The project “Getting to know our home” was born in 1983 through the initiative of members of the nautical club of Puerto Deseado, in Santa Cruz, Argentina. This educational project works with children and adolescents (many of whom come from disadvantaged family backgrounds), allows them to develop sport skills and cultural interests and offers them support, education and opportunities for personal development. It also has a great social significance, bringing about participation and solidarity in the community. The course’s strong theoretical and practical aspects links the teaching of local history, geography, flora and fauna with nautical activities: the idea is to turn the town and its geographical surroundings into a living observatory where pupils can discover and appraise the natural and historical aspects of the place where they spend their childhood and adolescence.
This initiative places great emphasis on teaching the fundamental principles of democracy, including constitutional supremacy, and the legal resources to protect the environment. Indeed, the participation of NGOs, such as our Foundation, in children’s education is fundamental to the increasing commitment of civil organizations in public affairs, which is the best way of strengthening the democratic process.
The theoretical programme
The theoretical programme consists of twelve lessons – including fieldwork – which are taught once a week to every 4th grade class in every primary school, from August until December. In these classes, about 300 children per year are taught the Foundation’s motto, respeto y cariño (‘respect and love’), and the importance of values such as solidarity, tolerance, integration, courtesy and listening to other people. They also learn respect for the region’s aboriginal Tehuelche and Mapuche people and are often divided into groups named after native words. Subsequently, they are encouraged to carry out research into their own families, homes and neighbourhoods: this is then extended to the life of the pioneers, the origin of the geographical names of the islands, bays and creeks of the Ría Deseado, its fauna and flora and its natural resources. They interview old inhabitants, search for data in the town library and make individual and group observations of nature.
The classes are given by teenage instructors (about 30 per year), under the supervision of a specialised teacher. From March onwards, the instructors get together twice a week with a teacher to study the programme and prepare lesson plans. Assuming this responsibility allows these teenagers to discover that they can grow, advance and make a worthwhile, directly measurable contribution to other children’s education. This knowledge of their personal value benefits their self-esteem, providing them with the self-confidence they need to deal with personal and family problems. The training and experience gained in these courses have also brought about many work opportunities for former project volunteers, some of whom currently work with tourist vessels, others as tourist guides and others during the summer as hired nautical instructors.
Archeologist, geologist, biologists, and neighbours cooperate with both the theoretical and practical activities, as do environmental conservationists and travellers who visit the town. These scientists give specific lectures or help students in fieldwork specially designed to complement the theoretical training.
The practical classes
The practical classes in the Ría Deseado are given from September until about April (depending on the weather), every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 12.30 p.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m., every Sunday afternoon, and for three hours every afternoon in the summer holidays. With the support of the Club Náutico Capitán Oneto, an average of 150 children take part each year in kayaking and eventually rubber boat sailing courses. All participants between the ages of four and sixteen are granted free access to the club’s equipment, as are instructors and assistants of all ages (rewarding their voluntary work).
The children undertake camping, kayaking and sailing activities of progressive difficulty, paving the way for longer voyages into the Patagonian geography. During these expeditions, reports are carried out on animal life, archaeological sites found, environmental pollution or any threats towards the fauna and flora. In this way, the Foundation cooperates with different Argentine and foreign universities, museums, scientific organisations and entities devoted to the study and preservation of nature. Reports, photographs and films of these voyages provide feedback from the courses as well as helping to disclose the beautiful landscapes and tourist attractions of Puerto Deseado and Patagonia.
The foundation also organises weekend trips to other towns such as Los Antiguos, Chile Chico and Cochrane, to introduce children and adolescents from other parts of Argentine and Chilean Patagonia to the ideas of Conociendo Nuestra Casa and to give free kayaking instruction (bringing all the necessary equipment from Puerto Deseado’s nautical club). More recently, contacts have been established in Caleta Olivia, in the north of Santa Cruz, and in several towns in southern Chile.
The number of children involved in Conociendo Nuestra Casa has increased considerably which makes it very difficult for the institution to continue financing the programme, especially given that neither the children nor the teenagers who participate in the course pay the club’s dues because most of their parents cannot afford it. Indeed, for some years, in view of the region’s economic problems, a cup of milk and a piece of bread were offered to all children who attended the practical courses. All the Foundation’s activities are financed by small fundraising events such as raffles and food stalls, although the Municipality and other authorities sometimes provide us with gas oil and a little financial support, as do some local commerce and fishing companies.
We are also concerned about the possible dispersion of the instructors and pupils in winter, a season when it is difficult to carry out many outdoor activities in Patagonia. In order to avoid this, we are planning to build an all-purpose Foundation building to shelter the children and allow us to continue providing educational and leisure activities.