In the last year, Atlas has turned its helping hand to the northern province of Salta in Argentina.

Former England international and Argentina Director of Rugby, Les Cusworth, spoke to Atlas about the growing issues of inequality in the northern province of Salta in Argentina, and how his team of Atlas champions have been trying to help those worst affected.


Cusworth, ex-England international and now Atlas Foundation Rugby Champion for our All Schools programme in Argentina, explained to us how this region in the north was a “forgotten part of Argentina,” no one had really given it much thought in years. Five hours away from the province capital, also Salta, this region and the town of Tartagal, has one of the highest populations of indigenous peoples, with the Wichi peoples making up the largest fraction of this group.



Despite high levels of inequality, Les told me about Marcelo Cordova. Marcelo is a leader of one of the programmes Atlas works with in Salta, Rugby en los Barrios, and recently was elected Secretary of Sport for Salta region. “Marcelo puts food parcels together, delivers them and supplies our kids with clean water,” he went on. The way Les described Marcelo to me made him sound more like a superhero than a rugby coach. “Sanitation is a huge problem,” he said, “they don’t have clean water”.


The point Les was getting across to me was that programmes like ours in Argentina make all the difference, whether it’s giving children the chance to be active and improve their health, or whether its supplying them with clean water and a hot meal, its already more than they get in their local community. “The programme works in 19 villas [townships] surrounding Salta,” he went on. Through programmes like this we can bring children together from different communities in Salta, including kids in the townships and kids from further afar, such as the Wichi, “they come with no shoes and play barefoot, but that doesn’t matter”.


Back in December, our Front Row Club reporter, Keith Moore, spoke to Atlas Champion, Argentina international, and Salta native, Juan ‘Chipi’ Figallo. Juan told Keith why he felt rugby was such a great vehicle for supporting underprivileged kids like these, “You feel part of a family. If you don’t have any family, this is your family now; you can rely on the people who are playing with you or coaching you.”


Rugby has clearly had a profound effect on him and the way he leads his life and how he feels it could benefit others. He went on, “I think I am who I am because of my family and because of what rugby gave me. All the values of my club in Argentina really touched me and made me as a person … I really love this sport and truly believe it’s a good way to help people to get into these values. Not just to have those values when playing rugby, but for life.”



Back in Salta, the governor has declared a public health emergency, and with that people like Marcelo will have to step up their provisions for kids. At times like these, rugby becomes ever more important as a platform to enable kids to access what they need. According to Reuters, the poverty rate is near 35%, and indigenous communities which have historically been among the poorest are hit ever harder. Al Jazeera agreed saying the indigenous communities, ‘lack basic services and have been systematically ignored by the state’.


I was prompted to find out more from Les, who lives in and overseas our activities in Argentina, when I was sent through a series of pictures of Marcelo feeding great big gatherings of children from what looked like a massive wok. Heartwarming pictures indeed, but the story behind the need for feeding programmes like this is heartbreaking, and some of the work we do will barely scratch the surface of the issues faced by many in deprived areas in Argentina.



Atlas’ work in Salta is made even more important by the seemingly perpetual isolation faced by not the just the people in Salta, but especially the indigenous and those in the villas. ‘Children suffer from illnesses that have long been eradicated in other parts of Argentina. And malnutrition is a norm,’ Al Jazeera reported back in 2017, and little seems to have changed. Atlas hopes to provide a glimmer of hope through initiatives like Rugby en los Barrios, and through our wonderful leaders like Marcelo Cordova, and indeed Les Cusworth himself. In times like these, it seems we need people like them more than ever.


For the full articles referenced in this article click the links below.


Al Jazeera: 

Front Row Club: