Friday, December 6, 2013

November Retreat: Part Two

Jumping picture in front of a beautiful Spring sunset.

YAGM Katie M. uses art to show what her first 3 months have been like.

The volunteers participated in sessions about initiative and accompaniment, spritual growth, abundance, scarcity, coping, charity and change, among other sessions. 

YAGM volunteers Jen D., Katie M., and Josh B. work in a small group for one of the sessions.

The directora of the farm shows the volunteers the different types of plants that are grown at the farm.

The volunteers meet the newest member of the farm´s cheese-making team.

Our Thanksgiving simulation meal.

Cheesy Potatoes.

The volunteers plus the farm's cook David, at the Thanksgiving simulation meal (2 weeks before Thanksgiving). David graciously loaned us his kitchen and helped us to create an authentic feast. We realized well into the cooking process that we hadn´t purchased a turkey or a chicken, so this meal was sides-only. It was delicious and abundant.

The volunteers leading their sending worship service. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

November Retreat: Part One

Here are some pictures of the beginning moments of the YAGM Argentina-Uruguay Retreat, held in Colonia Valdense, Uruguay. 

The night before we set off to Uruguay, YAGM Kristyn Z. made a birthday cake to celebrate with the 5 YAGM volunteers who celebrated their birthday in September and October!

An Argentine "bengala"...a firework-like candle that is used on birthday cakes.

The YAGM volunteers with Country Coordinators Krystle and Ignacio, getting ready to board our boat to cross the Río de la Plata, the river that runs between Uruguay and Argentina.

The volunteers with Ignacio and a friendly dog in Colonia Sacramento, the port town that we explored as we waited for our bus to leave. 

Some games and group-building activities.

The volunteers working on their art projects.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mate, community, and how the Church cares for people in need [by Erin B.]

One of the very first things we learned about Argentina, even before we set foot here, was the importance of mate (pronounced MAH-tay). In our time in Grand Bourg, we have continued to learn more about the traditions and sentiments that surround this drink, which is by law the “national infusion.”

Mate is like a loose-leaf tea that you drink in a special gourd (also called a mate) with a special straw called a bombilla that filters out most of the leaves. You can drink mate alone, but the vast majority of the time it is drunk in community. One person is the cebador, and s/he pours hot water over the dry yerba mate leaves. First s/he drinks the mate until the water is mostly gone and the straw makes a sucking sound, then pours more water and passes the mate to the next person. That person drinks until the water is gone, and then passes it back to the cebador, and so on.

Mate is drunk at social gatherings, at official meetings, at parties… really, anytime several people are gathered, mate is there (insert sarcastic reference to Matthew 18:20 here). Even when it is impractical to drink mate, in choir practice for example, where both our hands and our mouths are otherwise occupied, mate is drunk anyway.

Mate is a beautiful way to practice sharing in community. Everyone drinks out of the same mate gourd and uses the same bombilla. Depending on the number of people sharing the mate, several minutes might pass before it’s your turn to drink again. So if you’re looking simply to satisfy your thirst or benefit from the caffeine, it would be better to drink a bottle of Coke all by yourself. Mate is not primarily about thirst or caffeine, but about togetherness and friendship.

There are a few individuals and families that pass by our church every so often to ask for a small bag of food to help them get by. These bags usually include rice, lentils, sugar, flour, and… mate. Josh noted that at first glance, mate seems to be the odd thing out in these bags. The other items are staples; basic things that help the person survive. Mate, on the other hand, doesn’t provide any physical nourishment, yet it is always included in these basic food kits. Why?

We have come to realize that mate doesn’t satisfy a physical need, but rather satisfies a social, emotional, spiritual need for community and identity. Mate is part of being an Argentinean, just like eating is part of being human. In providing mate for these families, the church is helping not only to sustain them physically, but also to sustain their dignity as Argentinean people.

How have we as the wider Church succeeded and failed to sustain the dignity of the people with whom we are in ministry? How can we begin to care for our neighbors as whole people, with needs that are physical, emotional, social, spiritual?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Beautiful things...

Each week the YAGM volunteers reflect on their experience by answering different reflection questions that their Country Coordinator sends them. This week they were asked to reflect in a different way.

Each volunteer was asked to take a picture of 3-5 different things in their host community (people, places, etc) that they consider "beautiful," and to include a description of why these things have been beautiful to them in their first three weeks.
Here are some of the things that they find to be beautiful:

YAGM Katie M. writes, "I was so happy to discover a murga uruguaya club here in Corrientes. I went to my first practice on Thursday and really enjoyed it. I think it is so beautiful that students here have created this group and want to create this community space to creatively express themselves. I am so happy they have invited me into it." 
YAGM Josh B. writes, "this is my journal and everyday I write about the people I meet and the experiences that I have in all the various aspects of my community and site placements. I am excited to skim back through the pages months and years from now."

