Posts for Bolivia
By Celine d'Cruz, SDI Secretariat
Planning for the National leaders meeting in November began in June 2012. This was a gradual outcome of several exchanges to and from Bolivia over the last three years by SDI. In June 2012 the Government of Bolivia came out with a regularization law, which created a lot of commotion amongst the informal communities. There were many rumors spreading and the leadership did not understand the implications of this new law for the land that they occupied. There are informal settlements on municipal lands, state lands, private lands and so on. Ownership for much of these occupied lands is unclear, creating numerous complications as the law has different implications for those residing on different types of lands.
For the Bolivian support NGO, Red de Accion Comunitaria (RAC), the first response was to strengthen and consolidate the slum enumeration process in District 8, a settlement in Cochabamba, which started long before the law was in sight. This settlement data proved to be mouth watering to both the national and local government who have no information at all. The local officials in District 8 are in dialogue with the community leaders who are mostly men. District 8 was one of the first settlements to respond, but similar concerns were raised by informal settlements in other cities. This prompted the need to plan for the November meeting in Cochabamba where the leadership - both men and women - from the four cities would have the space to discuss the law and its implications for residents of informal settlements across Bolivia.
During the planning phase it was decided that the objective of the November meeting was 1) To understand the new regularization law and its implications for informal settlements with regard to issues of land ownership, and 2) To consolidate the voices of the leadership from the four cities to create a national federation of the urban poor.
Participants at the conference included about 150 community women from the 4 cities in Bolivia, 4 representatives from neighboring countries of Brazil, Ecuador and Columbia with three representatives from SDI including SDI Coordinators Celine d’Cruz (India) and Rose Molokoane (South Africa) and SDI Board member Sonia Fadrigo (Philippines).
In addition to these participants, about 7 - 8 local government officials (men and women) and one representative from the National government (also a woman). This configuration ensured maximum participation from women during the course of the conference. It was amazing how well some of the women narrated their stories about issues around the regularization of their land, their collective savings, and how their experiences with banks and micro credit institutions captured the attention of the both the local and the national government officials present. This is something all the officials will take back home. For the community leaders it was the first time they had the chance to speak in public; this event was a good opportunity for them to understand their own capacities and skills.
This conference was the first time that the leaders from the four cities were meeting each other. In her introduction, Sonia Fadrigo said, “You are all women and are all saving. You are clearly on the right track.”
There are signs of a relationship being formed between communities, local governments and national government in all four cities. This needs to be pursued consistently and strategically.
The two women leaders from Brazil were very motivated after this meeting. For example, they asked Maria Eugenia Torrico of Bolivia if they could come for 15 days in January to spend time with the community leaders to learn and go back home and strengthen their own community savings.
Rose felt that SDI was doing so much good in all these places around the world especially with these very poor women from Bolivia.
The woman from Ecuador had a lot of experience with housing and had come to both share and learn. Their community-based organization is free to learn about the SDI rituals and replicate them in their context.
Adriana from Colombia plans to take some of the lessons and test them out in Colombia with the agency working on poverty issues. We also started a dialogue on possible ideas of strengthening a people’s process within a national government program.
The Peruvian women did not arrive as one of them was sick and so the other did not want to travel alone. This would be their first time out of their country without any NGO support and this may have caused its own set of dynamics within their community and with their men. Eli and Maria will follow up with them and understand better what transpired. It has been a struggle finding a support NGO in Peru. It was decided that if the community leaders who are saving do not want to continue then we may want to stall Peru for awhile till we find an individual or an NGO willing to walk through this path. SDI needs to review this.
There were a number of key outcomes of the conference. There was an MOU signed between the Director of Housing from the national government and RAC. However, with no federation in place yet none of the community leaders could sign this MOU. Government, community leaders and RAC are learning to work with each other while building their separate capacities.
This meeting enabled both the local and national government representatives to better understand the community building process through community savings, slum enumerations and slum upgrading works. The Villa Vista upgrading was a good example to the all present.
As a result of the conference, RAC better understands the need for a national level leadership that they will work in tandem with. The idea emerged to create and build a collective leadership, which is more horizontal, and not just a couple of leaders who have power on the top.
RAC will work in the coming month to select the national leadership from a locally driven process. RAC estimates that there are at least 20 leaders in the four cities who can take on the responsibility of national leadership.
A brief outline of the conference events is included below:
Day 1: After the inaugural speeches the group divided into ten groups according to their land titles and discussed issues relevant to their land ownership. There was a very good reflection within the groups, which the leaders presented at the end of the day. A lot of very important issues came up and the local officials sitting with these teams had a chance to respond or advise the group on how to take this forward. Maria and her team worked to consolidate some of the important lessons for each of the groups and what needs to be followed up.
