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Lois Symons - Human Rights & Spanish Short-term special

Lois Symons - Human Rights & Spanish High School Special

Participating in a human rights awareness campaign in Argentina

I decided to take part in the Human Rights & Spanish High School Special in Argentina because of my interest in human rights and my passion for travelling and experiencing different cultures. I have always enjoyed travelling, but had never visited a Latin American country before and knew little about the culture, which is what encouraged me to choose Argentina. The interesting history of Argentina made it the perfect place for the Human Rights programme, and I was able to develop an in-depth understanding of the history and culture of the country. This simply would not have been possible if I had visited without taking part in the programme.

First impressions of Argentina and my host family

Upon arrival in Cordoba, I was met at the airport by a Projects Abroad staff member. Despite having waited several hours at the airport due to the lateness of my flight, he was extremely welcoming and full of smiles! I was soon taken to my host family, where I was shown around and met the family I would be staying with for the next two weeks.

Visiting a local waterfall over the weekend

My host mother, Victorina, lived alone with her (very cute) dog, Tota, but when I arrived, the house was full! Victorina’s daughter and granddaughter were there, as well as a previous volunteer from Japan who had come back to visit her. Lastly, there was Danielle from Florida, who was soon to become my roommate. Despite the language barrier that resulted from my lack of knowledge of the Spanish language, I felt very welcomed and we all spent some time chatting and getting to know each other, with a little bit of translation from Victorina’s granddaughter, Flor, and Danielle.

That evening we were given the opportunity to visit a flea market in downtown Cordoba. It was our first chance to see the city, and it was a lot of fun. It also allowed us to meet all of the other High School Special volunteers, including two of those who were in our Human Rights group. Later that evening, the third volunteer who would be staying with us arrived; Amanda from Norway. Over the two weeks, the three of us became good friends, and I honestly could not have asked for two better people to live with!

My Human Rights placement

Volunteers attend a Spanish class together

The first day was an induction day, which involved our first Spanish lesson and a bus tour of the city. This was enjoyed by us all, and allowed us to see just how beautiful and interesting Cordoba really is. On the Tuesday, our programme really started, with our first workshop at the human rights office. The workshop was led by Projects Abroad staff and some of the standard Human Rights volunteers, and gave us an introduction to human rights and the Argentine legal system.

There were seven of us in our human rights and Spanish group; myself, Danielle, Amanda, Aurélie from France, Bella from the US and Megan and Milly, who were also from the UK. Throughout the two weeks we were to be accompanied by our coordinators, who were just awesome! As part of the workshop, we discussed the concept of human rights, and human rights abuses that take place in our own home countries. This was very interesting and allowed us to all get to know each other a lot better – we ended up chatting away for ages!

Volunteers eat a meal together in Argentina

Throughout the rest of the two weeks, we took part in a whole host of activities, both in and out of the office. We learnt a lot about the Argentinean dictatorship, and even had the opportunity to visit ex-detention centres. This was truly fascinating, and also very moving. We prepared for and took part in a campaign to raise awareness of the sexual abuse of children, and cooked for the homeless in the city. In the second week, we prepared activities for our visit to a home for vulnerable children.

These were all extremely rewarding activities, and I thoroughly enjoyed everything that we did. I was able to learn and improve my understanding of many different issues, while also helping people and making a difference. We also spent a lot of time preparing for the mock trial, which took place on the final Friday. This was based on the dictatorship, making it relevant to what we were learning and of interest to us all. The trial was a lot of fun to take part in.

Free time and social activities

Volunteers visit the Che Guevara house in Argentina

By the time social activities were added in, we did not have much free time at all! This was perfect, as it allowed us to really make the most of our time there and get a feel for the culture. Many of the activities can be summed up in two words – dance and food! We took part in salsa and tango classes in the evenings, and even though it became clear that none of us would become professional dancers, many laughs were had. At least we can say we tried!

One evening we all went out for lomitos, which were simply amazing! Steak, ham, cheese, tomato, lettuce and a fried egg all in one sandwich. A national treasure, if you will. Myself, Danielle and Amanda loved them so much that we ended up going out for lomitos a few days later with Victorina!

We had some incredible activities arranged for us at the weekend. On the Saturday, we took a trip to Alta Gracia, the village in which Che Guevara lived as a child, and visited the home that has now been turned into a museum. I loved this, it was so interesting and an opportunity that not many will ever have. We then spent some time walking around the village, which was very pretty and relaxed. The next day, we trekked to a waterfall in Santa Rosa. Although it took a few hours and was rather cold, it was well worth it when we reached the waterfall. We then had lunch and visited Villa General Belgrano, a small German village. Fortunately for us, we visited at the time of a chocolate festival! Of course, this was great.

Leaving Argentina

Volunteers with their host mother

I just didn’t want to! I had the most amazing time in Argentina, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. We were given an insight that would not have otherwise been possible, particularly from our coordinators. The experience would not have been the same without them, they were so welcoming and knowledgeable and never failed to keep us entertained.

By the end of the two weeks we had all become a close group of friends, and I could not have asked for better company. I will never forget all of our inside jokes and the times we just spent chatting about anything and everything. Taking part in the Human Rights and Spanish High School Special in Argentina gave me the perfect combination of learning about human rights, discovering the history and culture of an incredible country, and meeting great people. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in human rights, and can guarantee that you will leave with an even greater passion for it.

Lois Symons

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