YAGM Jen D. writes, "Fernanda is a first-grader who attends Club de Niños at La Obra.  She has the heartiest laugh I’ve ever heard come from a little girl.  Seriously, there is no way not to be in a great mood when she laughs.  This photo was taken during a field trip to a plaza in the city.  While our card game lasted all of two minutes, Fernanda took great care in arranging the cards just right for this photo."

YAGM Tyler D. writes, "No words needed for this dude he's the bomb. It was also a great night for a stroll and I always find beauty in water so that helps too." 

YAGM Kristyn Z. writes, "Mate. How beautiful is that? Sitting around outside in a park, chatting and sharing mate. Nothing better."

YAGM Elizabeth T. writes, "I love my little wooden nightstand and lamp. After a long, cold day of strained ears and wet feet, nothing looks quite as beautiful as a steaming cup of coffee/hot chocolate and a book... Next week though, I'm leveling up and plan on borrowing one of the novels in Spanish. "

Erin B. writes, "Saturdays at Congregación San Lucas are the busiest day of the week. Children, youth, families, and older adults pass through at different times of the day, and many people stick around for hours at a time. It is beautiful to see this wall filled with backpacks and jackets, because it means that there is a community that it alive and well in this place."

The Beginning of Life in Uruguay-- by Jen D.

Uruguay volunteer, Jen D., writes poetically about her first few weeks in her host community.
The days are long but the weeks short
At work I’m a friend, a companion
In the morning with teens
Afternoon with the kids
People whose lives have seen different problems than mine
Some because of money, some drugs, some broken relationships
Some because of things I cannot even understand
(and this is not the fault of the language barrier)
I am here for the relationship
My “work” comes in the form futbol (soccer) games, cooking, and swimming
Sometimes via jump rope or homework or dancing
My assignment is to be; to listen and to participate
The assignment is consistency
What am I doing today?
The same as last week and the same as next week
Still coming, still going, still playing, still smiling
“Good morning”, kiss on the cheek, time for activity
“Will you play with us tomorrow/next week?”
“Of course, there’s no place I’d rather be”
The days are long but the weeks are short

(versión en Castellano)
Los días son largos pero las semanas, cortas

En el trabajo, soy una amiga, una compañera
En la mañana con adolescentes
A la tarde con los niños

Personas que en sus vidas han tenido problemas distintos a los míos
Algunos por el dinero, algunos por las drogas, algunos por relaciones rotas
Algunos por razones que no puedo entender
(y no es por la culpa del idioma)

Estoy acá por la relación

Mi “trabajo” viene en la forma de partidos de fútbol, cocinando, y nadando
A veces a través de saltar la cuerda, o con tarea escolar, o con baile
Mi tarea es “estar”: escuchar y participar
La tarea es consistencia

¿Qué estoy haciendo hoy?
Lo mismo que la semana pasada y lo mismo que la próxima semana
Todavía viniendo, todavía yendo, todavía jugando, todavía sonriendo

“Buen día”, un beso en mi cachete, la hora para actividad
“¿Jugas con nosotros mañana/la semana que viene?”
“Por supuesto, no hay ningún lugar en el que me interesaría más estar”

Los días son largos pero las semanas, cortas

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Orientation Highlights

The YAGM volunteers traveled to their host communities last night. Here are some pictures of the highlights from their orientation, held in Buenos Aires, Argentina...

Just after arriving to Buenos Aires

Pastor Alan Eldrid tells the history of this IELU congregation, that includes the stories of immigrants from Hungary and Slovakia.

Pastora Wilma Rommel, Vice President of the IELU, shows the distribution of the IELU congregations throughout Argentina and Uruguay, with the map at the IELU´s central offices in Buenos Aires
Young adults from nearby IELU congregations teach the YAGMs "Castellano," the form of Spanish used here. The classes invove interactive games, music, and other creative approaches of learning and practicing the language for the YAGMs´daily life. 

Music Day! The YAGM volunteers write 2 songs in Castellano (videos of these songs to follow) accompanied by the musical friends of the Castellano instructors.

Some group-building activities to build trust within the group and to discuss the ways in which they will communicate their experience to their loved ones in the Sending Communities.

The YAGMs in front of Argentina´s government house, watching the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo march in this plaza, as they do each Thursday afternoon.

Jen, a YAGM who will live in Uruguay this year, learns different techniques of how to fold an empanada; a common food in both Argentina and Uruguay.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Time Management

By Emery E.

Before going away to college, I was told that in order to succeed, I would have to learn good time management skills. Over the four years, time management skills was something I thoroughly developed. I learned that getting a sandwich and eating it while walking to the library or to class was much more efficient than actually sitting down in the dining hall . My junior year I found that the quickest way between my dorm room and Spanish class was to cut through the science building by walking through the chemistry department rather than risk walking through the geography department and potentially losing time by bumping into a professor or fellow geography major. I finished college having two minors to complement my degree in geography but I would like to think I had a concentration in time management.