Day 2: The morning was spent on presentations by the women to the National government representative on their savings, their experience with the local banks and with micro credit. The government is planning to have a new bank law encouraging micro credit. Listening to the stories of the women pressed panic buttons with the Director for Housing who said she would try to see what she could do about this. There was an MOU signed with the Director before she left. She has promised to work on a couple of pilots with RAC so that they can refine their learning together.
The afternoon session was on slum enumerations and the leaders broke up into groups and discussed the progress of the settlement profiles in their respective cities. Sonia and Celine wrapped up by presenting the SDI perspective on slum enumerations.
Day 3: Event planned at District 8 to inaugurate the slum enumeration process in one of the new settlements. Ended with a closing ceremony and street theatre.
Day 4: Morning, reflection with RAC and the core leadership on the event and the future steps to be taken. Afternoon spent time with the core leaders and the some of the District 8 leaders on explaining some core ideas and concepts of savings and enumerations.
SDI is happy to annouce our 2011/12 Annual Report, a reflection of where SDI has grown to over the past 25 years. This includes a discussion of SDI's practices for change, a report on the SDI Secretariat, the building of internal reporting and documentation systems, and SDI's international advocacy and increasing presence on the global stage. The report concludes with a discussion of SDI's approach to key urban issues affecting the lives of the urban poor across the developing south, including water and sanitation, climate change, natural disasters, incremental habitat, enumerations and mapping of slum settlements, and financing slum upgrading.
For the complete document, click here.
Leila Lopes and Marlene Silva, savers from the state of São Paulo, in Brazil, were in Cochabamba, Bolivia, from 03 to 07 October to support the Bolivian savers and the technical team of the Bolivian support NGO Red Internacional de Acción Comunitaria (Red Interaccion) – the affiliate of SDI in Bolivia - in their strategic planning for the following 3 years (2012-2014). Leila and Marlene also participated in the strategic planning carried out in Brazil, in June 2011, and along with Fernanda Lima, Institutional Development Coordinator from Rede Internacional de Ação Comunitária (Rede Interação), the savers were there to support the planning and exchange experiences on the saving groups´ work and challenges in the different countries.
For the Brazilian and Bolivian savers, it was an amazing experience to develop the strategic planning in partnership. During the first three days, a group of about 15 people (savers from Brazil and Bolivia and the members of Red Interacción) participated in several activities in order to create the strategic planning for the organization and the Bolivian savings groups. During this time, they discussed the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats faced by Red Interacción and the institutional goals and activities for the coming years.
On the fourth day, the Brazilian team went to “Districto 8”, in Cochabamba, to get a better understanding of the area and the challenges and demands of the savings groups in Bolivia. There, they participated in the meeting of two savings groups in an area called “Libertad”.
Now, the partnership between the Brazilian and Bolivian savings groups has a new step: from 16 - 19 November, savers from Cochabamba and Oruro, Bolivia will travel to Osasco and Várzea Paulista, Brazil for several activities and meetings in order to exchange experiences about the savings groups methods of organization and challenges, the relationship with the local/national government and the creation of the National Federation in the two countries.
For more photographs from this exchange, visit the Flickr page.
By Anaclaudia Rossbach (Rede Interecao, Brasil), Celine D´Cruz (SDI Coordinator) and Maria E. Torrico (Red Interaccion, Bolivia)
Participants: (i) from Secretariat, Celine D´Cruz; (ii) from Bolivia, Maria Eugenia Torrico and Elizabeth Bustos; (iii) from Brazil, Eli Sandra Santana and Anacláudia Rossbach.
Municipalities visited: within Lima metropolitan area – Puente Piedra, San Juan de Miraflores and San Juan de Lurigancho
Institutions visited: Public Health projects lead by Joe Zunt and Silvia Montano and NGO KalLpa.
Context: This visit [06 - 09 September 2011] was the outcome of an invitation to Celine/SDI after she was invited to share SDI's experience at Washington University, Seattle to a joint team of Neurologist and the School of architecture. This team of health, architectural professionals and students have been working on a joint project with communities in Lima. They invited Celine/SDI to explore the possibility of working with the mothers groups in Peru. What attracted the team was the idea that within SDI savings groups were more than just micro savings and extended to other parts of the communities life.
- Celine´s presentation for multidisciplinary students from Washington University was facilitated by Joe Zunt Neurologist affiliated to Washington University and Silvia Montano a local Neurologist in Lima. This was followed by a Visit to Pitagoras School, local partners for environment and public health projects by Washington University, Joe Zunt and Silvia Monano.
- Meeting with mothers from parents students association (APAFA) to present SDI methodologies and identify interests for a next day follow up, they are residents of a broader neighborhood called Lomas de Zapallal, constituted by several smaller settelements, located at Puente Piedra Municipality. Present: 12 mothers and APAFA President.
