The Fundacion Emmanuel: A story to tell and to read !
Once upon a time there were two students who returned back from Belgium to Argentina.
In their luggage full of souvenirs and hopes, there was this idea.
Indeed, the Fundacion Emmanuel was first an idea brought by the two founders, Maria Elvira and Luis Maria, when they returned to Argentina at the end of their studies at the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve, back in 1968.
During their stay, they discovered the principle of « Foster care » and how families would welcome for a certain period of time a child in difficulty.
In Argentina, that model did not exist at all and children in difficult situations were placed in juvenile institutions, where care and love were scarce if not inexistent.
“First, we experienced the system ourselves » said Luis Maria « and for a long time welcomed children in our own home. A life experience for all of us, both foster family and welcomed children”. As my wife put it herself, “we all learned that love could multiply just by giving and sharing it.
Maria Elvira was an extraordinary warm hearted and generous woman with strong values and convictions driven by her love for others. She was convinced that if a child was suffering somewhere, we just could not remain indifferent and had to do something about it.
Supported by our four daughters, we started to think about how we could share and spread our family life experience to other families and communities. With the help of friends and a group of professionals, the Fundacion Emmanuel was born. The choice of the name was evident for us. The foundation is of course open to all but as Catholics ourselves the name Emmanuel, from the Hebrew עִמָּנוּאֵל ('Immanu'el) meaning "God is with us", sounded just right then.
During those first few years, the challenge was to develop a real « Foster care » environment where the rights of the child to grow and live in a family environment were essential. But where also services were provided to help families in getting help and where foster families willing to engage themselves in this solidarity network were identified.
This first group of volunteers was quickly joined by friends in Belgium, with whom we had spent our younger years as students and as newly weds. With their support, we learned that an open-heart transcends borders, languages and cultural differences.
In 1989, we gave our first conference on foster families and in 1992 we opened a first health centre in the Colonia Urquiza Community (close to La Plata) in cooperation with the municipality of La Plata and the General School Board. Later other centres were opened and in 1999 the administrative headquarters of the Fundacion Emmanuel was finally settled in proper premisces. In 2003, we welcomed in Argentina the first International Congress on Foster Families attended by 33 countries and a Law project « Foster Care : A right » was prepared and presented at the National Chamber of Deputies in 2004. More recently the centre for young disabled adults was built in 2010, the youth center was created in 2016 and the nursery for toddlers was reopened in 2017.
From the beginning, the story of the foundation has been closely linked to our family history. Maria Elvira died in 2011, but her spirit, her determination and dedication are still all around us. With her strength, we got through thick and thin, happy and grieving moments, successes and challenges ».
Helping children in need is unfortunately a never-ending story. Today, on one end of the ocean, Luis Maria continues to be active as President of the Fundacion Emmanuel. On the other end, the Belgian team continues to do the same. Without the support of both parts of the world and all the volunteers, the Emma Fundacion would not be able to continue supporting all those children and families in need.
Looking back more wisely on all their ups and downs, Luis Maria realises all the treasures life brought to their family and how fortunate both him and Maria Elvira were able to study in Belgium. « We had a crazy idea right from the beginning, but with time this utopic project became reality and we shared it with our daughters and the rest of the family like my sister Blanca, a family mother, who is till dedicated to the Fundacion. Victor, Claudia, Luisa, …, they all continue to contribute to make a change ».
« Just imagine that when we welcomed our first 7 children in 1988, we did not have a car and we lived 6 km away from the nearest village and 30 km from the big city; with one bus every hour. I remember that day when Gaston, a very fragile disabled boy, had a major crisis. I was desperate and ran outside on the street with the boy in my arms, crying for help. Right then a bus drove by. The driver stopped, picked us up and made a 6 km detour so we could get to proper medical care. There are so many stories to tell about the Fundacion Emmanuel but what remains important to remember is that life is a daily miracle and everyday shows us that making the world a better place starts with small gestures of kindness and solidarity. »