About Me

My photo
The McDermott Scholars Award covers all expenses of a superb four-year academic education at The University of Texas at Dallas, in concert with a diverse array of intensive extracurricular experiences, including internships, travel, and cultural enrichment.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Cordoba, Argentina

After that eventful week in Buenos Aires, we headed to the city of Cordoba, located in the province of Cordoba, in the geographical heart of the country. It was much calmer, more relaxed, more peaceful than the bustling capital, with a central plaza where many gathered each weeknight to listen to the songs of a man who subsisted on the change his audience was willing to give.

Our research continued with the voices and experiences of professors (this time from the National University of Cordoba), labor union leaders, students, carpenters, nurses, social workers, doctors, and bureaucrats.

We were guided to the headquarters of a program funded in part by the World Bank and operating as a sort of guinea pig in the province of Cordoba. It was with Salud Familiar, as the program was called, that we saw beyond the magestic cathedrals and colonial streets of Cordoba. This program applied the same concepts of medicine we saw in Buenos Aires, called "atencion primaria," but went much further. A team five professionals (doctor, nutricionist, psychologist, dentist, and nurse), along with their residents-in-training, were assigned one community in the province, always one with the worst socioeconomic conditions. These people then headed to that community to find a place out of which to work (sometimes a local church, a restaurant, or someone's garage if necessary), and began the process knocking on 10,000 doors. These professionals took us with them to these homes, in both urban and rural communities, where we saw the lives of those marginalized by society and forgotten by the world, where neither the police nor an ambulance will enter. One of these communities was "built" by the people themselves on land formerly owned by Fiat, hundreds of unemployed people and their families forced to squat on a piece of land and somehow survive. They are now in the process of building their homes, attempting to access electricity and pave streets they themselves designed.

As we walked on the streets of Cordoba on one afternoon, we saw what looked like a private clinic, and decided to try to interview someone. What we discovered from one of the nurses who sat down with us was that she was actually one of the new owners. This woman, with what looked like the threat of tears on her eyes more than once, told us her story. Two years ago, with the economic breakdown of Argentina and the capital flight that ensued, numerous companies were completely abandoned and all of its workers (thousands across the country) thrown onto the streets. What happened next happened out of pure need: the workers, out of a job and with no way to support their families, with many nurses forced to beg on the streets for change, decided to take over their abandoned companies (which were left with machinery and supplies in many instances), and attempt to restart them themselves. And in this way, a group of 26 nurses and doctors took their destinies in their own hands, borrowing from the expertise of other professionals (lawyers, engineers, technicians), who had also lost their jobs, to rescue the company and achieve legal ownership of the capital. These workers organized assemblies, elected leaders, purchased materials, managed the accounting (where they discovered over $20 million worth of corruption by the previous owners), and in this way resucitated over 200 abandoned companies all across the country. The one we were in at that moment was negotiating the terms of their legal status with national government, a mere weeks away from completely controlling their means of work and survival and having recuperated their diginity. With the work and tears of 16-hour days and many hungry nights, they had pulled through.

After Cordoba, we headed to San Martin de los Andes, a small town in southern Argentina where we breathed cleaner air and saw the natural grandeur of this nation. Hills covered in green, snow-capped mountains, the largest fresh water reserves in the world, massive and fertile farmlands, long and powerful rivers, and a rich and expressive people are the landscapes that have accompanied us on hours and hours of bus rides. We are now in southern Chile, in the city of Valdivia, and have left Argentina with a sense of its fertile land and vast natural resources, yet also with the deep sadness of a nation painfully trying to move forward.

As one doctor told us, you can throw anything on Argentine soil, and something will grow in time. And that, I believe, is the greatest source of hope for this beautful nation's future.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

First greetings from Germany

Greetings from Munich,

I hope my first correspondence finds you all in good health and good spirits midway through this semester.  I have been gone just under a month now and have loads of stories and pictures to share and tell.

I left for Europe Jan. 29 and stayed the first week with my Aunt and Uncle in Hagen, which is in the Ruhr valley in north west Germany in the state of Nordheim-Westfallen. After getting my feet wet for a weekend and practicing my German, I packed up my belongings and headed south by train to Munich where I have been, for the most part, for the last three weeks, taking classes at the Goethe Institute, a German immersion program.