- Internal meeting in the evening with exchange team and hosts Joe Zunt and Silvia Montano. Introduction to Jose Vinoles who will be the local anchor for the rest of the week program, that should include follow up visits at Lomas de Zapallal and to KalLpa NGO, including eventual visits to communities were they operate projects related to public health, youth, income generation and improve of urban environment.
- Team meeting on LA Hub coordinated by Celine D´Cruz. Issues discussed: (i) exchange Brazil – Bolivia to take place on the first week of October. This exchange will have two objectives: a) A team led by Fernanda Lima and leaders from Brazil will support Bolivia on their internal planning process and setting up of goals and targets for short and medium term and b) to explore more about the savings instruments from Bolivian groups. (ii) Exchange to Philippines. Discussion on composition of the exchange teams and a subsequent stop over in Brazil for a small exchange of 2/3 days to consolidate planning and a broader discussion with Brazilian savers on savings schemes instruments adopted in Bolivia. The idea is to strengthen savings schemes capacity in Brazil. (iii) On LA hub expansion. We discussed open possibilities in Ecuador (M. Eugenia contacts) through a local social movement and Colombia through Architect Alejandro Echeverri (Sheela Patel contact). The approach will be narrowing the long distance relationship and evaluate after a couple of months the feasibility of exchanges. The idea of having more countries (poor) attached to Brazil, like Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, could represent a window of opportunity to leverage international funds for the hub.
- Follow up meeting at Pitagoras Schooll with mothers from Lomas de Zapallal. The mothers from the previous day meeting weren’t present, but Jose Viñoles facilitated a meeting with other new mothers and just one of them was interested on a further visit at her small settlement. Her name is Sarita Garcia from the settlement called Eliseo Collazos Verde and a visit was scheduled for the following days.
- Meeting with KalLpa President Alejandrina Zamora Pariona and team to exchange institutional information. KalLpa basicly operates in 4 regions in Peru: Ayacucho, Cuzco, Ichitos and Lima on community based projects related to urban environment, public health, youth and income generation (see more at HYPERLINK www.kallpa.org.pe). They invited us to visit one youth center on income generation and one community at San Juan de Miraflores. This community, called Minas 2000, would also be visited by a theater group, supported by Canyon Ranch Institute (US) and Jose Viñoles. We also had conversations with Canyon Ranch Evaluation and Program Manager Maura Pereira, present on the exchange.
- Visit to Youth Center at San Juan de Miraflores. Presentation of mutual programs and brief discussion of possible synergies between SDI methodologies and the purpose of the center located within the municipal offices of San Juan de Miraflores, it is a partnership between NGO, local and central governments.
- Visit to community Minas 2000 at municipality San Juan de Miraflores. Discussion about community issues like lack of water, infrastructure, risk areas, it is a very poor community with shacks in a private property (owner uwilling to sell and exploring rent). The settlement has a total of 200 families. After the presentation by Brazilian and Bolivian community leaders, the local women immediately reacted positively on incorporating SDI methodologies and 2 savings schemes were set. (i) group with 7 members, treasurers Hermila, Monica and Milagros; (ii) group with 20 members, treasurers Ester, Elva and Rosa.
- Visit to community 24 de Diciembre at the Municipality of San Juan de Luricancho. Based on the success of previous day, KalLpa invited us for a meeting with another community, called 24 de Diciembre (estimated number of 200 families) located at the Municipality of San Juan de Luricancho. In the meeting we had the presence of about 8 women and 1 man, the “official community leader”. Besides the presence of the community leader we managed to set up a savings group with the 8 women present, 2 treasurers, Marta and Wilma.
- Conclusion meeting with KalLpa team. We agreed on a synergy between both programs, SDI and KalLpa and to stay together following up the savings groups located in their communities. For an initial follow up by KalLpa we will send material (savings books) and information, and Jose Vinoles and Stelita (from KalLpa team) will be our local anchors. A follow up exchange is planned by the beginning of December to set up broader institutional arrangements.
- Afternoon, meeting with Sarita Garcia and community women at Eliseo Collazos Verde (Lomas de Zapallal, Puente Piedra) to present SDI methodologies and discuss community issues. Also a very precarious settlement (90 families), with water, but no infrastructure, poor transport connections and shacks. They are located on public area and are already requesting land titling, what is very easy to get in Peru, even in precarious settlements. A savings group was set with 18 members, treasures: Sarita, Emilia y Mariluz.
- Consolidation of Peruvian savings schemes under supervision of Jose Viñoles/KalLpa NGO.
