Fountain House Visits Argentina

Posted on September 5, 2012
For the past five years, Fountain House has been supporting the development of a clubhouse in Rosario, Argentina called La Casa del Paranà. In August, four representatives from Fountain House went to Argentina: Mario Pinot and Keith Johnson, colleague training consultants; Alan Doyle, Director of Education; and External Relations Director, Jeff Aron.

ICCD Board member Bea Bergamasco, a passionate leader of the international clubhouse community, has been spearheading the clubhouse development in Rosario.  She has already helped establish four clubhouses in Italy, where she resides when not in Argentina. Contingents from Fountain House have made two prior visits to Rosario, and colleagues from Rosaria have also come for training at Fountain House on numerous occasions.

Bea reached out to Fountain House President, Kenn Dudek, and Alan Doyle, because the clubhouse in Rosario was not thriving. After five years, it was still quite small. There are currently only 18 members in Rosario’s clubhouse but 110 people on the wait list. Lack of space is the main reason that they cannot accept more members.

Eva Peron, iconic former first lady of ArgentinaEva Peron, iconic former first lady of ArgentinaThe team developed a multi-pronged approach that would allow them to utilize all available resources. Mario and Keith were brought in to work directly with the clubhouse community on “how to run a clubhouse.” Alan Doyle trained the Board of Directors, indispensible to any strong clubhouse. Jeff Aron’s goal was to develop and build a national community of support for the clubhouse in Rosario and, more generally, for all clubhouses in Argentina.

In preparation for his trip, Jeff spent three months reaching out to banks, governmental officials, psychiatrists, ministers of health, newspapers, and personal contacts to set up meetings in Buenos Aires, Rosario, and Gualeguaychu, and to coordinate networks that he was building with the network that Bea previously had in place. He sought to create an association of people from a broad cross-section of society who want to support clubhouses as a way to help people with mental illness flourish and lead successful lives.

Mario and Keith developed the curriculum they used in Rosario to teach them how to run a clubhouse. Before their trip, they communicated regularly by phone with the Rosario clubhouse’s members and staff and gave them assignments to prepare them for the upcoming training. Keith is a past clubhouse director and now consults with Alan to develop trainings for clubhouses. Mario is a long-time veteran of colleague training and has traveled far and wide on behalf of Fountain House. As one of the ten training bases, Fountain House has a very unique responsibility to keep advancing our capacity to train clubhouses around the world.

Bringing all of these people together created lots of excitement! Argentina is currently undergoing a process of deinstitutionalization, similar to what America went through in the 1970’s and 80’s. The people of Argentina are generally appreciative of the concept, but they are not sure how people with serious mental illness will actually live and receive services in the community. Representatives from Argentina and Fountain House met with national legislators regarding a bill, Ley Nacional De Salud Mental (The National Law of Mental Health), guaranteeing the rights of people living with mental illness. They also met with newspaper professionals – a group of very idealist young women from La Nacion - who want to help in the fight against stigma. The Fountain House delegation was consistently met with enthusiasm, and many were grateful for the opportunity to learn about a community-based approach, a way of responding to the needs of the people who were leaving the state mental hospitals.

La Casa del Paranà has inspired the creation of another clubhouse in a small city called Gualeguaychu. A very charismatic social worker is the director there. Jeff Aron reported, “When they held a meeting at this clubhouse, it felt like the entire city showed up for a large family gathering. The clubhouse was beautiful, and so were the people. They cooked homemade meals and people tangoed. It was a very moving experience.”

The team from Fountain House feels like they accomplished what they set out to do. La Casa del Paranà is a much stronger clubhouse that it was because of the member and staff training, which Mario and Keith will continue by phone, and because of the work that Alan Doyle did with the Board of Directors. Jeff is confident that the people of Rosario will carry out and utilize all the methods and tools that were shared, and that the network they’ve begun to build will help strengthen the clubhouse movement in Argentina during this critical time.

Alan Miller, Elana Spector, and Greg Stanger
Clerical Unit, Fountain House


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