Immigrants run ‘positive space’ for local kids

(This article and its content were first published in the Buenos Aires Herald—print edition— October 20, 2015).

By Orlando Jenkinson—Herald Staff

Non-profit organization offers weekly activities for disadvantaged youth in southern BA

A group of children from the Barracas and Constitución neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires City are finding a safe space for fun weekly activities thanks to a non-profit volunteer organization that is largely run by a group of expats.
“It’s about creating a positive space for the kids that they might not always get at home. So the hope is that if they have a skateboard or guitar or whatever in their hands, they can spend their time on that and not on the street,” Unión de los Pibes founder and director Will Aquino told the Herald

Aquino, who grew up in the US state of Georgia and has been living in Buenos Aires for more than seven years, helped Union de los Pibes grow from the ashes of a former organization based in nearby La Boca — Club Acorn — that shut its doors in 2010.

“I got together with other volunteers from Club Acorn to see what we could do,” he said.

The group now meets every Saturday afternoon and hosts a variety of activities in addition to monthly field trips that are paid for through fundraising events, often held at bars popular with foreigners who have made Buenos Aires their temporary or permanent home.

The space where the group often meets — a small patch of grass and concrete football and basketball courts underneath an overpass — may be modest, but the kids don’t seem to mind.

“My sister comes here every Saturday and I started coming too — it’s fun!” Lautaro, 10, beamed as he took a breather from a game of Frisbee. “I don’t like playing soccer much, but there’s lots of other things to do,” he added, pointing to the tranquil arts and crafts session taking place at the time where kids made colourful animals from recycled cardboard. In another corner, kids were playing chess and others a game of Twister.

Lautaro, though, was clearly in the minority as soccer is one of the most popular activities on offer.

“The soccer!” yells Marcos from Barracas when he’s asked for his favourite part of the weekly meetups.

Beyond the weekly activities, the children who take part in the group also spoke highly of the special activities that take place around once a month and can involve anything from a day trip to Tigre to skateboarding classes.

Team effort

The group is run exclusively by weekly volunteers, including many expats like Peter Fitzsimmons, a 30-year-old risk assessor from Ireland currently teaching English in Buenos Aires alongside his wife Emily, who were eager to volunteer but were often put off by organizations that required them to pay in order to help.

“We wanted to take a hiatus and help out. We were looking for something genuine, rather than a company that asks you for a load of money to simply go for a few days and take pictures with kids,” he said.

While most of the volunteers are expats, there are a few locals in the mix.

“I’m a local guy, from just near here in fact,” Nico told the Herald, pointing to the surrounding tower blocks near the park. “I knew how it can be with kids being in the street and surrounded by crime and I think the group is helping to change that a little.”

For Aquino, the next big challenge is to, as he says, find “a place to call home.”

“We have around thirty kids and I think that, with a club house or location of our own, we’d easily double that,” he explained.

In a bid to boost fundraising efforts, the group held a self-described festival in late July that included bands, food stands, other non-profit organisations and activities in Palermo.

Renting out the space cost the group almost all of the funds they had stored away, but Aquino says it proved to be a successful gamble not only to raise much-needed cash but also get the word out about their organization. The next Union de los Pibes festival is scheduled for November 8.




Malala, Obama and the Drone Wars

President Obama, former undeserving recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, was embarrassed in the Oval Office on Friday by the world famous Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, after she took the opportunity of the Presidential invitation to criticize Washington’s continuing campaign of drone strikes in her Pakistani homeland. While she thanked Obama for making progress in increasing aid to Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syrian refugee camps, she successfully shamed the President by adamantly refuting the success illegal US drone strikes in the region have had in countering terrorism.


Of the meeting, she said

                ‘I thanked President Obama for the United States’ work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees. I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fuelling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education it will make a big impact.’

Simple, peaceful ideas such as this seem routinely absent from Obama’s foreign policy. Concerning the ‘War on Terror’, his approach has often failed to promote understanding ahead of mailed-fist unilateralism and aggression. As the link below maps, since 2004 the US, using unmanned drones, has perpetrated a snowballing bombing campaign in Pakistan, responsible for over 3100 deaths, 175 of those children. The frequency of strikes has increased significantly since Obama took office in January 2009. As Noam Chomsky commented, where George W. Bush opted for the imprisonment and torture of alleged militants, many of whom still reside in Guantanamo Bay, Barack Obama favours simply killing them without even a hint of a trial or criminal charge. It goes without saying (though is worth re-iterating) that both approaches are severe breaches of international law, not to mention founding American notions of universal liberty and justice before an impartial legal system.



The meeting in the Oval Office was arranged, of course, as a morale-boosting publicity stunt for a President under huge domestic pressure from the hostile, petulant, reactionary Republican Party during the on-going governmental ‘Shutdown’. See how just our wonderful leader is in championing this poor victim of Taleban bigotry and intolerance! In all likelihood, then, he was caught off guard by such a wise and elegant assault on one of his flagship counter-terrorism strategies from this 21st Century heroine who breaches the East/West narrative. The teenage blogger and activist Malala’s rise to celebration in the West has come rapidly after her attempted assassination by Taleban foot-soldiers while returning from school almost precisely a year ago. Flouting the risk of becoming merely a tokenistic pawn for Western interventionism in the Muslim world, Malala has recovered to continue her inspirational activism for women rights and education globally. She is also an outspoken socialist, a fact conveniently ignored by the mainstream liberal and right-wing press.

She had been widely tipped to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, though last Friday’s ceremony handed it to OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) following its work in Syria. Obama, ultimately responsible for routinely bombing Malala’s homeland, is a former recipient of the prize whose previous winners also include (among many more peaceable, worthy candidates) Imperialist racist Theodore Roosevelt, war criminal Henry Kissinger, and loyal attack-dog of the papacy’s global anti-abortion campaign, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, aka Mother Teresa. While Malala is evidently worthy of a global peace prize, it arguably seems this particular institution would not do her already remarkable achievements justice. Providing Obama with the message that promoting education over bombing is the best way to fight terrorism, that which plagued her home and nearly killed her, is just the latest stunning action in the life of this brave activist everyone can learn from.