- Follow up visit coordinate by the Brazilian team on December/2011 to: (i) institutionalize local partnerships; (ii) follow up of savings groups; and (iii) planning exercise with the communities for a long term vision with professional support form Brazilian team (in Peru there is no integrated slum upgrading project, the idea of this exercise is to engage communities on a common dream/goal).\
See more photos from the exchange to Peru on the Peru Flickr page.
Editor's note: These stories are taken from the February newsletter of the Bolivian SDI Alliance. All of their newsletters can be found in the original Spanish at the Bolivia country page.
By Maria Eugenia Torrico, Rede de Acción Communitaria (Communal Action Network)
Deep in the old section of the city of Oruro, one finds the neighborhood of San Miguel. It is an informal settlement that is now 20 years old. San Miguel is characterized by a lack of: basic services, access to police and security, and informal house construction. Here, men and women with few financial resources have settled on land that is contaminated, as it is located on top of old mineral reserves.
Most residents of Oruro (known as Orureños) and government officials simply ignore these informal dwellers. Yet their existence is replicated in settlements throughout the mining town. Such settlements comprise the “invisible city” of Oruro.
But what percent of the population is living in these informal settlements? And how many such settlements exist?
Our challenge is to understand the magnitude of the problem, and to find answers collectively to make cities more inclusive. We are inviting those who are now indifferent, to discover the invisible cities of Bolivia, to become familiar with the challenges of the urban poor in our country, and develop broad-based solutions.
Junta Vecinal Taruma counts itself
In the month of February, the community of Junta Vecinal Taruma in Oruro, undertook an enumeration exercise. From 4 to 12 February the “Jefes de Manzano,” a community youth group, trained to be the main participants in the enumeration. They also recognized a growing capacity for youth leadership within the community at-large.
On 13 February, the group went door-to-door and counted all the households in a time-consuming exercise that included the participation of all the community residents.
The next week, on 20 February, the enumeration group, joined by other residents worked with technical assistance from Red de Acción Communitaria to tabulate the results from all the household surveys. The team is currently compiling a final document, and the results are set to be released in a special ceremony.
Savings brings solidarity and action on the ground
The residents of Villa Vista have also decided to form a daily savings group. The goal of this group — 59 families strong — is to save to get title deed for their property. They are already recognizing the solidarity and collective vision emerging from this decision.
On 6 February, the Bolivian Alliance began its work with the community of Junta Vecinal Villa Vista to improve the construction of houses there. This project is being funded by SELAVIP.
In attendance at the brick-laying ceremony were Representative Marcelo Elio and Germán Delgado, president of the Oruro Municipal Council. They each lay a symbolic brick to open the process.
A group of volunteer architects will support the technical assessment of the houses to develop a joint participatory design with the community. The Fundación Pacha Kamacque are giving legal assistance.
The ceremony also served to celebrate the opening a community day care centre for the 20 boys and girls in the community. The initiative is being promoted by Aldea SOS and the government.
By Benjamin Bradlow, SDI Secretariat
Part I -- Bolivia: New Freedoms in the Home of the Bolivarian Dream
Though named after the liberator of much of South America, Simón Bolivar, many consider Bolivia to have achieved real freedom only with the election of Evo Morales as president in 2006. Morales, a former trade unionist, is the first leader of the continent’s poorest country to be of indigenous descent. Now in the throes of a pitched re-election campaign, the country is coming to terms with the promise and reality of the Morales era. Many poor people have flocked to the fast-growing cities in the western region of the country, the heartland of much of Bolivia’s indigenous culture. This region comprises much of Morales’ political base. The growth of service industries in cities, the persistent poverty of rural areas, and the decline of formerly strong industries, like mining, are proving to be powerful forces attracting many to move to urban areas in Bolivia.
Urbanization there has brought with it the attendant difficulties that affect most cities in the developing world: Vast, dense tracts of informal settlements, lack of access to proper infrastructure and development for the cities’ poorest inhabitants, and local and national government authorities that struggle to deliver solutions to the problems of urban poverty in ways that empower the citizenship and dignity of the ordinary poor people these politicians claim to represent.
Still, Morales’ election and first term has brought a measure of hope and optimism to urban dwellers. Rosemary Irusta is a leader of Habitat Para La Mujer, Maria Auxiliadora, a community in Cochabamba based around communal savings and ownership of all housing and infrastructure. She had a typical take on the change in perceptions that many poor people have towards the government, at least at its highest political levels. “We respect this government. It is good,” she said. “But we have problems at the local level.”
