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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.

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.

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