Un Héroe Local En Un Mundo de Héroes Internacionales

by Steven Page

A Local Hero in a World of International Heroes

With the outpouring of national and international sorrow at the passing of Hugo Chavez, it is the passing of a Latin American hero on a more local level that, in many ways, has more significance.  Portsmouth Grammar School, its students past and present, have been fortunate to have benefitted from a Latin American hero's energy and vision over the last five years and it is with huge sadness that news was received of his death.

Here's the story...............

"In 2008, almost ten years after my first visit to Latin America having just qualified as a Spanish teacher, I arrived in a cold, grey Buenos Aires. The plan was to spend two months volunteering with a relatively new volunteering charity called Voluntario Global. Back in 2008, Valeria Gracia and Armin Díaz, the original founders of the organisation, had set up a grass roots organisation that worked, principally, out of two community centres in impoverished barrios of the Argentine capital. What was unique about Voluntario Global, and remains true today, is that it looked to bring together the energy and enthusiasm of international volunteers with the local members of the poor communities of Buenos Aires who believed that change in their lives, and those of their neighbourhoods at large, was possible through international co-operation and partnership.

Armin Díaz, a Bolivian by birth, represented the spirit of the members of the poor neighbourhoods. After all, he lived in Villa Soldati and was living proof that the prejudice towards those living in the villas was so misplaced and unjust. Armin was bright, intelligent, caring, resourceful and hardworking.  He was a positive energy for change and brought this to bear in all of the subsequent projects that Voluntario Global have created and nurtured. In the five years that I have been supporting Voluntario Global, young volunteers from all corners of the globe have come to Buenos Aires to contribute to the life-changing projects that have developed as part of Valeria and Armin's vision. Portsmouth Grammar School has benefitted enormously from Voluntario Global's enthusiasm, generosity and care and all staff and students who have been part of the "Argentina volunteering experience" have had their lives touched and changed for the better through Armin's contributions to the success of our visits.

One of the largest obstacles to giving the youth of the poor barrios like Villa Soldati a foothold in mainstream Argentine society is the lack of opportunity for them to continue with education whilst being able to support their families financially. The vast majority of young people in the poor districts such as Villa Soldati  give up on their education as the financial imperative to work takes over.  For almost all, work does not take the form of what we would call "professional occupations". Whatever employment is available is taken, no time for CVs, interviews and new suits.  What Armin achieved (and what will surely be his legacy) was the creation of a Youth Co-operative Laundry, Su Lavandería, in which young people from his poor neighbourhood could learn skills, be productive, earn a wage, support their families and, above all, continue with their education. 

Armin was already well on his way to gaining a degree from Buenos Aires University having worked tirelessly to get the business venture off the ground.  The huge number of positive testimonies from hotel and hostel owners in Buenos Aires shows clearly how successful this enterprise has become in such a short space of time. The Laundry Project was conceived to allow for a new and hopeful transition into adulthood where young people can remain in education and advance to universities with their laundry wages financing their studies; Armin was the energy and drive that ensured that the dream became a reality.

But, as Armin knew, the Laundry Project was more than just the possibility to work in a secure and uplifting environment. Su Lavandería helps in a different and more sustainable way. Armin always ensured that visitors to the Laundry Project knew that the most important aspect of the work was the life experience that its young workers gained. For most of the teenagers escaping from their poor life in the villas, becoming professional and earning a lot of money can be the dream. But Armin knew that it was more important for them to feel useful, to feel responsible and be part of something.

Armin was not only part of something that left an overwhelmingly positive footprint on the world, he made sure that all volunteers were part of the same and felt that they could make a difference too. For all of the attention paid to national and international heroes, the passing of Armin Díaz Guzmán deserves due acknowledgement and his life, and contributions to the lives of so many others, deserves due celebration. I am grateful to Armin for his personal attention and interest in my personal reasons for volunteering and his passing is a sad loss for all."