Milonga para los Niños - Tangueros helping abandoned children

By Ute Neumaier (Buenos Aires), published in the German magazine Tangodanza 52, October 2012.

Belén was two months old when her drug-addicted mother left her on a public highway. That today this baby has a decent life and a roof over her head is due, among other things, to tango, and in particular to the organization Milonga para los Niños.

The charity project of the foundation Sociedad para los Niños (Society for Children) was begun in 2002, when Argentina experienced the most serious economic crisis in its history. Aware of the magnitude of the social consequences of the crisis, a group of tango aficionados in Australia wanted to help. And so the idea was born of establishing a network of benefit milongas through which tango organizers from around the world could help the street-children of Argentina.

To give back to Argentina something of the happiness they feel dancing tango was the motive for the Australians. Since 2002, gala milongas are organized annually in Brisbane, Adelaide, Byron Bay, Canberra, Gold Coast, Perth and Sydney (Australia); in Auckland (New Zealand); and Cincinnati (United States); and the “Independent Aid Milonga” has been held twice in Passau, Germany. In Buenos Aires there have been Milonga para los Niños organized in 2010 and 2012. The next event in this series will be held on October 3, 2012 at Schweizerhaus in Darmstadt, Germany, by the charitable organization Caritas. Donations received to date, worldwide, through these milongas, go to two of the many homes for abandoned children in the city and province of Buenos Aires. Hogar Siand (one hour by car from the city centre) was established in 2005 by Alicia Hernández and tango dancer Mónica Martínez. Today the institution is recognized by the government and receives subsidies, although rarely. “Often,” Alicia says, “that assistance reaches us very late.” As a result, currently the home is months behind in payment to the school minibus company and the school. In addition, Alicia is presently caring for 12 children, between two months and 15 years in age, while the government subsidizes only the 10 children who are officially admitted.

The children come by order of the juvenile court. In general, they were born and raised on the street and are, as a result, seriously deprived socially, mentally and emotionally. Their backgrounds do not much differ: most of their parents are absent; are addicts, criminals, violent; are psychologically unwell; or live in the street. Incapable of taking responsibility for their own lives, their children are left to meet their own destiny, with no protection whatsoever.

Pedro, for example, is a boy who only just survived the burns and bites brought upon him by his own family. Ángel and her three brothers are children of a mother who is psychologically and physically ill, and a father who is a drug addict. “The first days they didn’t move even a centimeter and stayed terrified in a corner of the house staring fixedly into space,” Alicia says. Marco, at 15 years old, is the eldest of all the children, and has now lived for seven years in the home, along with his sister, María. Both continue to dream of adoption. “But,” says María, “I don’t want to be adopted by the same family as my brother. For once in my life I want a family of my own.”

Before arriving at Hogar Siand, these children survived on the street or were abandoned within their own home or family. “Their days began with begging or stealing food. But frequently they were left with empty stomachs and there was no other option but to eat plastic, or string or dirt,” says Alicia. In general, it takes hours to clean and get rid of nits from these children, who have been physically and psychologically maltreated and, in many cases, also sexually abused.

Speak in order to survive

The reason for which they find themselves in the home is understood by all and is their greatest pain: they have been abandoned by their own parents. So that they can overcome this, learn to manage their anger and to forgive, Alicia works closely with the psychologists who attend the children. In many cases, Alicia was the first person to whom they could talk and who gave them that which until then was unknown to them: love, protection and respect.

But there’s something else that counts at Hogar Siand. Education is also considered very important, for which reason Alicia sends the children to a special private school, and teaches them what they were not able to learn from their families: acceptable behavior, principles, and rules. “To support them,” says Alicia, “I have to create boundaries.” For this reason, she is strict and she gives them chores so that they learn to contribute to the house/community in which they live.

The objective of staying in the home is adoption. It is rare that the children can return to their original family, given that it was from there they were thrown out. However, although there are interested families, often the children cannot be adopted because their biological parents will not cooperate or refuse to put them up for adoption.

