“Crisis” is a word we hear a lot these days. “Economic crisis!” “Climate crisis!” “The EU is in crisis!” “The US has a debt crisis!” – there must be dozens of crises going on right now, somewhere in the world – so much so that “crisis” has come to seem the new “normal.” Moreover, few of these crises can compete with the one that Argentina went through in 2001, when from one day to the next the nation’s entire economy simply collapsed, with people’s life savings evaporating into thin air. With time, schools began to run out of food to feed children, hospitals had no medicine for their patients, it was as if a hundred years of economic and social progress were thrown away in one night.
We were curious, when we go to Argentina, to ask people about it and what it had been like, sure that it could teach us something about the crises around our world these days. While visiting Espacio CUCOCO, a community garden project in Buenos Aires, a space for growing food and building community that had grown out of the 2001 crisis there, we decided it was time to ask. The response was surprising, to say the least: “2001 was the most magical thing that happened to me in my life,” Marta Ghio told us. “What woke up was creativity.”
All around us then, at Espacio CUCOCO, was the proof of just what she was saying. Started during the crisis as a space for ‘cartoneros’, the people gathering garbage to try to earn money, it later became a community garden, with the food grown there donated to local schools so they could feed students during the day. Today, years after the crisis, the garden continues, but more to give green space to the local community, to show people just what can be done even with a small terrace or balcony than to support the local schools.
On top of that, the space is a gathering point for the whole community. During the few days we spent filming there, there was an endless stream of people coming and going: an older man who comes by to sit in the garden and talk with people 2 generations younger than he; a middle-aged lawyer who brings her son in the afternoons and on weekends, having found that spending time playing outside in the dirt helps him stay calm in school and enjoy his life more; artisans teaching how to make soap, conducting workshops on digital photography, or teaching improv, acrobatics, and creative writing. The center is an endless stir of activity and energy. It is a building place for community, for co-operation and solidarity. Communities like this have been at the heart of every project we have visited during our trip, and Espacio CUCOCO seemed to have it down to an art.
In its very last article, the Earth Charter calls on us to, “Promote a culture of tolerance, nonviolence, and peace,” and to “Encourage and support mutual understanding, solidarity, and cooperation among all peoples and within and among nations.” If we cannot respect each other, we will never respect our planet, and we will never make it through the crises of today or the crises to come. Community makes us resilient, efficient, and, as places like Espacio CUCOCO demonstrate, happier. As Marta says, “We could make lots of places like this. Lots of places…”