4 November -- Cochabamba: informal land in the “Water Wars” battleground
From 3 November to 7 November, leaders of the Federation of the Urban and Rural Poor (FEDUP) in South Africa and leaders of savings schemes in Brazil, visited three cities in Bolivia as part of an exchange arranged through Shack / Slum Dwellers International (SDI) alliance. Both FEDUP and the Brazilian savers are affiliated to SDI. The exchange visit was coordinated by Maria Eugenia Torrico, an academic and community organizer based in Cochabamba. She has been providing technical support to communities in both Cochabamba and the nearby mining town of Oruro that are mobilizing themselves to solve their own problems. The primary goal of the exchange, according to Torrico, was to see how the work already being done at the community level in Bolivia could fit into the grassroots-based, scalable methodologies of SDI affiliated federations throughout what has been called the Global South. In Chochabamba and Oruro, Torrico also brought a leader of a community in Oruro named Clotilde Lopez.
The visit began in Cochabamba, which Torrico described as the most developed city in the country, as well the most unequal. Half of the city’s residents live in informal dwellings, and only one fifth of the population has regular access to water. In 2000, Cochabamba was ground zero of what has been referred to as the “Water Wars.” The city has long struggled to provide proper water infrastructure for all its inhabitants. In 2000, based on a World Bank recommendation — some might say it was more an instruction rather than a recommendation — the Bolivian government moved to privatize the water supply. After violent protests, community leaders took over from a multinational company that had won the tender to run the city’s water supply. These leaders run the parastatal water company, SEMAPA, as a cooperative, but the water supply is still a big problem in the city. The poor can routinely pay up to ten times the price that the rich pay for water, as they are not connected to the formal water supply infrastructure.
The southern part of the city is entirely informal. And given the large numbers of people moving to Cochabamba — Torrico cited the growth of service jobs as a main factor for the city’s growth — the southern boundaries are encroaching northwards in the popular understanding of this border. Almost all of the land is privately-owned and much is designated for agriculture despite its evident lack of suitability for such purposes. Dust and rocks are omnipresent on the hilly landscape in this side of the city.
In the ninth district of Cochabamba, Irusta’s Comunidad Maria Auxiladora stands out amid the unfinished, relative mansions families receiving remittances from relatives who have emigrated are building in incremental fashion. One million people have emigrated since 2004, and remittances are a major part of the economic calculations made by many ordinary Bolivians. Remittances also have a strong effect on the social fabric of the country. On a public bus from Cochabamba to Oruro, I spoke with a man who complained bitterly about the “traitors” who go abroad to live as “slaves.” Torrico suggested to me that this is a not atypical view.
Irusta, along with her husband Margín, and a few other families, started Maria Auxiliadora in 1999 as a response to persistent domestic violence in their communities. They soon came to the conclusion that housing was a determining factor in the culture surrounding domestic violence. They began to buy land and form community associations around a traditional form of Bolivian communal savings called pasanaku. The leadership structure emphasizes gender as a key factor in community stability. Both the president and vice-president of the community must be women, and these positions must rotate. Eventually they started to build houses and also began to focus on servicing these stands. They secured an arrangement with local authorities by which the finance for these servicing projects was split equally between the community and the government.
Communal land ownership and leadership has been a mixed experience for the Maria Auxiliadora community. Because all of the land, houses, and infrastructure are under collective ownership of the community, they face particularly strong difficulties in securing credit for projects. Similarly, they have trouble accessing the benefits of government-run social programs. To get a government subsidy one also needs to secure a loan, which requires individually-owned assets. Though the national government is working on a new national housing policy, Maria Auxiliadora feels unrecognized in the deliberations. “Neither the central government nor the local government understands our proposal,” Irusta said. “So they just ignore us.” The regulations of the community include a ban on the sale of alcohol, and the transference of any property rights to women in the case of divorce. Every Sunday, the community works on a given project that they have prioritized and they hold a community assembly.
The community does not all live on the land that they have bought. Rosemary and Margín Bellot have still not moved to this area — they live in another informal house in the south side of Cochabamba. 248 families will eventually live on the plots of land purchased by the Maria Auxiliadora community, but they only move in a few at a time. In addition to community members themselves, two NGOs have also helped construct houses for the community.
As part of the exchange meeting, Nomvula Mahlangu of FEDUP emphasized the need for organizing daily savings collection schemes. Claudia Bento, a Brazilian saving scheme leader demonstrated how this is done in Brazil, and encouraged community members to take a look at the savings booklet developed with a support NGO called Interaçao. Community leaders seemed interested and excited by the possibilities of daily savings. After Ana Paula Barreto of Interaçao suggested that the community could start with an enumeration, Rosemary said that they had already conducted a census but had not yet processed their data.
Those from the community who attended the exchange meeting appeared excited when hearing about how SDI methodologies have worked in both Brazil and South Africa. Given the frustrations that the community has had in dealing with local authorities, Mahlangu’s description of the relationship that FEDUP has with the South African department of human settlements was particularly intriguing.
