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(*fool who believes he can change the world)

Who else was, last friday, just like me, stopped at a crossroad somewhere in Capital, thinking, cursing : “No! No piqueteros! Not again!”. But then a cheerful young girl with a self-made white cloth over her T-shirt saying “Un techo para mi pais”, holding a small wooden house painted in blue was standing next to my window. In her enthusiasm she was talking way too fast and was completely incomprehensible, but I immediately knew what she meant. She was in a hurry, as she wanted to spread her message to about every driver waiting in front of the red light in just a few minutes, or more, she wanted to talk to every single driver driving through Santa Fe that day. She needed to collect as much money in as little time as possible. Driving out of town I saw students on about every corner and around every traffic light doing the same. They were clearly enjoying themselves.

“Un techo para mi pais” (a roof for my country) is an non profit organisation founded by university students in Chili in 1997, now, 14 years later, universities in 19 Latin American countries participate. Argentina takes part since 2003.

Students were appalled by the horrid situation the extreme poor live in, and want to give them a better quality of life.

Many people don’t have a roof, nor walls or floors, but live in a slum with walls made of carton or junk taken out of the garbage, and mud floors. They could as well have nothing, if it rains they get wet, if it’s cold they get ill. We all know it exists, but although poverty is very close it is still so far away.

These students actually wanted to do something about the situation these extreme poor live in. They start at the beginning, giving these people a roof, decent walls and floors. A place that is not just a house but can also be a home. The students (and other volunteers) collect the money and they construct the houses…themselves.

But this does not stop here. The volunteers, who call themselves “Boluntario” with the B of “Boludo que cree que puede cambiar la realidad de este país” have meetings in the new neighbourhoods, helping the poor with problems they might have, and advising them about health plans, education, give micro-loans etc.

Boludo, which is an extremely popular (and typical) word in Argentina, literally means “big balls”, for some reason probably known to the male population, having big balls means being stupid. “Que boludo!” means “what an asshole!”. So you don’t want to be called boludo, although it is constantly used between friends where it has a completely positive meaning, “Que hacés boludo?” is the same as “how are you my friend?”.

B(oludo)olutarios, because many called them boludos (fools), as they believe in the utopia that they can change the world by changing just a little but at the bottom. Because they spend most of their weekends building houses for, and having meetings with the poor, and they get nothing in return. Which is, to many people a “boludez” (something foolish). Fortunately, to many, it is not. There are now, since they started working in Argentina, more then 10.000 volunteers. They have already build about 1.100 houses.

The 9th and the 10th of September were ‘collecting days’. Not just the university students go out to collect money, but also secondary schools give a hand. The last year students of my kids’ school could sign up as Boluntarios and go out on the streets and collect, and they will also spend a weekend constructing houses.

The rest of the school participates in a more passive way. Friday was another, what they call ‘non uniform day’. Something I had never heard of before I moved here. Is this Argentine or do they do this everywhere? Once in a while the kids don’t have to wear their uniform to go to school, but only if they pay, whatever amount of money they want. For some reason teenagers love to go to school in ordinary clothes. That money goes 100% to charity. In this case to a roof for my country.

On other non uniform days they should all take soft drinks, candy, cakes, which are all offered to a school next door so they can organise a school party, or school material such as pens and pencils to offer to schools in need.

I am very proud to say that my son, being a last years’ in secundary school, has also volunteered to spend a weekend building houses. For this one weekend at least, he will open his eyes and the poor will not be far from his bed anymore, and they will have a face. Although there is poverty in Belgium there are no such things as the slums in Latin America. The majority of charity in Belgium goes to other continents in bigger need. The money raised by kids in Belgian schools go to projects presented through a speech or a video. There is no real contact. I hope my son will (finally) realise he is privileged, being born in a ‘rich’ family. ‘Rich’ as in having a roof above your head, all the food you need, clothes, schooling,… In this way, we are all privileged.

Any possible Boluntarios reading this, check this out.