Time management, even though it was something I could not physically pack in my suitcase, was definitely something I brought with me to Uruguay. I quickly figured out the optimal time to leave my house in order to catch the right bus to La Obra.  Every day I woke up, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth, got dressed, quickly said “buenos dias” to the portera, the door lady and then I was off to face another day in Uruguay.  That became my daily routine. Then one Monday as I was leaving, the door lady asked me a question. I quickly sputtered out an answer in Spanish and continued out the door. The next day, Tuesday, the door lady asked me the same question. Wednesday too. I was starting to wonder if the door lady had a bad memory. Coming back from La Obra on Thursday of that week, the door lady repeated what had become the question of the week. This time instead of giving her a hurried response, I actually sat down in the empty chair next to her to answer the question. We ended up talking until her shift ended. 

After that, my schedule changed a bit. The quick and curt “buenos dias” in passing became a sincere morning greeting. The “buenos tardes” after a day at La Obra transformed into longer conversations. I soon learned that Kristina, the person previously known as door lady, used to live in Argentina, did long jump in high school and does not like sugar in her mate. In turn, Kristina learned a lot about me. For example, when mail arrives at el hogar, Kristina is is the one who holds it at the front desk until the recipient claims it. Earlier in the year, if I had mail I would scurry up to my room, eager to hear news from home. However, now if I have mail, I sit down and open and share it with Kristina who now is well-informed about my life in Wisconsin thanks to shipments and clippings from hometown newspapers. During the summer, when all my roommates went home for summer vacation, it was great to have someone to talk to. I think that Kristina, who sits by herself most of the day monitoring the front door listening to the radio, felt similarly . Once again, I have been a witness to how accompaniment, a central theme of YAGM, really is a two-way street.

These days our conversations have started to include talking about how cold the weather is getting and the fact that my YAGM year is coming to a close. I realize that all the times this year I have spent sitting, people watching and listening to 80s music with Kristina is going to be one of my favorite memories of Uruguay.  I also realize how none of those memories would exist if I did not do such a good job of managing my time.

Kristina y Yo

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Station

by Kjerstin
I have explained briefly before what I do at SERPAJ (Servicio Paz y Justicia), but it is such a big part of my life here that I would like to elaborate a bit more. Forgive me for the article length!
Servicio Paz y Justicia
SERPAJ is an international non- profit, and I am working where it all began: in the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires (Buenos Aires is also the name of the province).
Two days a week, I meet my colleagues in the afternoon at our office in San Telmo, where we prepare drinks and snacks for the children and mothers at the Constitución station.
Then we head to the train/subway station. The station is very large – picture Grand Central Station – in part because it is one of the only places to enter from the interior of the country to the capital via train. I would guess that it was a pretty elegant place when it was first built. From there, commuters have the option of taking one of the many buses outside the station or taking the subway.
Trains are much more economical than buses here, and many times they unofficially let people who are on the streets ride for free, hence one of the reasons why many people in tight financial situations congregate at the station.
Many of the children who I accompany have homes in the province of Buenos Aires and come in each day on the train to the station to sell trinkets and newspapers, beg, or steal. When things are rough at home, they sleep at the station or perhaps only return home only to eat and bathe.
Like any other community, there are many different social circles within the station and people of all ages. Our children range from newborns with their mothers to teenagers. Most of the mothers have many children and started motherhood at a young age. The fathers on the whole are not present.
Unfortunately, I have no photos to share of the inside of the station. The train station and surrounding area is a home for many, so I have no intention of invading that space and privacy with an expensive digital camera.
Together we play and color, giving the kids a place to actually be kids instead of dealing with the adult topics they usually face. Meanwhile, other members of SERPAJ talk with the mothers to check on how things are going and to answer any legal questions or offer accompaniment to schools, hospitals, police stations, etc.
At the Beginning
When I first started working with SERPAJ, I was overwhelmed. The mothers and children did not trust me, and rightfully so. They have not had life stories that encourage trust.
The clean freak in me was also not comfortable with playing on a dirty urban station floor or with exchanging cheek kisses with people whose hygiene practices were different than my own.
Then I got over it. And I have gained so much by doing so. I now have people there who know and trust me to sprawl out on the floor and color with their beautiful children. I now am less judgmental, understanding that there are always histories behind why people turn to drugs or stealing, or why they don’t share the same social graces.
Realistically, I do not think that the community at the station is going to vastly change. With hope, the children will become more aware of their rights and learn about other perspectives and opportunities. Chances are slim that I will see those changes in them in this short time, but I already feel changes in me.
Perhaps that is the key. For the lives of these people to change, the rest of us need to open our eyes and ears, ask questions, and change.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

¡Otro Casamiento! (Another Wedding)

On Saturday, March 16th, I had the opportunity to attend my second Argentine wedding!  What a coincidence- I don’t attend weddings nearly as often in the U.S.!  Maybe Argentina is a more romantic country, and simply being here increases your probability of receiving a wedding invitation (laugh track). 

