homemade empanadas and we had no objections to that! Another woman who worked at the clinic, Rosa, showed up and with her brought a bunch of clothes that had been donated. Because the Asamblea is a community-run clinic and offers medical services to the people who can’t afford it, they provide those services for very cheap. Because of that, they rely on a “goodwill”-type of operation to raise some money to help them with paying the rent, utilities, etc. So people donate clothes, and they have a room set up for people to browse and buy things. So we separated the clothes, Eason helped Josepha get the oven (it’s wood-burning and they need to collect kindling) going, and the others were making the empanadas. Some patients started to show up for opthamology appointments and check-ups, and for the dentist. Ariel, our coordinator here, finally showed up and we went to his house, then to the house of some of the other neighbors to discuss Los Abuelitos and how we wanted to integrate the community in our efforts.

Because everything here takes 2 hours longer than it should (it’s called latino time), we spent much longer at each place than we had expected, didn’t eat dinner until 10:30 that evening, and got to bed finally at 1:30. Because things move slower here, we aren’t able to get as much done each day like we hope to, and that’s been frustrating for me because I try to be as efficient as possible. But that’s the culture, and we’ve embraced, and we know that the things that need to get done, will.

April 29, 2010 at 3:35 am Leave a comment

Update

April 28th, 2010 at 8:24 am by Jennifer Levy

So it feels like we’ve been here for weeks! And it’s only been a few days…..The gathering at the Asamblea was soooo fun on saturday night….Every time someone else walked in, my heart leaped. I have missed these people so incredibly much, and it was so great to have them all together again with me. And my dad fit right in…he’s really making an incredible effort to speak the little spanish that he can, and he’s doing great. I’m so very impressed. Even though he couldn’t really understand them and they no ZERO english, everyone still got to know each other and my dad said he felt like he’d known these people forever. It was such a great thing. Eason is a man of few words and doesn’t know much spanish either, so he’s been the observer and taking it all in. It’s definitely been a great experience for him and a real one too. A lot of time when people travel to other countries, they only see the tourist spots and not much else. But Eason and my dad are getting the true Cordobese experience and I think that’s the best one you could ever have.

Sunday we went on a tour outside the city to Belgrano which is in the mountains and it’s basically a little Germany in the province of Cordoba. We had insisted that Ariel and his 11 year old son Arian come with us as a gift for everything they’ve done to help us, and I’m so glad we finally convinced them to do so. We visited a beer factory, strolled a bit, ate a delicious lomo completo, which is a sandwich with beef, lettuce, tomato, ham and cheese and grilled…a common lunch item here and soo delicious. And finally we went to a local park, sat on the grass and drank mate’. Mate’ is very typical of Argentina and is only drank in Argentina, Paraguay and parts of Uruguay. It is a tea that you put in a gourd-ish type cup, pour hot water over it with a little bit sugar and sip through a metal straw called a bombilla and then when you’re done, you fill it with hot water again, pass it to the next person in the group and let them drink it. I thought it was the weirdest thing when i first saw it, but it’s their way of socializing…having coffee together..etc. I LOVE it…so delicious, but it’s definitely something to get used to……after we had mate’, we went to Alta Gracia which is where Che Guevara, the revolutionary, lived for many years. They made a museum out of his old house and it was really cool to see it and everything about his life from beginning to end. The is the one that the movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” is about. Anyways, after spending some time there, we finally made our way back to Cordoba after a lovely day in the mountains and areas outside of the city with our fantastic tour guide Ruben.

We got home around 7 at night, rested at the hotel for a bit, and then finally went out to get dinner at a typical Argentina restaurant. We had delicious empanadas…criolla, Arabe, jamon y queso and manteca. We spent about 2 hours there, and when we were leaving around 11:30pm, live music was just starting and the restaurant was even more packed then when we got there, and it was a sunday night near almost midnight! That’s how they do it here though. Dinner doesn’t start until 9-10pm and they stay up late. It was a great experience and super delicious!

April 29, 2010 at 3:34 am Leave a comment

ESTAMOS ACA! We’re here!!

April 24th, 2010 at 11:15 am by Jennifer Levy

After a long 20 hour trip, from Seattle to Dallas, Dallas to Santiago Chile, and finally Santiago to Cordoba, we are here in the hotel, in the city of Cordoba, safe and sound. All of my worry was for nothing concerning whether we were going to be able to get all the donations through customs. We had no problem whatsoever….the customs form even specifically said that there is no tax on or need to declare “used clothing or objects.” WHAT A RELIEF! We successfully got 300 pounds of donations for the elders into the country without any hassle. HOORAY! MISSION COMPLETE!

The flights went well, except the flight to Chile was a little late and we ended up only having a half hour before our plane to Cordoba left, and when we got to security for international connecting flights, Eason, the 16-year-old family friend traveling with us, realized he had left his passport in the seat pocket on the other airplane! So we ran back, they held the plane for us, got the passport and finally got safely onto our flight to Cordoba. It was definitely a close one.