In the beginning, the future of Hogar Siand was very uncertain. Everyone lived hand to mouth. Alicia handwashed the clothes of 13 children, heating the water in a pot. Then a tango dancer from France donated a boiler and an industrial washing machine. Now, donations from the milongas around the world have made many changes possible: the earth floor has been replaced with a concrete one, a bathroom has been installed, the kitchen extended, the garden planted and cultivated, and a nice veranda has been added to the house. When a tornado tore the roof off in April 2012, thanks to the Australians’ aid project it was replaced within 14 days. Now they’re in need of a separate toilet for the boys, the bedrooms need to be refurbished, and they lack wardrobes for the children’s clothes. In addition, Alicia insists on the need for a trade workshop, because it the only real chance these disadvantaged children will have to earn a living in the future.

“If we have nothing to eat, we kill a chicken”

Los Horneros is a farm in La Reja, about 30 minutes drive from Hogar Siand. Founder Elisa Jiménez was named by Mayor Mariano West “The most extraordinary woman of 2012”. She has eight children, 24 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, and yet for 16 years she has been dedicated to girls who have no hope and no place in the world, giving them the joy of life, a safe home, education and a future.

From 10 to 15 girls, between five to 12 years old, and teenage mothers with babies are accommodated in Los Horneros, where they become part of Elisa’s extensive family. “If we don’t have money to buy food, we kill one of the chickens and make a soup that fills all of our stomachs,” says Elisa.

Los Horneros also receives government support but depends equally on private donations, making Elisa even more grateful to the network of milongas of Australians because, thanks to its donations, they no longer live in a shack, but in a real stone house, with running water, gas, heating and windows, things they did not have previously. What’s more, as a result, they have been able to buy furniture, tools, clothing, shoes, sheets, food, medicine and they can pay for uniforms and school fees.

 Show that you can change your own destiny

“The girls haven’t had an easy life,” says Elisa, who, due to her mother’s early death, had to learn to survive on the street. That’s where her motivation comes from to show the girls she cares for that one can change one’s own destiny. “But life on the street in those days wasn’t as hard as it is today,” she says, “and paco[1] didn’t exist then. This really is something terrible, that turns people into drug addicts very quickly and destroys them completely, like with many of the parents of these girls.”

To give them a future, the girls not only go to school, but are also taught practical things, like agriculture and gardening. These things provoke changes in them that often leave psychologists open-mouthed – something for which Elisa has no explanation. Elisa helps them to use positive experiences, she gives them security and a home; it’s as though she were taking a great weight from them.

Elisa believes in the human being, in life and the fight for life. “I’d always dreamed of a better world,” she says, “but then I realized that that world simply doesn’t exist and that I have to create it myself.” This is what she does day after day, transforming her charity work into a family-wide community project and pursuing her objectives despite all obstacles and difficulties.

And that in another corner of the world, in Australia, Germany, Austria, the United States and Switzerland, there are people who care about the well-being of the children of Argentina, and that they dance tango to help them, leaves both Alicia and Elisa speechless and gives them strength to continue their mission. Many well-known tango musicians, such as Andrés Linetsky, Ariel Ardit, Joaquín Amenábar; and dancers, like Daniel Nacucchio and Cristina Sosa, Fabián Peralta and Lorena Ermocida, Javier Rodriguez and Andrea Missé, Sebastián Missé and Andrea Reyero, have, in the last 10 years, assisted this project for children by performing in the “Milongas para los Niños”. One of the long-term goals of the project is to be able to give each of the children in these homes an education in accord with today’s standards and ultimately to give each one a laptop to prepare them for an independent life. The milonga in Darmstadt (Germany) on October 3, 2012 is one more step toward this goal.

Those who wish to support the project by organizing a «Milonga para los Niños» can write to john@lowry.com.au


[1] Paco is “cocaine paste”, which has become extensively used in Latin America since the beginning of the 21st century. It is extremely addictive and can be fatal.(See article in Tangodanza 4/2009)

Translation: Antoinette Wilson