When I told people in Argentina that I knew nothing about Argentina or Sarmiento (the first president of Argentina) before I came, their faces fell.  But when I told them what I have learned and how Sarmiento is simular, if not greater than our greatest progressive leaders in the United States, they were amazed by our connection.  After visiting the house of Sarmiento and three hour long speeches about the life and work of this great man, I have become inspired.

Before Sarmiento became president, he was the governor of San Juan, a state than has 2% of Argentina’s population.  There was no way he could get the name recognition to defeat a violent dictator who wanted to keep people out of schools so they would not learn the skills to defeat him.  There were many times that Sarmiento could have decided that this was not his fight, that it wasn’t worth it, because he was politically alone.

However, Sarmiento taught HIMSELF french, and traveled to North Africa to learn about their political system and to make connections that would help him develop the country he loved.  He then taught HIMSELF English, and traveled to Boston to look for teachers, but fell in love with Winona while visiting the first teaching school west of the Mississippi, 150 years ago.  He recruited 60 teachers in all, but the ones he liked the most, and who were most successful were from Winona State.

However, before he could come back to Argentina to run for President, he was in exile in Chile (the boardering country to San Juan).  But instead of giving up, he attacked Rosas (the dictator) persistenly through the newspapers in Chile, to build his name recongition in all of Argentina.  Then, he swept back into Argentina with a system of education that he was ready to impliment in Argentina, to ensure that Democracy would last.  This was the start of Argentina’s democracy, it is nation building at its best.

The people in San Juan have thanked us over and over for the great role that US education has had in Argentina.  But it is Sarmiento who we should all thank, for not giving up, for doing the hard work to go person to person to develop connections, and to put it all together to create change that has lasted for 150 years.  He is simular, if not better than great American presidents.  FDR created medicare and social security so that our seniors don’t have to live their final years in poverty.  Obama decided to stake his polical career on ensuring that 32 million people in this country will be insured in the year 2014.  Each of these three great leaders made great sacrifices and showed great persistence to create change that we all take for granted, but we know that it is better to not live without it.  Argentina and the United States, San Juan and Winona, have great simularities.  We can both learn from each other, and we have made the connections in San Juan to build for the future.

-Harrisen Ornes