What an amazing experience !
For five months Valentine Dehem lived and worked at the Emmanuel Foundation.
As she put it in her story, this unique experience was just unforgettable.
After my university studies in psychology, I wanted to continue my training but abroad. I chose Argentina because I had already been there during a full year within an exchange programme after my last secondary year. I was charmed by the hospitality of the Argentines then and going back helped me to train myself in the field of children and family care. After an Internet search, I contacted the Fundación Emmanuel. I was not only welcomed to give a hand but also offered housing on site.
I arrived at the Foundation on a Saturday and was greeted by the guardian of the estate. Apart from him, there was nobody. The Foundation is settled in the middle of greenhouses, far from the city. Puzzled, I wondered if this place would actually fill up with children the very next day.
Monday arrived, and the magic operated ... Children and families from everywhere arrived and dropped their “niños”. The team, very welcoming, showed me the buildings. This place which seemed so deserted one day, came so much alive the very next! I was amazed by all these smiling faces, who seemed to have at first sight no particular difficulties in their lives.
At the Foundation, children come to do their homework but also to participate in various activities (yoga, music, theatre, plastic arts, ...) by which they learn to grow and blossom. A nursery also welcomes the children in the morning.
My role as a psychologist involved participating in the educational activities with children but especially in observing their behaviours. If a behaviour seemed odd or somehow caught my attention (for example: a child who does not eat, who does not play, ...), then I informed the team. If necessary, we conducted interviews with the child's parents in order to understand a bit more about what the child, the family’s situation, and how the team could help them. So little by little, through the daily lives of children and interviews with parents (sometimes at their home), I discovered a disturbing reality ... These children and families actually lived in tiny houses, more like shacks and ate and slept on the soil itself.
These huts belong to the big greenhouse owners. They house these families in return for their labour in vegetable harvesting. While the parents work, the children are alone at home, the older ones cook for the younger ones. Sometimes there are accidents ... If they do not stay alone at home, they are taken along by their parents at work in the greenhouses where lots of pesticides are used.
Discovering this reality, I understood how the Foundation was much more than a place for extracurricular activities or homework support. It is not a luxury for these children to go to the Foundation, but a vital necessity. The Foundation is a welcoming place, a home on its own, that allows children to be Children: to play like a child, to laugh like a child, ...to be cared for. The Foundation is a bubble of oxygen, both physical and psychological, for all these children who live in very difficult conditions and carry responsibilities that are not those of a child.
Suggestion from Valentine:
If you are interested to fulfil your training abroad by working as a volunteer at the Fundación Emmanuel, check your university services who can help build a case and support your application and offer of services to the Foundation.