25 Aug 11 in 1 in Malvinas, Argentina
Well off the typical tourist track in Argentina, about 45 minutes outside of Cordoba is the town of Malvinas. I got some interesting looks around town when I mentioned I was heading there, ranging from “really, why?” to “be careful” to “where’s that?” I found it a quite charming town actually, intrenched in a battle to keep Monsanto out of their farms and water supply, in something of a real life David and Goliath story.
The fact of the matter is, I too would have never gone there if it hadn’t been for a series of fortunate events, which in hindsight, is exactly what The Wandering Samaritan spirit is all about. The story goes something like this. I wandered into a market in Baños, Ecuador while traveling and had lunch with a stranger named Natu, who was visiting with a friend named Lilly. We all hung out that night, and then reconnected a month later in Cordoba, where they hosted me with open arms. Lilly is the Principal of a Kindergarten in Malvinas and invited me to visit the school and community one day while she was working. There I met some of the Brothers of La Salle, who set up the school and actively work within the community. We walked the town together and spoke with several families, where I ultimately met Lila Brizuela and her household of 10, with a very pregnant daughter bringing the number to 11 any day now. And that’s not the entire family either, as several sons, daughters and grandchildren live nearby in other homes. These 11 Brizuelas live in a one bedroom concrete house and the kids range from 29 to 6 years old. With the introduction of Brother Sergio, we sat and talked for a while, shared a yerba mate, and swapped some stories about life.
The kids came and went, playing, smiling and laughing, and ate their lunch three at a time as their was only three chairs in the house. Truly it’s a lesson to us all, to be happy and content with the basics and still have such big smiles.
While we talked, I noticed there was an incredible about of mold and fungus on the walls of the house. I’m no construction expert, but it seemed like something could be done to improve the conditions there. With a new born on the way, five children 12 years and under already living there, and I later found out one child passed away from respiratory problems, I thought it could be nice to refinish the walls and make some minor improvements to the house in preparation for their new arrival and to improve the living conditions a bit for everyone.
After our visit, Sergio and I continued our walk and talk, and I asked him to inquire as to the potential cost of our project. Turns out one of Lila’s elder sons Franco, works in construction and together, we drew up a budget for the proposed work. We checked prices at 3 shops and authorized the budget from The Miracle Bank and agreed to set to work together on Saturday. I returned a couple days later to purchase the supplies with Sergio and arrange the delivery to Lila’s house (free), and we purchased a few more chairs to improve the seating situation in the house while we were at it 😉
The day came to start the work and what a day it was indeed. Sergio and I arrived and the whole family was ready. Franco brought some tools from his day job to mix the concrete and lay it.
All the kids carried buckets of concrete and water and refilled them every few minutes throughout the day in a well organized rotation. Lila cooked lunch to make sure we all had the energy to keep working. Franco lead the work and taught Sergio and I how to use the tools. He was kind and patient as we fumbled through it, and taught us anyway. Even the extended family of uncles and in-laws showed up to help move us along at double speed. I even found time for a slingshot lesson…obviously.
We spent nearly ten hours together on this first day of work. People from different countries, different ages, different socio-economic situations. Some religious, some not. None of that mattered. We had a common goal and we worked our way towards it laughing, smiling, sharing stories, and stumbling through the occasional language gap together. And while at face value it might seem that I was helping them, I would argue that I learned more about how a huge family and community could come together in that single afternoon, than I had in years back at home.
And when I returned back to Cordoba and told Lilly what we had accomplished she told me (in Spanish of course) “It’s so wonderful for these kids to see their family, their community, and foreigners all together in a different light. Malvinas has its share of problems and those problems often become cyclical. So for them to see and participate in a day like this, it will have a positive impact far beyond simply fixing up a house.”
And that, my friends, is the whole frickin’ point of why we are doing this.