Jump for joy and LIFE!
But two Port Aransas friends have been volunteering there since November.
Cheri Horner, 24, and Lindsey Skewis, 22, traveled to Argentina to study Spanish and volunteer for the charity LIFE.
LIFE stands for Luchemos para una Infancia Feliz y con Esperanza. The English translation is “We strive for a childhood with happiness and hope.”
The young women are helping disadvantaged children in some of the most deprived and dangerous areas of the Argentine capital.
It’s a difficult environment to work in, but the Port Aransas High School graduates are determined young women.
“I’ve never felt like I was in a dangerous situation, Cheri said. “It’s important to be aware, but I don’t really think about it. I just try and focus on the kids.”
“It’s definitely not somewhere you’d go alone,” Lindsey added. “But LIFE has a really good reputation with the people there, because the community recognizes the positive benefits that the kids get from them.”
LIFE is a family-run charity, with no paid staff, that relies totally on volunteers. The volunteers work at community centers in the slums of Buenos Aires, offering educational, recreational and social activities for the children.
Most of the kids Cheri and Lindsey have been working with are between 3 and 12 years old. All go to school, but only because they get a free meal there.
The Argentine education system is failing these children and it’s not unusual to find 11-year-olds who can’t even write their own names.
Cheri and Lindsey have been helping with math and language school support classes, which are always followed by coloring and play sessions.
The aim is to give the children a balance between work and play, and to make them feel loved and secure.
“The kids are so eager to learn, and that’s what’s really exciting about going to volunteer,” Cheri said. “They love us to be there and especially want to learn English, so lately we’ve started English classes with them and they’re super enthusiastic.”
The English classes have also been one of the highlights for Lindsey.
The Texas A&M University graduate is hoping to secure a teaching job at elementary or middle school level when she returns home.
“I really like the English classes because I want to pursue teaching English as a second language when I go back,” Lindsey said. “ So it’s really great practice for me to see how I might best be able to teach English learners back in the States.”
Cheri is also gaining valuable experience for her chosen profession. She has a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Texas at Austin, and is planning to work as a counselor for adolescents in the future.
Cheri is no stranger to volunteer work. As part of her degree course she spent six weeks in Guatemala, working with orphans and teaching English at a school.
This gave her some idea of what to expect in the shantytowns of Buenos Aires.
“I wasn’t really shocked when I got here, but I definitely feel like it’s a humbling reminder of the blessings I have and that there’s always more that needs to be given to others,” Cheri said.
Volunteering is a fairly new experience for Lindsey, who was surprised by the lack of structure in the children’s lives.
“What really shocked me is the leeway that the kids have,” Lindsey said. “They just roam around the streets without their parents and they don’t have any supervision. It’s really quite sad.
Though the young women have only been working in the slums for a few months, they both have seen positive changes.
“It’s really rewarding when the kids recognize you and they remember things you taught them the week before. You feel like you’ve made progress,” Cheri said.
Lindsey believes there is hope for these kids, if they can stay in school.
“In Argentina the public universities are free, so if they can get out of the villas, they do have access to that kind of resource, Lindsey said. “ I hope that education will be able to help them get out of their current situation.”
Spending time in the villas can, at times, be emotionally draining, but facing this challenge together has been a bonus for the childhood friends.
“It’s great to have someone to do this with, because that way you can share in the experiences and talk about it together,” Lindsey said. “We’ll always have that in common when we go back home.”
Though the two have been working hard, with daily Spanish lessons and volunteer sessions, they have also done some traveling in Argentina, visiting the Patagonia region and Iguazu Falls.
Cheri and Lindsey will return to Port Aransas at the end of March.
Cheri is the daughter of George and Suzanne Horner, and Lindsey’s parents are Ron and Linda Skewis, all of Port Aransas.
For further information about the LIFE charity go to www.lifeargentina.org.
Lisa Harper is a volunteer journalist with LIFE.