Carly Mills’s reflections on Argentina

Carly Mills

Carly Mills spent three months in Argentina. Here are her reflections.

When I decided to take a gap year, I knew I wanted to spend at least part of it working within a mission setting. I was seriously considering South America as it was such a vast and unknown country, so when an opportunity to go away with SAMS appeared, I felt God was calling me to go. I was to be placed in the city of Salta, Argentina, along with a guy my own age form Lurgan, and we would be living with one of the SAMS workers, Cecilia Valdiviezo.

This all sounded lovely on paper, but I had no idea what to expect from the experience itself. I left in September 07, for a short term mission of just three months, and after two planes and a very long bus journey, we arrived in Salta.

The country itself is so…indescribable! Diverse, sunny, busy, poor, everything just seemed so DIFFERENT!!! It took us a while to get our bearings, but thanks to Cecilia we soon got used to our surroundings.

My activities in Salta were varied. On Mondays I was working in a Christian bookshop, Tuesdays and Thursdays saw me teaching English to kids in a school. At first I found this hard going but I soon discovered that kids are the best to learn Spanish from. If you didn’t catch it the first time, they say it ten times faster the second, just to make sure you’re completely lost! On Wednesdays I was looking after babies in a crèche, I loved them because they didn’t care what language I spoke! On Saturdays I worked with kids in a poor area of the city, sharing with them Bible stories and playing games. Perhaps my favourite activity however was Church on Sunday, which is odd as I rarely understood much of it! I was based in the local Church which was great as it was in easy walking distance. From my first Sunday there, everybody in the Church embraced me like I was family. The people there just seemed to radiate God’s love, they all worked together to make the Church an amazing place to worship. The young people in the Church welcomed me into their group, looking after me from day one and ever patient with my struggling Spanish, and I found wonderful friends in all of them.

My heart was torn when three months later I had to say goodbye. I had grown so accustomed to the heat of the summer sun, the food, the relaxed lifestyle, how could I return to Northern Ireland? The hardest of all was of course to say goodbye to my lovely friends, they had given me so much support while I was there, I couldn’t imagine not seeing them everyday.
I learnt so much from my time in Salta. The people there have so little so they depend on God for everything. I learnt the value of prayer, for others and indeed for myself when things were tough. I learnt to appreciate what I have, and that while language is important, actions speak a lot louder than words. I know that no one can understand my experiences just by reading about them, but for the numerous SAMS supporters who pray and give please be assured that I experienced something very significant during my time in Argentina. Be encouraged, be really encouraged.

Thank you

News from the SAMS Prayer line

Please continue to uphold the Venables family: Bishop Greg arrives on Friday to join Sylvia and mourners at the funeral of her mother that day. Greg and Sylvia will then spend most of March in the UK on a pre-planned visit.

This Friday the Pastoral Committee of the Diocese of Northern Argentina holds an important meeting in La Caldera, near Salta. They seek the way forward to break the stagnation in the diocese in recent years. Pray that God will direct the pastors and lay leaders and renew their vision and motivation.

Archdeacon Hugo Vergara will lead this meeting. Pray for him and his wife Techy who have been suffering cardiovascular problems caused by stress.

Also on Friday the team from the FEISA Teacher Training College make their second training visit to Yatnata in the Paraguayan Chaco helping mothers set up a nursery for the youngest children. Pray for their travel and for the impact of this two-day visit.

Finally, a reminder that the BBC2 programme ‘Tropic of Capricorn’ this Sunday at 8pm includes a visit to the Argentine Chaco with a short feature on the Wichi people and deforestation.

Jo Hamilton reflects

Jo HamiltonJo Hamilton a 22 year old from Lurgan has just returned from working for a three month period as a volunteer with the Red Box Project.

Argentina has impacted me in a way that I pray I never forget. I only hope that I can pass on the lessons and blessings that I have received. I came from Northern Ireland to serve through the Red Box Project and in return I was served by others in ways which went beyond my imagination.

Salta in the North of Argentina is beautiful and it’s rich with Gods amazing creation. The weather is changeable during the winter, one day you have multiple layers of clothes due to the cold, to wearing a light top the next day. The food is delicious, especially Dulce de Leche and Milanesa. But the thing I found most beautiful was the openness of the people. They are amazing and as westerners we have a lot to learn. The hearts of the people in the church are hearts of kindness, generosity, love, devotion and complete trust in God. I want to share a few experiences I have had here to demonstrate how special my friends are here.

From my first day in the church I was warmly welcomed with a loudly sang Bienvenido (welcome) alongside hugs and kisses. The warmness of everyone was amazing and the time when the youth just came up and wanted to give hugs was in abundance and it was a pleasure to return these embraces. On a couple of occasions when I mentioned that I liked something that they had they immediately wanted to give it to me as a gift. These gifts will remain special – special gifts of love and unselfishness.

