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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.

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