|This account written in 1905 shows a very different Alberdi to today. The early history of the Allen Gardiner Memorial Homes tells the story of the first years of an instutution that cared for children without parents until its close in 1975.|
THE ALBERDI HOMES AND SCHOOLS, ROSARIO, ARGENTINA
Alberdi is a suburb of Rosario, on the bank of the River Paraná, about six miles higher up than Rosario City, with which it is in communication by tram and by rail. Houses of the better class are being built here, and the Boating Club and Golf Links are in the neighbourhood. An improved service of electric trains has long been talked of; whenever it is established, Alberdi will rapidly grow in favour and importance as a residential suburb, and property there will greatly increase in value. The "Barranca", or river bank, hereabouts is steep and high, and is covered with creepers and flowering shrubs that make it a blaze of colour. Here and there on the slope of the bank are to be seen small huts or "ranchos", made of branches or bamboo stems, plastered with mud and roofed with rushes. These are inhabited by Indians and half-castes, who hunt and fish about the many islands in the river. According to the height of the river, there is mud flat or flowing water below the bank; and in the distance are to be seen the buildings of the city of Rosario.
It is estimated that no less than £500,000,000 of British capital are invested in South America. This huge investment has drawn after it multitudes of our own countrymen, of every class of life and degree of education; not principals only, but subordinates of all grades, and operatives of every craft. The children of some of the latter are frequently left destitute orphans, friendless waifs and strays; and it was primarily for these, the offspring of English-speaking parents, that the Homes and Schools at Alberdi were established.
In the year 1896, the Rev. W. H. T. Blair and his sister, the late Mrs. E. Dobbs (at that time unmarried), moved with pity for some distressing cases that were forced upon their notice, resolved to make an effort to improve the state and prospects of English-speaking children, and their first step was to open a Free Day School in Alberdi. Then certain children, otherwise quite unprovided for, were taken into their private houses, and this was the beginning of the "Homes" now established at Alberdi, the aim of which is to give the children a happy, pure, Christian home life and training, at the same time that they are receiving their education.
Mr. Blair and his late sister were joined by Miss M. R. Searle, the Lady Superintendent of the Homes; and these three, who are the Founders of the Alberdi work, devoted themselves and their private means to the cause which lay near their hearts. They were acting, however, as the Society's agents, and all that they did was in the Society's name. The work thus started on a small scale speedily began to grow, and it was soon found impossible to limit it strictly to English-speaking children cases were met with among the Spanish-speaking population whom the Managers could not find it in their hearts to refuse, and the original scheme was accordingly enlarged.
Application was made to the Committee of the Society for a grant towards the purchase of a plot of land at Alberdi, with a building upon it, which was then in the market. The Committee made the grant, and became possessed of the land and the building. From time to time the adjoining plots have been purchased, and now the Society owns the whole of a considerable square of land, amply sufficient for possible future needs, and so situated as to increase in value as the suburb of Alberdi is developed.
On this land stands a pretty little building, embowered among the trees, which has been named the Allen Gardiner Memorial Hall, and bears on its front the device of an open Bible and an anchor. A few alterations in the interior have rendered the building quite suitable for church services; and on week-days the High School is carried on in the same premises. The space behind the building forms a good playground, and most of the remainder of the plot is at present occupied by an orchard of peach trees. This piece of land, with the Allen Gardiner Memorial Hall upon it, is situated a few hundred yards back from the main road, near the Alberdi Market Building.
The branches of the Society's work at Alberdi are the following:–
In speaking of "The Allen Gardiner Institution, Alberdi", it must be understood that all these operations together are included under the one title, and are all carried on by the Society. Fronting the main road are the three houses containing the Children's Homes. Further back, and rather more in the Rosario direction, is the plot of land on which stands the Allen Gardiner Memorial Hall. The Homes, which are only rented houses, not well adapted for their purpose, are quite full, and better accommodation is urgently needed. A Building Fund has been begun for this purpose.
Around these Homes and Schools has grown up an evangelistic work amid the Spanish-speaking population of the neighbourhood. Spanish Services, Day and Sunday Schools, Mothers' Meetings, Bible Classes, etc., are some of the evangelistic agencies at work, in and around Alberdi.
Text and photographs from Robert Young, F.R.S.G.S., From Cape Horn to Panama: A narrative of missionary enterprise among the neglected races of South America, by the South American Missionary Society, South American Missionary Society, 1905, pages 107-113.
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