I have certainly learnt so much here about materialism. In this country money may be a struggle for people but when I see my friends here they are rich in ways that I want in my life. God is at the centre of everything here and most importantly in the centre of the hearts of the people. Everything is completely surrounded in prayer and Gods provision has been evident. Life is not about striving to be in the best career, with the best clothes or the best house etc.

In Salta and through working with the Red Box Project I have learnt the meaning of life. It is about unity and support for one another in hard times. It is about showing love and generosity to the unloved. It is about serving others even if you are not being served. It is about having a passion at all times to follow the will of God even if it may not be what you desire. But most of all it is placing your life in the hands of God with a heart of dependency, dedication, trust, faith and love. We have a lot to learn from the people here in Salta and if you come to work with the Red Box Project you will have your eyes opened to another way of being.

Northern Argentina youth camp

Last month we asked prayer for the diocesan youth camp in Northern Argentina. We’ve now heard that God touched many hearts and ten youngsters accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour. Thank you for your prayers! The impact has been beyond expectation; let’s praise God for his might and goodness and let’s also pray for the follow-up in the local churches.

Northern Argentina Prayer Bulletin Feb 2008

The February Prayer news for Northern Argentina has also just arrived.

Last week the diocesan youth-camp for urban parishes took place in the ‘La Caldera’ conference-centre. 73 youngsters enjoyed an action-packed programme that revolved around the theme of ‘Mission-service’…Despite an improvised programme, God touched many hearts and some ten youngsters accepted Christ as Lord and Saviour.

The Northern part of the Salta-province is suffering from major flooding again. Already some 9 000 indigenous and criollos have been evacuated and 30 tons of aid is being flown in by plane and helicopter.

Siwok 2007 report

Wichi peopleDuring 2007 we have, thanks to your support, worked on different themes and projects. As stated in our mission statement, all the work intends to strengthen the values and talents of the Wichi people. We must add that we also intend to defend their environment, this has been high on this years list of activities.

These are the areas we have worked on:

We moved our office to the centre of Salta City (Vicente Lopez 187) where we can also show the work done by the Wichi Painters we have been promoting for the past 10 years.

We have had the help of Pamela Gomez organizing the different projects and activities. This has been important so as to coordinate the logistics of all done. The biggest effort goes into the yearly marathon and the health theme that is tied to it (eye care). She will be taking a year leave to work in SAMS Ireland. We hope that from there she can also help us.

Natural resources:
We have supported the Wichi leaders in their cry for protection of their forest and specially their fine woods. Never before have we seen how trees were chopped down to be sent illegally to China. This has been scandalous because it will prevent the Wichi in future to generate genuine income as there will be no wood to work with plus the loss of habitat.

On this subject we have worked on these areas:

Our constant (with other NGOs) pressure on the authorities through letters and meetings with the top official of the government produced Resolution Nº 948. that puts some control on illegal logging. All extraction permits were written off and all logs on the road have to be certified. This, in theory, is positive BUT we are still far from a real solution as the containers full of wood are leaving daily and these, for sure, are not legally certified. There are many rules but also many ways around them. There is a light of hope as the government has changed and there are new officials now with a more ecology mind. We will be carrying on with this effort in 2008.

Support (with other NGOs) for 8 community leaders to travel to Buenos Aires where they met with political leaders of Indian Affairs, Human rights, Ombudsman, Natural Resources, etc. The agenda was land rights and loss of forest to soy bean farmers. They also met with the senator (Miguel Bonasso) that has put together the new Forest Law that will stop tree felling for 1 years till land tenure is organized.

Support for Jose Molina (leader of Carboncito community) to travel to Buenos Aires (1600km away) to the 3rd Seminary on Natural Resources and Social Participation in the Mercosur economic block. (Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay & Argentina). It was organized by the External Affairs and Social Development Ministry. We filmed a video under the title: “Stop all this” which shows the terrible effect on communities of the sale of Palo Santo Wood to China. It´s done in Spanish, French, English and German).We are gratefull to Cristoff Kehr for helping us with this work. You can see this on YouTUBE.


In this area we have done:

A).- TAKING CARE OF OUR EYES. This project has been part of the 2007 Wichi Marathon held in July. We were supported here by a well known ophthalmologist, Dr. Fernando Di Lella, who traveled to the communities of Misión Chaqueña, Salim y and Carboncito. In two active days 72 patients were attended. From this iniciative we were able to:

Mobilize people from Buenos Aires to help with the frames for reading glasses. 48 Wichi recieved glasses.

Organize the operation of Pastor Rufino Gutiérrez who, due to acute glaucoma was going to loose his sight forever. He was operated by Dr Di lella and although he had lost sight in one eye his other one was saved.

Communicate the needs to our friends and contacts so that all could donate their used glasses. This was successful as we are still receiving bags of old spectacles that are then sent to the optician where he gages them and from there to the communities. We will carry on with this in future.

B).- We have worked on editing a flyer that deals with preventive info on diarroea in Wichi language. We hope this will give practical info for families on this subject that is the cause of malnutrition and infant mortality. We are very grateful to Bob Lunt for his continued support when we have to do any translating.