Elsewhere on the southern side of the city stands a 15-year-old government housing project called Calicanto. Of 600 houses developed by the government, only 300 are occupied. Half of these houses are occupied by renters. Torrico has been in touch with the secretary of gender in the community leadership structure concerning the possibility of conducting an enumeration. Though a government project, the houses are built on private land. The planning of the project appears to have been near non-existent. The only public space in the community is a cemetery.
A community called 20 de Octubre epitomized the boomtown atmosphere of Cochamba’s southern region when we visited on 4 November. At least five different houses were being built as we walked up the steep hill on which the settlement rests. While we waited for a meeting with a group of women who have been working to improve their community, I wandered off to examine some of the ongoing construction. I spoke with Francisco Aguada who was building a house with the help of two friends. They had been working for the two past weeks He hoped to be done by the middle of November to move in with three of his cousins. Almost houses in informal settlements in Bolivia are built with cheap brick material. Aguada said that the cost for 1200 bricks was about 1450 Bolivianos (US$200).
The women who live in 20 de Octubre complain bitterly about sexism in the community. When Mahlangu mentioned to them the possibility of visiting South Africa one day as part of a future exchange, the Bolivian women responded with surprise. For them, they said, it is a challenge to convince their husbands to allow them to meet as a group down the hill, let alone halfway across the world.
These women save and pursue small community improvement projects with the support of a small group of nuns. These include putting up lights and building roads. On the latter project, the community managed to convince local authorities to provide the necessary machinery. They have legal status as a community-based organization, and have committees on health and female empowerment. Jordana Przybyl, a nun supporting the community who also lives there, suggested that the rapid growth of 20 de Octubre has not allowed for the kind of social fabric that would allow for communal responsibility for infrastructure there. “The first thing for us here is for women to leave the kitchen,” she said. Given the need for women empowerment, Mahlangu suggested that an exchange with the Maria Auxiliadora community could help provide an alternative example to these women.
5 November -- Oruro: Mobilizing for infrastructure, between the devil and the lord
The patron of the mines in Oruro is the devil. Given the traditional pre-eminence of mining as the raison d’être of the town, it is unsurprising that Oruro’s central traditional ritual carnival honors the devil. Though the decline of jobs in the mining industry due to automation has reduced the town’s population, those who remain have moved increasingly closer to the city. Urbanization is therefore a rapidly intensifying trend. It is here, Torrico’s hometown, that we encountered a strong set of women-led communities, already looking toward pursuing projects beyond the community level.
Clotilde Lopez’s community, known as Nuevos Horizontes, is made up of people who came from primarily rural areas about twenty years ago. Clotilde took over from a former president who had been considered ineffectual. She found out about a government program for upgrading poor communities. The national government contributed 70% and 30% came from municipal authorities. Each of the 144 families in the community now has its own toilet, as well as wash basins that are shared communally. The community, which had been saving, primarily based on the traditional pasanaku system, was able to contribute to building roads. This encouraged the government to service the site where this community resides. All the houses were built through individual savings as well, along with help from the Inter-American Development Bank.
The community of Taruma Juan Lechín, named after a hero of the mine workers, Nuevos Horizontes, and another community have worked together to build a community center inTaruma Juan Lechín that they all use. Most of the women present at the smaller Nuevos Horizontes meeting also attended the gathering at Taruma Juan Lechín. At a meeting of close to 100 people, punctuated by performances of traditional dance by community children, leaders shared their experiences and listened to those of the leaders from Brazil and South Africa. Here, community members had many questions about how SDI savings scheme function in practice.
Many examined the savings books from Brazil and South African. Though the South Africans required translation help, they were keen to share the insights. Sebastiana Camacho, age 72, has been living in Taruma Juan Lechín for the past seven years. “I want to learn their language to share with them,” she told me after the meeting. “Saving is very important. To save like this we will be able to achieve many things.
A third community, Urbanización de Aurora, is a prime example of the traditional practice of pasanaku. Similar to traditional savings schemes in many countries, such as stokvel in South Africa, this community saves weekly to spend on different priorities determined by the scheme in a given month. At the end of the year, all unspent funds revert to the donors. The group will give out small loans from the savings, and also participates in occasional exchanges with other pasanaku groups in the city.
Mahlangu told the members of the savings scheme in Urbanización de Aurora, called Grupo Femenino Virgen del Socavón, that the similarities with the traditional practice of stokvelsavings in South Africa was a promising base for more developed savings practices. “To me, this feels like South Africa, seeing what you are doing here, she said. The group appeared to have a keen understanding of savings, and engaged in a focused discussion about the technical aspects of savings as practiced by SDI-affiliated groups in both Brazil and South Africa.