The weather is like Seattle today….cloudy and cool, although no rain. We are 4 hours ahead so I’m about ready for a little nap because tonight we are having a welcome party for us at the Asamblea, which is a clinic where I first volunteered before being set up with the Geriatrico San Jorge when I was here last year. So hopefully all my friends will be there to eat empanadas, drink some yummy Argentine wine and beer, and of course catch up on what’s going on. Stay tuned!

April 29, 2010 at 3:33 am Leave a comment

And we’re off!

April 23rd, 2010 at 11:57 am by Jennifer Levy

I’m sitting on the plane trying to write a last quick update before my computer dies and they make us “power off all electronic devices”. I woke up this morning with my stomach turning….were they going to let us check all our bags, how much overage would it be, would it cost, will all our flights go smoothly. I’ve traveled so much before and for some reason this time I’m more nervous. Maybe because I want everything to go well, because we spent weeks trying to organize everything and do as much as we could to collect and gather donations for the elders.

We got to the airport and of course, two of the checked bags were overweight…one was 60lbs and the other was 70! And unfortunately when flying internationally, you have to follow the international carrier’s rules for baggage, and LAN (that we are flying from Santiago to Cordoba) charges $90 PER OVERWEIGHT BAG! So there was $180 right there. It didn’t make sense trying to redistribute the stuff because it was packed away in big vacuum bags and whatnot, so that’s why we have collected monetary donations, to help with stuff like this. Then the agent checking us in couldn’t find the santiago to cordoba leg to check our bags all the way through, and we only have an hour between our flights, so we can’t recheck them. I was like, great, this is a fabulous way to start this trip…uugghhhh

Well our luck turned around soon enough…not only did the agent (her name is Joanne) find the last leg to check our bags all the way through, but she was so grateful for our patience in trying to figure everything out that she upgraded us to first class! When my dad asked for her card to write her a positive review on the Alaska Air website, he continued to tell her why we were traveling and that the checked bags help donations for the non-profit. She said, why didn’t you say so? And voided the $180 for the bags! Must turn off everything now! Will write when we arrive!

April 29, 2010 at 3:32 am Leave a comment

Less than 12 hours to go…

April 22nd, 2010 at 10:50 pm by Jennifer Levy

It’s 10:45pm on thursday night and I’m tired, but can’t sleep yet because there is still more packing, more organizing, more paperwork to do. We’ve already packed up 6 bags to check (2 per person) of in-kind donations we’ve collected over the past month of clothes, bedding, blankets, toiletries, and homegoods. That was a week-long project. Now I must finish packing my stuff, a carry-on only.

I also need to print out a final copy of the 501(c)3 application to bring to the lawyer tomorrow morning on our way to the airport so he can review it and we can send it out by the time I get back. We are one step closer to having our tax-exempt status!

In less than 12 hours we’ll be on our way to the airport, with fingers crossed that the bags aren’t overweight.

Check out more info about Los Abuelitos at http://www.losabuelitos.org and email me with any comments or questions!

Hasta manana y buenas noches,

Jennifer Levy

April 29, 2010 at 3:31 am Leave a comment

Welcome to Los Abuelitos! T-1 day to Argentina!

April 22nd, 2010 at 5:47 pm by Jennifer Levy

Hello all!

Jennifer Levy here….I am the founder and president of the new grassroots organization called Los Abuelitos. Los Abuelitos is an endearing terms for “the grandparents” in Spanish, and the name was inspired by the elderly that we assist in our organization. Los Abuelitos is an effort to support underserved elderly populations around the world, and our initial location is in Cordoba, Argentina. We recently started working with a home in Pisco, Peru as well.

We aim to improve the well-being and quality of life for the elders in the geriatric homes that we work with through sending volunteers, both in healthcare and other areas of expertise, as well as inviting any traveler, student, family or other interested person to work with the elders of Los Abuelitos, while experiencing the cultures and lifestyles of the countries where we are located.

Tomorrow I head off to Cordoba with my father Robert Levy who is also the Treasurer of the board, and a family friend who is 16-years-old and interested in Argentina, Physical Therapy, and volunteering! We will be there for a week and come home on May 1st, so please continue to follow us along as we make our way through the week. I will be posting updates daily about what is going on down there and the progress that we are making. Please check out our website as well at http://www.losabuelitos.org. Make sure it ends in .org because in the article it was mis-typed as .com. So go to http://www.losabuelitos.org and find more information about how we got started, how you can help, specifics of our mission, and links to our facebook page, personal blog and photos!

Also feel free to email me personally with any questions, comments or anything else at jennifer@losabuelitos.org

Thank you!

Jennifer Levy

Founder/President, Los Abuelitos

April 29, 2010 at 3:30 am Leave a comment

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