The classes have been going very well and my German is vastly improving. I am finally learning all the rules and dont just say something now "only" because it sounds right. 

Aside from the German classes which end at 1 p.m. each day, I have seen many of the "touristy" sights of Munich like Olympia Park, the Residenz, the Spaten-Lowenbrau Brewery, the New and Modern Pinokothekan art musesums and many other interesting parts of the city.

As for longer trips, I have been to Dachau and Vienna and have lots of pictures on the web.

I also joined a Sport Halle, a fitness gym, and am practicing with a local basketball team to keep in shape. I have also taught many of my friends here Die Siedler von Catan and we have played that more than a handful of times already.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Andres in Argentina

Our first week in the southern tip of our continent has been relatively peaceful, yet no less intense. Very quickly, we have sank into the realities of Latin America, full of its beauty, passion, and pain.

Buenos Aires is a captivating metropolis. It is gigantic, and if this is what they call the third world, then the first world cities must float in the air, or something similar. Vibrant and glamorous, Buenos Aires offers the best for those who can afford it, and the worst for all of the rest.

Our studies brought us this past week beyond the tourist's view of the city. We began the week with the good will of the director of a public hospital, who took us around to the different centers of health that the city offers all of its citizens, whether they can pay or not. Centro N 24 -- Centro Maria Evita Duarte de Peron -- buried deep in the land of the destitute and indigent of Buenos Aires, showed us the true heroism of this society. As we sat speaking with its head doctor, who excitedly told us of their efforts not to wait for the people to come for them in search of medicine but for the doctors to bring the medicine to the people, a group of four social workers no older than I rushed into the room, headed for the only telephone this center had. They had just received a woman whose cocaine-addicted husband had threatened her by shooting at her in their home, placing her, and her nine children, in serious danger. Amir and I sat by as we watched these young girls desperately seek a place for this woman and all of her children to spend the next night. On the verge of tears after numerous silent refusals over the phone, they finally did. I saw true heroism, buried deep in this place of little hope.

We were taken to many other health centers, where we were introduced as "doctors from the United States." Not wanting to confuse them, we played along, and diagnosed accordingly when necessary.

We watched people receive medical care of all kinds, and all they were asked for in return by the doctors was for their continued care for their health. We watched doctors hand out free milk to the children of the neighborhood. We watched free medications being distributed to the sick, even to immigrants from Bolivia and Peru without legal documentation. We accompanied doctors into buildings of about 15 rooms, each approximately 1 meter by 2 meters, with 80 people inhabiting them (you do the math), as they advised people on their health and prompted them to get all of their vaccinations.

We also got the chance to speak to a congresswoman. We sat in her quiet office speaking of the massive necessity for change and for hope, as the drums and voices of social strife beat and sang consistently outside. She told us of the challenge and opportunity of today: Latin America is waiting for an answer.

And, of course, we have marched, we have protested, and we have learned. By one of those things of chance, we wound up in the midst of a march of 50,000 people (really, we just inadvertedly walked right in the middle of it), all of whom had very simple demands: US$50 per month until they can regain work. We spoke with their members, who told us of what brought them before the houses of government--"all we want is work," they said. "We are ashamed to have to do this, but we believe it is our right, and it is definetely our need." And we spoke with their leader, I with a notebook, Amir with the camera, in the revolving door of the Department of Labor, with the police watching silently and the protesters camping in the street behind us. Raul Castells is a man who has spent four years in jail for merely entering public offices and demanding dignity for his people, and today he led 1000 of them into occupying the lobby and street of the Labor Department. He told us of the struggle, speaking to us from his age and quiet forcefulness, and he showed the resoluteness of a man with hundreds of thousands behind him who do not have enough to live on. In the ten minutes we spent with him in the revolving door, we were informed that if the government does not offer the unemployment support, on this Monday the Movimiento sin Trabajo will close down all access roads to Buenos Aires.

Do not fear: Amir and I depart for Cordoba tonight, so we will responsibly pull ourselves out of danger. Yet the struggle is is found all through the continent, and we will face it in all of its shapes and forms. We only wish to learn, and we certainly are.

Hope you are well, saludos desde Argentina.