TECHO: para cambiar la realidad hay que conocerla

Jessica Duska
September 28, 2017
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Seven brave souls set off to go build houses in the villas of Buenos Aires... this is their story:

I had been looking forward to TECHO since it was presented to us the first week we arrived in Buenos Aires. TECHO is an organization that began in Chile, that promotes social action and community building to overcome poverty. The organization now exists in 15 Latin American countries ~inlcuding Argentina~ and rallies volunteers for a variety of activities, including building houses for families in the villas!

What were we told before going? you might wonder... first, that we would be building houses; second, that we would stay with the families who would cook for us; and third, that no matter what happened they wouldn't separate all of us because they knew we don't all speak great Spanish. This is just to say that TECHO was nothing as I expected and yet so much more.

My first expectation that was shattered: they split our group of estadounidenses (US citizens in Spanish). Upon arrival, we all realized this was not going to be a weekend of speaking English among the 7 of us. We were split into pairs (just in case our Spanish was that terrible) ready to be shipped off to entirely different locations. At least I have a buddy, I thought.

My first moment of bravery: After realizing I was about to spend two days with a bunch of strangers, I figured I shouldn't stand in the corner and instead decided I should talk to someone. But how? I spotted a girl braiding hair and found my in. I went over and she knew exactly what I came for :) She ended up being in my room and inviting me to sleep near her and her friends because I knew no one else!

My only buddy Benjamin and I on the bus over to the school! We adopted another friend from our group as well and snuck her on the bus :)

We arrived at the school around 10, exhausted because we are American and we don't sustain energy like the Argentinians do. However, did they let us sleep? No! :)

My second expectation that was shattered: not only did they keep us up until 1:30am eating crackers (dinner) and chatting (like all good Argentines do) but they also separated us from each other in our building groups... This time I was more scared. Not only was I going to be tired from our 6am wakeup the next morning (yup, you heard that right) but I wasn't going to be able to speak English all day... 

My second moment of bravery: instead of sleeping in a room all together, the three of us estadounidenses split up to go sleep with out groups and ~bond~. For the future I wouldn't recommend sleeping on a tile floor without a mat, and I definitely should have brought a pillow but all in all we only slept about 4 hours anyways... this is when the real journey began :) 

We awoke to the most beautiful sunrise (first time I've been up for it in Argentina) 

I won't lie, I was really questioning my choice to come at this point. A bunch of friends had gone to Iguazu, and I could've been basking in the falls beside them. I was seriously wondering why TECHO had such good reviews. I hadn't slept, hadn't eaten, and had no one to talk to all day... but by day's end I had swallowed these thoughts into a deep, dark hole.

My third shattered expectation: the first thing we did when we split off into our separate groups was introduce ourselves to the family. I was so nervous; what would they think of me being there? Would I be able to communicate? We got the best family TECHO had to offer and I can only imagine the other families were great as well! Dani and Loli woke up their five adorable kids to come say hi to us. As they weaved through our legs and tried to jump on our backs, we got to know each other over mate and group chats. 

My face after five minutes of being with this amazing family

My first real appreciation: not only was this family more than I could've asked for, but by the end of the first hour I was so glad they had separated me from my English-speaking pals. It was definitely a challenge to carry on fluid conversation and feel a part of every joke, but the group was so good about keeping me in the loop (especially my angel, Celi, who translated the important things into slower Spanish) When I didn't understand (which was frequently) I became the butt of the joke instead ;)

Dani invited Celi and I in to her home to help cook and see the house. The whole thing was surreal; not only was their family living in close quarters but without a floor, without a sink, without a shower, and with holes in the roof. Dani had led us into her home and it felt inexplicable to be included in this group, in this experience, and in their life. I was literally without words and not only because my Spanish is a basic level ;) 

We fell behind schedule and had a couple accidents but by the end of the day when we walked back, I felt on top of the world. That night we had a group meeting. We talked about the injuries, the problem with the water under the ground, and how we had fallen behind. Everything that could've gone wrong basically did. And yet, much to our group leaders' surprise, we all had an amazing day. Our family was so happy, we were still laughing, and despite our sleep deprivation and sore legs we were ready for day two.

Mili, the oldest of 5, showing off her arm tattoos

After another night of zero sleep, I had zero qualms about leaving my friends for the solitude of a Spanish-speaking world. It was really hard and really amazing to be forced to speak Spanish all day long. It felt lonlier than I have since being here, until someone would call on me to come hammer or pound something in and I couldn't help but feel those warm and fuzzies :) Shasssiee they would call at me, because they can't make the hard-J sound. By the second day, the kiddos were making fun of my dance moves and my teammates dumping water on my head. Life was good.

End of day two rolled around and we still didn't have a roof. At this point, I think we cared more than Dani and Loli did. They asked us to take pictures in their new ~home~ before we left and the rest of the group committed to come back the next weekend and finish it exactly how they intended.

My biggest disappointment: not being able to go back and finish with my people. When they asked me if I could return the following weekend I had to turn down the offer because I had another trip planned far in advance. While I am excited for my adventure, I was not expecting to miss this place and these people after only two days. I can't say I wasn't disappointed not to be able to return with them.

As we walked back to collect our stuff, I was feeling so bittersweet. I had had an amazing weekend and I didn't want it to end. When we arrived back at the school I didn't even divert to my English-speaking friends but instead sat with my group and chatted in some broken Spanish :)

Best group around :) 

I hate to admit that on Friday night I was beginning to regret going on TECHO. While I always tell myself not to form expectations, it is hard not to get excited and imagine all the fun your going to have with your friends. Who knew that being separated from my English-speaking pals would be one of the best parts of this trip. Not only did I get to fully interract with these amazing Argentine students and an equally-amazing Argentine family, but I did it within their context. I was their guest and they invited me into their new home. TECHO was an experience I will never be able to displace from my mind: the people, the feelings, the laughs, the dirt, the lack of sleep, the sunburn, the happy memories that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. 

As I sit here and write our group chat is buzzing every 15 seconds. I will likely still be raving about this trip in the weeks to come... ;)

"Para cambiar la realidad hay que conocerla" - In order to change the reality you have to know it :)