This time, I had not just one, but eight wedding dates: Osvaldo, Marcos, Maxi, Sandra, Romina, Kaitlyn and Mirta, all from El Arca!  We attended the wedding of Ana, an occupational therapist and friend of the community who worked with Marcos during his first year living in the home in addition to volunteering in the workshop.  I had met Ana once before, on December 25th of all days, when she visited the home to wish everyone (especially Marcos) a Merry Christmas!

This was not just any wedding.  It took place in the countryside of Buenos Aires province in a small town called Valdes, a 3 hour drive from Boulogne, and the whole affair had a distinctly gaucho (Argentine-cowboy) flavor.  The ceremony took place in a small, beautiful chapel with a rustic feel, and the groom enhanced the rustic ambiance by dressing like a gaucho himself!  He wore high leather boots with baggy tan pants tucked into them, a red sash for a belt, a white dress shirt with a brown best, a bandana around his neck and a typical gaucho hat, which to me looks suspiciously similar to a French beret.  Here he is with the El Arca caballeros (gentlemen):

Marcos, Dani, Osvaldo, Francisco and Maxi

As guests gradually trickled in and waited for the bride to arrive, an acoustic ensemble of guitar, voice, flute and drums serenaded us from the balcony.  I was happy to recognize a few of the songs from previous masses I had attended with El Arca.  Listening to the drifting, mellifluous music while sitting in that beautiful place made me feel like I was in a fairytale.

Ana, the bride, was the protagonist of this fairytale.  She had a simple (by contemporary standards) yet ethereal look.  Her wavy hair hung loose down her back and her dress was elegantly classic, with lacy cap sleeves and satin buttons.  Here she is with the El Arca acogidos:

Maxi, Marcos, Ana, Osvaldo, Dani and Sandra

The experience felt even more like a fairy tale at the post-ceremony asado when the newlyweds arrived on horseback.  A crowd of cheering friends and family members awaited them as they gracefully slid off the horse and into their celebration.  

Unfortunately, due to schedule constraints, we were unable to stay at the party long.  We stayed long enough to delight in the delectable cheese and bread appetizers and the more-than-filling Argentine asado, though!  Then we headed back to El Arca, cosily huddled together in the van.  All things considered, it was a lovely outing!  I feel so blessed to have shared this day with such a great group of people.  

Here are two more photos from the wedding that I really like:

Marcos, Romina, Mirta, me and Sandra

 Kait and Osvaldo

                                             by Lisa R. April 6th, 2013

Labor Day Munchies

Happy Labor Day!!! Here in Uruguay, like most other countries around the world, Labor Day is celebrated on May 1st. Everything was closed today which resulted in a pretty quiet day in el hogar as most of my roommates were gone and it was rainy and cloudy most of the day. I was in my room reading when one of my friends invited me to take part in a Uruguayan tradition, eating torta fritaor fried bread. Here in Uruguay, it is a tradition to eat torta frita on rainy days. I have asked lots of people why this tradition exists and have not yet gotten a conclusive answer. Apparently, nobody really knows why the tradition exists or began. Either way, like most street foods, torta frita is tasty, cheap and not at all healthy and since it was Labor Day and everything was closed, we ended making it ourselves. I have never deep fried anything in my life and was a little grossed out by the amount of grasa vacuna a.k.a. in English as "cow fat" or "lard", we used to fry but it was still a good learning experience. (Unlike mate, I don't think I'll bring this tradition back with me to the United States) Cow fat aside, making and eating torta frita with friends was a great way to pass a rainy, gloomy, Labor Day afternoon.

Mate & torta frita: Helping Uruguayans cope with rainy days since 1811

                                                                  --Emery E. May 1st, 2013

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Re-Cap of YAGM 2012-2013

Since this blog was just created, 
here are some pictures to recap the journey thus far for the current YAGMs...

At the airport

Our afternoon with the IELU´s Vice President Pastora Wilma

Learning about Uruguay

Final day of Orientation

Final day of Orientation

Final day of Orientation

Sending Worship service presided by Pastora Andrea and Pastor Fabián who had just been ordained

On our way via boat to Uruguay for the YAGM´s first of 3 retreats!

Hanging out in Colonia, UR for the day

A Parade!!!!


At the Retreat Center

Morning Yoga

Telling their story

Learning about the farm


23-hours in a bus and then they arrived!!

My father-in-law making the YAGMs a typical Argentine dish

Just Before

At the top!... totally worth the hike! Thanks Victoria for helping us find the trail!