“Serendipity,” as defined by Merriam-Webster, refers to the phenomenon of making valuable discoveries by accident. While on vacation, Carlos Aiello happened to visit a place that would become very important—to him, his family, and his IBM co-workers.
The Residencia Socio Educativa San Juan Bosco is a home for boys who, in the words of its mission, are “helpless in body and soul.” Located in Gualeguay, Argentina, the Residence, which was founded in 1942, provides housing and education for 15 boys who range in age from four to fourteen. Each child was abandoned, or came from a family with substance-abuse problems, and was placed in the home, which aims to help “achieve recovery by making the boy useful to himself and to society.”
Carlos and his family were vacationing in Gualeguay in 2009, and made a random visit to the Residence. The boys and their caretakers made such an impression that he returned again and again—bringing toys, clothing and schooling materials. Then he realized the company he worked for could help the kids, too.
“I found out about the possibilities that IBM offered to help us reach our objectives of contributing as much as possible to this group of children,” he says.
An IBM employee since 1989, Carlos discovered On Demand Community activities available for volunteers. Soon, he and fellow IBM employee Fernando Wahlers were making the 245 kilometer trip (about 152 miles, one way) from Buenos Aires to Gualeguay to teach the boys about robotics, water filtering and purification, and how to build terrariums.
But for Carlos, the time spent at the Residence isn’t just about imparting knowledge; it’s about making those abandoned kids feel like they belong. He and his fellow volunteers also organize field trips to the city, play games and have meals with the boys.
“The main idea is to provide the kids with fun, warm moments in a family-like environment, and in that way allow them to feel they belong somewhere, that they can have a place to call theirs and somehow compensate for their lacks at home,” he says.
The boys like the robotics and activities, he reports, but mealtimes are their favorite part.
“One of the things they enjoy most is sharing lunch with us, because at that time they truly treat us like close friends, and open up to us.”
Carlos, his family and IBM coworkers don’t just volunteer for an afternoon. The Residence is so far away that they have to stay in Gualeguay for at least two days. During that time, they visit the home multiple times, alternating IBM activities with walks, workshops, games—or just spending some time with the boys.
He says IBM has not only contributed to the education of the children, but has helped with physical material by donating used furniture for a new library space. The company also offers something intangible: “Besides the robot, and the descriptions of activities, IBM provides moral support, which is so important in this activity.”
Carlos recognizes that his volunteering affects him as much as it affects the kids. That random stop at the Residence two years ago taught him something important. “I learned that when you stand up from behind your desk and leave your office, you look around and find that there is a lot to do for your neighbor, most of all for children like this.”
Back home in Buenos Aires, he keeps the boys and the home constantly in mind: “I am dedicated to this work. I believe I owe the kids a few minutes every day to organize some activity or tour, to seek collaborators, donations and material. They are in such need of love and care.”
IBM is marking its centennial year with a worldwide celebration of volunteer service. Throughout 2011, IBM invites everyone to join our global community of employees, retirees, families and friends as we support the communities where we work, live and learn together.