Before the pandemic started in the country, Margarita Barrientos alternated her life between Buenos Aires and Añatuya, her hometown. The start of the quarantine surprised her in the city of Santiago and has remained there ever since. But theirs is far from being an isolation. In dialogue with LA NACION, he says that the work is hard, worthy of a magician, to support the four dining rooms – which feed more than 5000 people– plus the different social spaces (library, kindergarten, health centers, workshops) that his Foundation carries out between Añatuya and Buenos Aires.
Barrientos acknowledges that the economic impact of quarantine places the present and future of his work in critical condition. On the one hand, the assistance it received from individuals and companies decreased by 90%, he assures. At the same time, she maintains that her Foundation enlarges the list of social organizations that demand greater state assistance. no response. “Maybe because they consider me an ally of Mauricio [Macri], the help does not reach me, “he risks. However, he adds that has lost contact with the former president, of whom she said, a few months ago, feeling disappointed. “The one who was offended by my word, let him know that the meaning in which I meant it was not interpreted,” he points out.
What is a typical day like in Añatuya?
At six in the morning I am already up. I drink mate and then I will walk from six twenty to seven. I come back, I change and I go to the Foundation. I stay there all day until 16 or 17. At the Foundation we do everything, because we have boys working, they make chairs, tables, upholstery, welding. and we also have the dining rooms. In total, about 70 people work at the Foundation.
Why did the idea arise to continue your work there?
Because this has always been a little town very forgotten by everyone. Every time we came, the same misery was seen. The boys asking at the butcher shop, or standing outside a supermarket for someone to give them a piece of bread. That hurt a lot. Going back to my land is something I always wanted. We go to the places a lot carrying merchandise.
When you were a girl you left one of those places out of hunger and need. Now hold out a hand again. How do you feel about that?
It makes me feel very good because I bring what I always lacked, my brothers, my parents. Sometimes I walk around the places I walked and where the need hit me a lot. I recently stopped by the little ranch where we lived and I was really excited.
Does it heal wounds to return from another place?
Yes always. But there are wounds that will never heal. There are many very sad memories that happened to me, that sometimes one tries not to remember them. The need we have, not having to eat.
How did the quarantine impact on the number of people who come to ask for help in your Foundation?
It increased a lot. People come who live 30 kilometers away, they come from everywhere. When I get home, people come to order merchandise here. I am cooking a lot too, so I distribute among my neighbors.
Do you perceive differences between the people who come to ask for help in Añatuya and those who approach in Los Piletones?
The way of living is different. here you live sleeping on the floor, there are ceilings that are nylon or that are still made of straw, there are adobe walls made of mud, the houses are very precarious, it is very, very different. When we go to the places we see the little mother girls, who play with their little children and they are 14 or 15 years old and they are already mothers. Here you have to choose between buying a contraceptive or buying bread. There are people who still do not have light, who do not have water.
The extension of the quarantine is economically overwhelming companies and individuals. Did the private aid that the Foundation had been receiving decrease?
Yes, it fell 90%. Of what we receive in Los Piletones, half we bring to the two dining rooms here. But we also have a dining room in Cañuelas that is sustained with the help of Los Piletones. Then we have a Rehabilitation Center in Campana, and everything must be maintained.
And how do you go about maintaining everything when aid falls by 90%?
Here it is very difficult to receive donations. Until the beginning of the quarantine she gave dinner. We couldn’t hold it. But dinner is so important to the boys. It is very sad that the boy at night asks for a piece of bread and that the mother does not have (breaks). The other day we went to visit a lady who has 14 children, all boys. One of them told me that they had animals but they had to eat and sell them. She says to me: “At night when we don’t have enough to eat, we sing.” How is that?, asked. “My mom says that when we are hungry at night, we sing. Then we fall asleep singing or, when my little brother cries because he wants bread, I make him sleep, I sing to him and he falls asleep,” she replied. Very sad.
