Argentina: “It was frustrating to me that nothing had changed”

April 9, 2017

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA — I was taught that news is about what happened. In journalism school, professors emphasized that the news is about “what” happened “where,” “when” this happened to “whom” and “why.” They drilled in me this theme of the five W’s. I assume that this is a similar concept for journalism students worldwide.

I first wrote about the people who live along the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin in Buenos Aires and health problems that experts have linked to pollution, in April 2016. (See the GPJ story here.) Recently, I decided that I should write a follow-up story on this issue. But I felt discouraged, concerned that I could be writing about the same thing twice.

It was frustrating to me that nothing had changed in the year since my first story was published. And it was at this point I realized that the “what” of my story was exactly that: Nothing has changed.

So, I took it upon myself to revisit the place I had written about last year.

I was reassured of the importance of writing about problems that are yet to be resolved as I walked through Villa Inflamable, a small neighborhood on the banks of the river basin, where I had done the reporting for my first article.

While walking along a dirt street, I encountered a group of children playing in front of their home. They were right next to a green fluorescent puddle that had trash within. There was no grass to be seen — just garbage.

Jazmín Roldos, 6 (back row, center), her sister Agustina, 11 (back row, right), and other children take a break from playing near trash-filled puddles in Villa Inflamable, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Lucila Pellettieri, GPJ Argentina

Jazmín Roldos, 6 (back row, center), her sister Agustina, 11 (back row, right), and other children take a break from playing near trash-filled puddles in Villa Inflamable, a neighborhood in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

One of the little girls told me that she had slipped and fallen on a broken bottle, scratching her knee in the process. I looked at her and thought of how many children in the neighborhood were affected by the river’s pollution. So many of them walk through Villa Inflamable barefoot. I wondered, are they walking over contaminated grounds?

One of the residents told me that they no longer knew whether it was better to leave the neighborhood or to stay. After so many years of the government’s failed promises to relocate them, she said, she had already lost hope that one day she and her family could move to a safer place.

Among all my doubts and concerns, two things were clear: What these people are still facing needs to be discussed again, and raising awareness of this injustice, despite not being “new,” is worth writing about.

 

Natalia Aldana, GPJ, translated this blog from Spanish.