Pilares (pillars) is a Foundation that works in one of the largest slums in the city of Buenos Aires, called Villa 21-24 de Barracas. A story that began with a group of young people in 2008 and is today a Foundation that helps 365 families.
Buenos Aires is well known for being a cosmopolitan, crazy city, nourished by culture and beauty. But it is also known to be one of the cities that house the largest poor settlements in Latin America. The largest slums in Argentina are in Buenos Aires. One of them, the biggest one, is ‘Villa 21-24 of Barracas’, in the South-East of the Argentine capital city. It hosts about 45,000 people in a situation of precariousness and poverty.
"Slums are a palpable problem in Buenos Aires. People living there are affected by the stigma of being from those neighbourhoods, because they suffer many prejudices," says Guadalupe Sánchez Granel, a young woman from Buenos Aires who has been working in Pilares since its inception. Today she is a member of its Administrative Board.
Pilares was established in June 2008, when a group of young people with strong social concerns began to carry out recreational and educational activities together with some inhabitants of the Villa. The first task they received as an organization was to carry out the activities of one of the new chapels of the neighbourhood, which was used as a community centre. Many people who lived there had recently settled down and, as they saw that this youth group had a lot of perseverance and commitment, they asked them to go ahead with this task with different activities and catechesis.
"For me it meant to break many prejudices. When we started, the Villa was demonized, it was said to be the source of everything bad that happened to the city. The first time I entered it I was a bit scared, but then it was an incredible experience for me, and it is the same for everyone who comes in. In fact, you can see very clearly that people who live there are just like all of us, but fortuitously they met different conditions and worse opportunities than we did," says the young Argentine woman.
"We wanted to build a relationship with them, but it was not always easy, because you come from the outside and, despite their predisposition, the inhabitants of the Villa do not open up and welcome you automatically. There was a lot of mistrust, but perseverance eventually won. The feature that, I believe, helped us the most, was our constancy. We went there every Sunday morning. Sometimes I went back home wondering if it was worth it, because my impression was that they were not listening to us, there was a lot of trouble, violence among the kids, and I was exhausted. But the next Sunday we went back there again," explains Guadalupe.
She remembers with a smile one of the first times she went there: "I was the only one who could play the guitar, so I prepared a songbook with songs for the Mass and from my childhood but when I arrived, nobody was excited about it. Later on, I realized that they used to listen to cumbia and reggae, so I understood I had to change music; the songs from my childhood just would not work. I prepared a new list of songs and built up a sort of recital. They all joined in, they sang along, and they knew all the songs. I became aware that a different process was needed, I had to observe more and ask more questions."
Little by little new needs arose, and they could detect them by the very contact with people. For example, as they were teaching catechesis, they realized that most people had great trouble in reading and writing, so they started giving school support. Later they found out about a nutrition problem, and with volunteers from a university, they detected many underweight or overweight boys and girls and on this basis, they organized a maternal-child program. Each initiative came about from the needs they observed from their contact with the people of the neighbourhood.
Through the almost 9 years they have been working there, they managed to put up a team of professionals with whom they designed social programs that they have been implementing since 2011 in the neighbourhood. At that time, it was called Caacupé NGO (non-governmental organization). This is how they continued to grow in number of recipients, volunteers, sponsors, and programs, as well as to improve their quality and commitment in everything they were doing.
In 2014 a new chapter began, to be thought of as a Foundation, under a mission, vision, and values, in the future and in the long term, so that their ideas and projects could go beyond the individuals involved. This is how Pilares was born, but without losing the spirit of its beginnings: providing tools for the whole development of those who live in the Villa 21-24.
Today their staff includes 40 professionals and 60 volunteers who work 40 hours per a 6 day-week, with 325 families. Their initiatives include: the Conin Barracas Center, which provides support to mothers and children; the Pilarcitos (little pillars) Early Childhood Center with teachers who provide technical teams every week to 75 children; an Educational Program that provides school support to 100 children; and a program called Community Empowerment whose recipients are 80 children and adolescents to whom they provide recreational activities, school support, and catechesis.
These are only some major initiatives that give us a glimpse of what one lives next to families that are fighting it hard to get out of situations of strong social injustice. Not only in the aim of helping out, but also to build a solid foundation with them and promote their whole development in view of a successful outcome.
All this, in addition to learning everything that the people of the neighbourhood have to give: their culture and popular religiosity; the customs they bring from the countries they come from (Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru…); the values they give to the family and their respect to the bonds.
By always acting together with them, Pilares had the opportunity to be part of more than 1,700 stories of all kinds, and to build with perseverance, commitment, transparency, justice, and solidarity, a society without barriers.
Link to make donations: http://www.pilares.org.ar/donaciones
Link to video footages: https://youtu.be/OY27quBBByI