When analyzing the economic impact of the pandemic in the country, many compare this present with 2001. Do you agree with that comparison?
2001 was different. Things were not going well, of course. But the need was different, did you see? There was looting in the supermarkets and many of the people who claimed to need took a television or filled the car with alcoholic beverages. I think this is much, much stronger.
In 2001, state social assistance was practically non-existent.
Exact. In 2001 there were no plans or anything.
And why now, since the State is much more present on a social level, do we continue to speak of hunger and even the situation would be worse than in 2001?
Partly because aid doesn’t get where it should go either. It happens to us. Since the pandemic started, I have only received Social Development help twice when we feed more than 5,000 people. Many social organizations suffer the same.
What type of state aid does your foundation receive?
We have begun to receive assistance from the Cañuelas dining room when the pandemic began. There the municipality and Gendarmería approached. From the City Government I receive a subsidy twice a year and from the national government I receive a subsidy from Añatuya once a year because we present a project so that the people here have a salary.
How is your relationship with the City Government?
It has always been good, hopefully that will continue forever. With Horacio (Rodríguez Larreta) and Diego (Santilli) there has always been good communication and a good response.
You once said that there is political management of poverty in the country.
And unfortunately it was always like that. Poor people have always been managed.
And now, in this critical context, do you think that this type of management is still in force?
I dont know. Maybe because they consider me an ally of Mauricio, the help doesn’t come to me. I do not know. But in that case people would have nothing to do with it. People have to eat. Politicians eat breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner every day and these people need it, too. There are people here who, at four in the morning, with this cold, are lining up to collect the milk that we deliver at seven-thirty in the morning.
What was the Hunger Table convened by the Government, which you were going to integrate?
In nothing. I think it is time to work doing things, from different sides, in virtual form – I don’t know how to handle it, but my daughter handles it -. If not, everything remains only in words. So I have always tried to stay out of politics. I am a person who likes to say what he thinks and that many do not like.
Do you feel like you paid costs for speaking your mind?
Yes, it has brought consequences. I’m not good for patting anyone on the back. I like to say what I think. And I think we should all be like this, right?
A few months ago she said that the former president had defrauded her, without giving too many details about it. If we think of you in different dimensions: the citizen, the social reference, and the person who had a certain friendship with Macri. Which of them is the one that felt disappointed?
I think I misused that word. But I do believe that he has not known how to fight. I believe that when you want something, well, it happens to me, I always fight for what I want and for what I think is fair. And it seems to me that because he believed in the people around him, he couldn’t say: I have to go out and see what happens. In that sense I felt disappointed. As a person I appreciate him a lot, I love him very much. Maybe he took it wrong.
Were you able to speak to him after that?
No, I never had contact again. But hey, the one who was offended by my word, who knows that the meaning in which I wanted to say it was not interpreted.
Recently, he maintained that he would never again support anyone politically. What led you to make this decision?
Today I am paying for it. Many of the aid that would have to arrive do not arrive. I ask for blankets, I ask for mattresses, I do not ask for them because I have my pension and my children help me. I only ask for people who live under a nylon, who sleep on top of a platform or on top of a cardboard, who do not have a mattress or blankets, to whom you have to give them old bags to make quilts. I write letters and nothing. That never happened to me before. It is very hard for a family to come to me to ask for milk and to be told that they have their child malnourished and I have no milk to give them. Sometimes I think that all that I lack today is a little what I am paying. I hope I’m wrong.
What are the main needs of the Foundation?
Non-perishable foods like milk, rice, flour, oil, noodles, sugar. We need a coat, clothes, blankets, mattresses, even if they are old, we fix them here. We very much need the help of the people, that the people know that, from what is received in Los Piletones, most of it we bring here.
How do you imagine the future of the Foundation?
I always said that the dining room does not have to exist. What has to exist is decent work for people. People have to choose what they want to eat, not choose me for them. Hopefully one day the Foundation can continue helping, but in another way, encouraging people to get ahead on their own.
How to collaborate:
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