How We Are Surviving in Argentina
By the end of the year 2001, anyone with money in an Argentinean bank lost their savings, because virtually overnight the peso was devalued: First one dollar bought one peso, the next day one dollar bought one and a half pesos, and soon one dollar equalled three pesos. Families’ bank accounts depreciated to one-third their former value, and with that plans for purchasing a new apartment or sending a child to Jewish day school also vanished. A new class of poor people appeared in Argentina, and the Jewish community suffered alongside the rest of the population.
During the last months of 2003, a new delegation from JDC arrived in Argentina. As Director of Social Assistance of Congregation AMIJAI (Ami-Chai) and someone with experience collaborating with JDC, I was one of the few Rabbis invited to meet with them. We were reassured of the delegation’s familiarity with our enduring economic crisis, and we were then asked to explain our vision for the future of Argentina’s Jewish community.
This was a very difficult question. By July 2003, nearly 9,000 families totalling 19,000 people were receiving assistance, and now over 36,000 people receive food vouchers/ debit cards, daily meals (school children only), clothing, medicine, rent subsidies and free legal counselling through 75 Social Assistance Centers.
Despite the fact that a significant percentage of people continue to live below the poverty line, newspapers are trying to paint a prettier picture. Headlines in LA NACION on January 8th reported that in 2003 the cost of living increased only 3.7%. In actuality, since the devaluation of the peso in December 2001, the cost of basic food products has risen by 74.9%. Since salaries are not changing, people are spending most of their earnings on food and drinks, which ultimately means that more new poor are added to the toll every month.
Though the economic situation seems to be improving somewhat, only the upper middle class is benefiting. So, again, how do I see the near future? There are those individuals who may recover slowly and who may soon find a new job, though generally underpaid. And this is my hope for most of the people here. But there are others who are either too old, too sick, or who have been so mentally affected by this devastation that they will not recuperate on their own or find a job. And these people will need our assistance now and always.
The Ariel Job Center (an initiative of JDC, in partnership with Tzedaka Foundation, and in coordination with AMIA and with the cooperation of ORT and CIRA) in Buenos Aires continues to offer various programs to help ease the transition into new jobs. They provide professional training with specialization in computing and even provide small business loans to help new entrepreneurial ventures that require little capital to get off the ground. These and other services at the Ariel Job Center are all very important.
In addition, families receive other vital assistance from the JDC and the Tzedaka Foundation. Many rely on a Debit Card (equivalent to food stamps) and on subsidies that are deposited into their account each month (amount is determined by the number of family members). Families use the cards to buy food at the Supermarket, and once a month are required to bring their receipts to the Social Assistance Center to which they belong. Medications are also provided on a monthly basis: People bring in their prescriptions-which are sent to the Central Solidarity Pharmacy-and three months later they are filled. Most synagogues, Jewish Community Centers and schools provide used clothing in good condition, toys for children, psychological assistance, and courses such as cooking and handicrafts, among others. These essential services rely on the collaboration of 1,800 volunteers.
Is all of this enough? While it is a good start, the answer is unfortunately, no … not yet. As long as there are people in need, our responsibility is not over.