We receive from the communities the message that sport has to be promoted as there are no activities for the young. That is why we are involved in this area. The pit that they fall into, if there is no alternative for their spare time, is alcoholism. This has many secondary effects (violence, theft, health problems, etc). This is what has been done:

Inter Community football champinoship. Six teams played each other during three months. We hope to do this again with some changes that could prevent excesses. (All teams put 2 pesos each for each payer and the winner would take all. This went ok but after prize giving all got drunk and there was violence)
Wichi Marathon: more than 300 runners of all ages took part in this year´s event. Every year the organization is bettered although we still need a good computer program to get the prize winners fast. We were supported by the Foundation´s members and other volunteers. The Wichi themselves take more and more responsibility every year and it´s our hope that they will be able to do it by themselves in years coming. What is more difficult for them is the fundraising which has to be done via internet with contacts and friends.

Nike 10k Maratón: Nora Segundo and Eugenia Vallejos, came in first and second in their category and were given support by the foundation to go and run in Buenos Aires. Eugenia had also won in ´06 but for both it was a super experience to compete with 25.000 other runners. We plan to have this as a normal part of the Wichi Marathon’s fixture. We have to give special thanks to St. George´s College for giving them a place to stay on this and past trips.

Sport development Project. Due to our contacts with Nike we were asked to put together a sports program which we have done and presented t oto posible sponsor. It includes football, volleyball and the Maratón which Intend. To promote these sports with Wichi Teenagers (boys and girls).

We have had kids breaking into the museum through the window. They messed up the glass showcases and had a party in the centre room. All were drunk so the place was very messed up after they left. This has meant that we stopped investing in this project till there is a night watchman which we haven’t found yet. We will put the pressure on the local authorities so that they support this cultural anchor. There has to be somebody living there so the can take care of the museum and water the plants of the botanical garden. This last area will be of great importance to have as all that forest knowledge is getting lost. We will insist this coming year on this.

In order to put the pressure on local authorities we have put together the Museum needs an organised written Project. This Project is available to any interested partner.

This Little Project has given the school very sweet results. For the second consecutive year the five hives that were installed on a far end of the school compound gave a harvest of 40 kg of honey. This is given to the children to take home and part is sold to pay for books for the school. The work is coordinated by a bilingual teacher (Octaviano Gutierrez) who is also a member of the board of directors the Foundation. Kids from the upper grades help to clean, feed and harvest the hives so they have practical experience to be used once they are older. We hope to support students with hives for themselves in year ´08. This way there will be more enthusiasm to learn. As this is a very small project we need to get attached to other NGOs in the area to get the teaching for further knowledge.

For over ten years we have supported Wichi Art and it´s of great satisfaction to see how the artists are evolving. Since Litania Prado´s death (she was the first Wichi painter)in mid ´06 more painters have come in to practice. Slowly but steady we have seen how Laura (Litania´s sister) and Sarah Diaz (Litania´s sister in law) have gone ahead with putting on canvas their traditions and day to day life. It will have a big impact in the documenting of Wichi life for future generations. Reinaldo, was given a bicycle by the Foundation to visit other communities and that has meant that more young people started painting as we expected to happen. There is a need now to open up a market for these works as the only way that this can be sustainable is if they can be sold.

We will have an important exhibition in the top cultural centre in Buenos Aires sponsored by Pluspetrol a local oil company.

What we are pushing also is to develop other options to paint so we now have chairs, bowls, boxes and ladies clothes with the paintings. Twenty percent of the sale of these go back direct to the painters even though the work has already being paid for.

We finished the year with U$D766 in the bank. Still we have to print the diarrhea leaflets so it seems we will end the year near zero. This is healthy and normal and it’s our responsibility to share this news with you all and maybe you can count on your donations again. We would like to give special thanks to the SIWOK UK enthusiastic team of volunteers. Without them this could not have been done.

Many thanks for your continued support to the Siwok Foundation. We look forward to your help this year also so as to help the Wichi keep their environment and traditions alive plus gaining confidence and self esteem. God bless you all.

Alec Deane
(Siwok Foundation President)

Salta youth camp, Jan 2008

La Caldera is the location of the BTN trip in July 2008. This report shows how the diocese is already at work there.

Dani Lescano and René Pereira are the two men coordinating the diocesan youth camp planned for January 21-27 of 2008. They are expecting some 65 youngsters from urban parishes all over the diocese.  The aim is to mix training in evangelism with some practical maintenance work on the conference centre itself.  The programme promises to be action-packed.  Amongst other things such as sports and Bible study, there will be a number of workshops on different types of outreach (puppets, theatre, music, mime, etc.) and the idea is to apply the lessons learnt on the last day in the La Caldera village.  Knowledge of the gospel message will be key.  In the streets and on the plaza the young people will present the evangelistic effort they’ve been working on.

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