This was my first Christmas back in Buenos Aires - my home city - after 3 years of being abroad, and I decided to try something new. There is a wonderful NGO in Argentina called Fundación Si, and they spend Christmas with the homeless. This is the story of my favorite Christmas Eve so far.
On the 24th of December, at 9pm, I was standing by myself at the corner of Mitre and Riobamba in Buenos Aires, just 100 meters away from the Congreso Nacional. There, surrounded by strangers, I was waiting to be assigned a group with whom I was going to wander the streets of Buenos Aires trying to bring some food and company to the people who don’t have a home and might not have anyone to spend the holidays with.
It was nice to see such a mixed crowd: young people, old people, families with children, couples, friends and even a celebrity spokesperson.
To my surprise, my group was not assigned a neighbourhood, but a homeless shelter. They had had so many volunteers this year – over 600 – that they had decided to add shelters to the places they would visit, instead of just hitting the streets.
There were about 15 people in my group, two of which – the most experienced and active volunteers – explained to us how things worked.
We arrived at a men’s homeless shelter in San Telmo with a box full of holiday treats like cake, turrón and garrapiñada. Apparently the men at the shelter didn’t know we were coming so it was a surprise for them. Some seemed happy to see us; some didn’t care. One asked why we were coming for the first time now, on Christmas Eve, and told us not to forget about them the other 364 days of the year. He was absolutely right. Unfortunately the foundation gets more volunteers during the holidays, so it’s easier for them to cover more places than on their usual outings – every single night of the year carrying food and blankets to those most needed.
We sat down in the eating area and slowly the men warmed up to us, at first somewhat shy, but by the end of the night we seemed like old friends. The same happened with the volunteers – most of us didn’t know each other but by midnight we were all hugging and kissing like we would at home with our own families.
I had some wonderful conversations, and one of the men at the shelter, who had lived in Italy, even taught me some phrases in Italian like “Io sono professoressa di spagnolo” (I am a Spanish teacher).
Another one made me promise him I would finish my long due university studies.
I was surprised, probably because of the misconceptions that I had, that a lot of these guys were not people with addictions or no education, but just men who had had a round of bad luck. This experience really made me realize that in countries like mine with no real unemployment benefits or barely any public housing policies, this can really happen to anyone.
A question us volunteers often heard during that evening was “Why are you here? Don’t you have a family you can spend Christmas with?” And the truth is, most of us did but we just would rather spend it there with them than overeating and over spending on unnecessary gifts.
When we were leaving they thanked us for spending Christmas with them, as they felt we were doing them a favor, but actually I think it was the other way around. Making someone who needs it smile, even if just for a little while, was the best Christmas present I could have asked for.
If you are interested in helping this foundation, you can find more info here www.fundacionsi.org.ar or look them up on Facebook or Twitter.
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