In almost every city in Argentina there are poor neighborhoods known as tomas. The word toma means “take,” in Spanish and is a term used in southern Argentina to refer to a piece of land that people take.
While some tomas are granted by the state to people, other tomas are taken by the people illegally. Some of the people simply find a piece of land that is uninhabited, but owned by another person and pitch their tents there.
Tomas are often lived in by people who are unemployed. Because of the poverty of tomas, tomas tend to be more dangerous than the city. In tomas you can often find groups of young adults congregating drinking alcohol. Sometimes there are people who resort to criminal activity to survive, breaking in and stealing food from people.
Having lived in Argentina for two years on my LDS mission, I saw many people who lived in tomas. Many of the houses we entered had dirt floors and some had concrete floors. In the toma you will find people who have lived there for years and people who just moved to the outskirts of the toma.
In the Patagonia where I served, tomas were essentially a desert wasteland with little growing vegetation. During one large rain storm a few houses in tomas on the sides of the mountains were washed away with the runoff water.
While in the United States many of the wealthy people tend to live on the side of mountains- in Argentina the most poor people usually live on the mountainside.
Several service projects I performed on my mission were performed for people who lived in the toma. We dug septic wells, built wood and brick homes and helped clear the land.
For anyone travelling to Argentina the tomas can be a wonderful place to visit if you have a native escort you. If you are a stranger visiting a toma alone, you might be a target for theft.
Outside of each city, or in the mountains, there are areas called “tomas” that mean “take” or “taking”. I don’t know if the government supplies this land, but often poor citizens will go out and build a shack and live there. You’ll see these simple set-ups for electricity where they split a city cable and wire it to several different shacks. Those are the ones that have electricity. You’ll see houses in the toma made up of roofing pieces, tarp, boards of wood and anything they can gather. Some of these people have lots of children in the small shacks they built. In some areas, tomas can be dangerous. In my experience we enjoyed going there to talk with the people- they were ready to hear something that could bring them hope. -Kempton