(HN, November 29, 2010) -- Today in Haiti there are 800 new homes that have been built since the devastating earthquake 10 months ago. All over Latin America slums are being turned into functioning communities.
The group making this all happen is Un Techo Para Mi Pais (in English ‘A Roof for My Country’)
Founded in 1997 by a group of university students in Chile who were appalled by the country’s deplorable slum conditions and were compelled to take an active role in denouncing extreme poverty, Un Techo Para Mi Pais has grown and works in 18 countries today: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay.
UTPMP invites the society they work in to recognize the injustices of poverty and acknowledge its responsibility to address the lack of opportunities of the most marginalized families in Latin America and the Caribbean.
UTPMP headquartered in Chile coordinates the efforts of local offices, each of which shares basic goals and methods, while adapting the project to the particular challenges of poverty in each country working with local and regional government and community leaders.
The goal is economic empowerment. The “Trojan Horse” as director of UTPMP, Marisol Alarcon calls it, are the pre-fabricated modular homes that are each built in 2 days by 8-10 volunteers.
The modular homes, which are 18m2 (3m x 6m), with wood floors and sides and a zinc roof, are a way into the slums and provide a concrete solution that allows a family to benefit from a dignified and protected living space, which also generates a sense of property and motivation for saving money. UTPMP works with other organizations, different in each country, for clean wanter and proper sanitation in the homes or in the area. Additionally, the construction process builds bonds of trust between families and volunteers. Families participate in the construction of their own homes 100 percent.
Volunteers, most of which are university students are from within the country that UTPMP works in. Marisol says “the idea is that the volunteers be from the country where the poverty is around them so that they want to continue to work with these communities – we are not interested in social tourism we are interested in eliminating poverty from within the countries we work in where the people who live in the country have an invested interest in seeing the change they bring about”.
In order to do this the homes are but the first phase leading to the second which is social inclusion through the implementation of training programs led by volunteers in areas such as education, healthcare, economic development, microfinance vocational training legal aid and others. Through this settlers begin to believe in themselves and in the strength of community organization allowing them to overcome their learned helplessness and participate in formal networks and democratic space.
The final phase is for UTPMP to help families, living in slums to develop their own sustainable community, with bonds between neighbors and links to external networks. The community then works to prioritize needs, elect representatives, and brainstorm to find solutions they need to have for their own needs.
The current construction in Haiti is the first time UTPMP has ever worked in an emergency response environment.
The biggest challenge for UTPMP, when first arriving in Haiti, was getting enough volunteers. It is very difficult to ask people to help build a house for someone else when most don’t have a home themselves says Marisol Alarcon. She adds, “Haitians are used to not having a government work for them and are used to poverty even before the earthquake so getting them to volunteer to help others was a challenge.”
At the beginning, most of the volunteers came from the Dominican Republic and surrounding Central American countries to build homes in Haiti. Recently however, more volunteers are Haitian and they are seeing the difference they are making in their own country helping their neighbors and building a community.
In remembrance of the earthquake one year ago, UTPMP will build 1000 homes from January 7-17. “We will do this with 1000 Haitians and 700 other volunteers from countries all over Latin America and the Caribbean”, Marisol says.
The funding for the homes in Haiti and for all of the 18 countries UTPMP works in are financed from partnerships with businesses, international nonprofit foundations, and individuals. Some of their most important partners are the Inter-American Development Bank/Multilateral Investment Fund, Deloitte, Banco Santander, LAN Airlines, Chevron, Arauco, Dakar, and Young & Rubicam.
- HUMNEWS Staff