The various community groups in Oruro that are led by women have begun organizing at the city level. Currently this seems to be more on the order of exchange rather than coordinating specific projects together. The Women Leaders of Oruro, as they are known, have gathered now for 12 years and include leaders from Nuevos Horizontes, Juan Lechín, andUrbanización de Aurora. Torrico has supported these exchange activities, and the group has registered and obtained legal status as a community-based organization. After meeting and dining with this group, the SDI visitors were treated to a performance of traditional Bolivian music performed by a talented group of young men who called themselves Grupo Sin Límites, the group without limits.
6 November -- La Paz: New bureaucrats and a new agenda for housing reform
The exchange in La Paz, the administrative capital of Bolivia, was not with communities, but was aimed at learning — and perhaps influencing — ongoing developments in the country’s housing policy. Instead the SDI group first met with representatives from the Foro Permanente de la Vivienda (FOPEVI) — Permanent Forum on Housing — to learn about an enduring convergence of community-based leaders, NGOs, academics, policy-makers and other stakeholders to develop a new housing policy for the country. The forum began in 1996.
“When we started we could not have dreamed that we would have a kind of president like Evo Morales,” said Annelise Melendez, a professional supporting the work of FOPEVI. The forum was initiated during a time when there was no proper policy about housing in Bolivia, according to Melendez. Houses were generally constructed in a self-managed process with little attention from the government, particularly at the central level. A key breakthrough for the forum came when they won their fight for the inclusion of the right to housing in the new constitution passed at the beginning of 2009. Now, Melendez said, FOPEVI is focused on developing ways that the government can implement the kind of policies that can breathe life into this new right.
The forum held a two-year series of meetings to develop a draft policy for the government to adopt. These are documented meticulously as an appendix to the draft policy that FOPEVI published with a wide dissemination strategy. This included paying for the placement of an abridged version in major newspapers. FOPEVI has also developed a Bolivian housing index to keep track of major indicators related to housing issues. For many of the involved CBOs, the key is to develop ways to empower women when it comes to housing. “Even with or without Evo Morales, women — and especially poor women — will face great difficulties. That is why we want a women’s movement,” said Paulina Laredo Vargas, one of the community leaders involved in the development of the FOPEVI draft housing policy.
Though the final public meeting of the exchange took place in the office of the vice-minister of housing, the vice-minister was not present. Instead, Alberto Calla Garcia, the director general of housing in the national government, chaired the meeting. Calla Garcia had previously been an academic architect who had worked closely with Torrico and others through FOPEVI. Now that the right to housing has been passed, he said, the real work has begun. He emphasized his interest in continuing a participatory process of policy development and implementation that would include consultation through FOPEVI, NGOs and academic institutions. The important thing, he said, is that policies must come from the bottom upwards.
The key aspects of the housing policy, now in its technical and implementation phases, were what he described as: sovereignty, land, economy and jobs, technical assistance, technology, and research. He noted that an issue will be contending with the role of market forces in housing, and is looking at the possibility of developing a government land bank and creative sources for housing finance. Though the country faces an official housing backlog of 300,000 units, he described the current outlook as “favorable”: “We have cooperation from the people. This policy came from the people and not the government. We are also in a time of change. Peaceful change,” he said, referring to the perceived quiet revolution of the Morales presidency. “There is a political will to fulfill this policy … It is the character of our country. We have a long history of very strong social movements.”
He also referred to “international synergy” on the development of housing policy. He participated in an international workshop on housing policy the week prior to our visit and has a relationship with Cid Blanco of the Brazilian government. He was clearly interested and at least somewhat aware already of SDI’s work. He kept his attentive staff in the meeting beyond 5 pm, when the rest of the government office building had begun closing down. He was keen to exchange contact details and defer incoming calls as the meeting progressed and leaders from Brazilian and South African federations shared their experiences, particularly regarding partnerships with governments in the respective countries.
Later that evening, as the delegates from Brazil and South Africa prepared to depart for Brazil, Torrico asked that everyone join in for a feedback session on the exchange. Barreto said she was impressed by the good networks that already appear to exist within communities, particularly in Oruro, and between communities and government. According to Torrico, the meeting with Calla Garcia and his staff in the department of housing was fruitful in that it opened up space for Torrico to submit additional proposals for the housing policy currently under development. This room, she said, could allow for the development of regular working group meetings between various stakeholders and the national government around housing policy and its implementation. All agreed that documentation of these engagements, as well as engagements within and between communities would be a key aspect of promoting the development of SDI-type methodologies in Bolivia.
When Kwanele Sibanda, from the support NGO called Community Organization Resource Centre in South Africa, suggested that Torrico could consider registering as a legal NGO in order to obtain additional funds that might not otherwise be available for her work, she responded that she needs to clarify this issue on two levels. Sibanda said that the communities, particularly the more developed savings and self-help schemes in Oruro could serve as an initial board to manage such an NGO. Most importantly for her is the need for such a move to emanate from the priorities determined by the communities that she is supporting. She has been working on a voluntary basis, and described her own trepidation about approaching communities as a full-fledged NGO. Furthermore, she wants to discuss this issue further with SDI, as both sides evaluate the progress of the work ongoing in Bolivia.
