An early morning haze blankets Tigre—a vast and quiet neighborhood an hour away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. The only sounds are that of children running through the streets and the howls of the stray dogs following behind. This is not a wealthy neighborhood—it’s a place where hundreds of children are waking up hungry and there is little to eat.
Nearly a third of Argentina’s population lives in poverty, and in this corner of the country, we are far away from the prosperity of the capital city.
While this neighborhood may feel destitute, Tigre is home to Centro Conin—a nutrition and educational center that is tackling child starvation and lifting families out of dire conditions. It’s early, but volunteers, nutritionists, social workers, teachers, and pediatricians are already preparing for the crowds that will soon flock here for meals, classes, and activities. The center has become a key link for families in need.
Launched in 2012, Conin’s main specialities are its services for malnourished children and children with developmental delays. A dedicated team of pediatricians and nutritionists evaluate each case with special care, helping families get on track with a set nutrition plan, providing education, and ensuring that children are getting their nutrition needs met in a safe, clean environment.
“Child malnutrition is a big problem spread throughout the country,” explains Pilar Rodriguez Caseres, a social worker at Centro Conin. “This hunger is one of the most difficult sensations to explain. You can talk about it in words, but it’s an experience. It’s an experience we need to work against, so that every child can develop and grow because they deserve to reach their full potential.”
The center also provides educational services. Younger children are enrolled in a Montessori-style kindergarten class where they paint, learn to count with little black pebbles, and discover the wonders of the world. This hands-on and creative learning allows the children to go at their own pace and experience an environment that stimulates their young minds and imaginations. The mothers of these children also spend the day at Conin, attending nutrition and breastfeeding classes as well as sewing, craftsmanship, theater, and cooking workshops that can help them learn skills to care for their families and find paying jobs.
Casa Conin currently sees approximately 78 children and 56 families a week. Before 2017, records of the children and parents that came through the doors were all kept on paper—just begging to be disorganized, lost, or ruined.
This all changed with the elimination of laptop tariffs in Argentina, thanks to the work of Libertad y Progreso (LyP), an Atlas Network partner. LyP worked with the Macri administration to eliminate a 35 percent tariff on computer imports that was inflating local technology prices significantly. Before the tariff was removed, parents, school teachers, and small business entrepreneurs were forced to pay double what their neighbors in Chile paid for the same computer products.
Conrado Etchebarne, who is part of Libertad y Progreso’s communications department, has seen how technology is making a huge difference for people working in health services. Before computers were available, no one was keeping records of diseases, treatments, or even basic information about each child.
“Children and mothers used to vanish from the health system,” Etchebarne said. “But now with Conin—which picks up the forgotten people and restores them to life, with an identity in the healthcare system, and keeps a detailed record on laptops and computers of the health and medical history of children and their mothers—they can take care of themselves in the future.” Rodriguez and her team can now organize and access every case file with the click of a button, and health records and nutrition plans can easily be created and tracked.
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Sonia, a local mother in Tigre, joined Centro Conin’s program in March and has been visiting each day with her five year old son, Junior. As Junior grew older, Sonia realized her son was struggling with developmental delays and lacked stimulation. Having him participate in the Montessori style kindergarten class has helped him come out of his shell and interact with other children. Rodriguez has been able to track Junior’s case on her laptop, recording his progress and using it to find treatments that will help him grow.
Another mother who regularly attends the center is Gabriela, who’s daughter Elunae was born severely underweight. Centro Conin offers Gabriela’s family nutritional therapy and provides them with access to the right foods Elunae needs to get better.
“Thanks to the computers, the neighborhood families who were ghosts in the health system are again people, who can take care of themselves, prevent illnesses and have a better quality of life in the future,” says Etchebarne.
Centro Conin has become a safe haven for hundreds of these struggling mothers, where they are able to learn trades and skills that will help them get jobs and can provide their children with the care and nutrition they need to succeed.