More soup for more poor

February 22, 2013

Buenos Aires, Argentina

By Enrique Marcarian

I first photographed a soup kitchen in 1998, in a parish in one of Buenos Aires’ famous “villas miserias,” which literally means “misery towns” in reference to its large slums. At that time I only saw children taking their daily rations and often smiling at my camera.

I assumed that the sheer number of children depending on soup kitchens was just circumstantial, and the next governments would improve the situation for them and there would be more being fed at home instead of by charities.

I was wrong. A couple of years later the country entered into one of its worst economic crises. Suddenly I no longer saw just more children in the soup kitchens but I saw them even more malnourished, to the extent that they were at risk of starvation. In fact, I came to find out that some children did die, although official versions didn’t say it was starvation.

I can say that thanks to the widespread publication of shocking images of international food and medical aid being sent to Argentina, local authorities were prompted to act and look around at what was happening, although it was only for a short period.

As time and governments passed, soup kitchens only multiplied, such as one I visited this week that’s run by the Catholic Church. This one isn’t located in a slum, but rather in one of Buenos Aires’ better districts. And this time there were not just children there but adults too. They were adults who looked like they had been prosperous at some time in the past.

In three daily shifts, with about 80 people waiting patiently at each shift, they each took a plate of food from a common pot and bread that was already on the tables. Some hid their faces from the camera, perhaps out of shame for their poverty despite having the apparent strength to earn their own bread.

There were no smiles from the children as in 1998. I felt that images like these are not just of the past and present, but are also a projection of the future.

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