Torrico said that though she was currently unsure which groups most needed her support from a constructive standpoint, this visit had allowed her to decide which groups she would avoid. This is particularly the case for the community of Maria Auxiliadora, which has a questionable leadership structure and development plan. In terms of encouraging savings schemes more along the lines of the SDI methodology, she intends to focus on developing the roles of treasurers in the communities in which she works. In terms of her support role, she said that she most wants to help facilitate exchanges between communities at the city and national level, as well as initiating enumerations within given communities.
The work taking place in Bolivia goes beyond isolated traditional savings schemes. In Oruro, a strong group of women has joined together to begin working at the city level. There, the women were particularly interested in the kinds of experiences the delegates from Brazil and South Africa could related about working in such a way. Networks already exist to partner with different stakeholders, including at least some senior government officials. The goal will be to figure out ways for linked communities to develop concrete, actionable priorities, mobilize around their own resources, and leverage additional support for these priorities from the greater network of housing stakeholders. It is a story that is ongoing throughout the SDI network. In Bolivia, there is great promise for communities to take the lead, at scalable levels, in a unique political moment.
Part II -- Brazil: Samba and Savings
Though the primary focus of the exchange in early November was to support and learn from the Bolivian process, the South Africans spent another full day in two different settlements near Sao Paulo. A large meeting in Osasco brought together a number of neighboring communities. The meeting took place in a brand new community center that has not even been officially opened. The center is part of a large government housing development that was leveraged through saving schemes in the settlement. The development will house 600 families in double storey units, and 242 of these families are active savers.
The government attention to the settlement was not always forthcoming, said Alex Sandro Moraes Da Silva, a leader in the Osasco community. “It’s not because our president flew over our city and said, ‘Oh, let’s work in that community.’” Rather, the community was able to get the city government to commit matching funds for community savings to begin funding the development. Later, the authorities ratcheted up their investment further. The multi-storey design was initiated by the municipality. “There was an architect design,” said Ana Claudia Rossbach, director of Interaçao. “It was discussed with [the community], but it was a professional design.”
In his speech to the assembled, community member Gillson Santos referred often to actions initiated by the NGO. “The proposal that the NGO came with was for us to organize around savings and enumeration,” he said. Though clearly proud of the achievements of his community in Osasco, he referred often to NGO-driven mobilization strategies, even if they ultimately centered on community participation and leadership.
Moraes Da Silva implicitly addressed this point in his remarks. “We have to learn how to say what we want and not just let government decide for us,” he said. He cautioned that once community members were in a house their work did not end. This has already been an issue. Once the community realized that they did not need to use their savings to build the actual houses — the government had agreed to subsidize the construction and services on a given site — it decided to use savings to finish the walls and extend the houses. Mahlangu shared the South African experience of working with government through what is called the People’s Housing Process, as a means of comparing the work going on in the two countries.
Though not all communities in attendance had savings schemes, much of the meeting was used to discuss problems that they have within the savings schemes. Two women treasurers from a savings scheme in the community of Jardim Aliança told of being defrauded by the one male treasurer in their scheme. Savings scheme leaders also promoted the use of Interaçao-branded savings scheme booklets. The common logo, they argued identifies groups in the states of Sao Paulo and Penambuco as being part of the same drive towards federation at the national level.
The day ended with an unplanned visit to Vila Real. The delegates from South Africa already knew a couple community members as both Inés Ferreira and Claudia Bento, who traveled to Bolivia, live there. The invitation was so unusual that it seemed to surprise the staff of Interaçao. Nevertheless, the otherwise-exhausted South African delegates accepted the invitation with great enthusiasm.
The community in Vila Real is highly organized. Savings schemes there began in 2005, and community members have managed to use their own savings to convince the government to expand a mooted project for development of roads and other infastructure. They are also using savings to build and upgrade their houses. Eli Santana, a treasurer for a savings scheme in Vila Real, said that the strategy goes beyond housing. “We are not just a savings group. We are working with all of the problems in the community. And that allows us to bring these problems to the municipality,” she said. The savers in Vila Real have gone a number of exchanges to other places in both states of Sao Paulo and Penambuco and are one of the key groups pushing towards federation at the national level.
The visit to Vila Real was undoubtedly a highlight in the personal experience of the trip for everyone. The South African delegates remarked that they wished the visit had been planned so that we could have stayed with the community that night, generally a highly instructive aspect of SDI exchange. Visits to the many pagode (a style of samba music) bars, races through the streets, chats with community members, a feast of traditional Brazilian food, and sharing of dances and songs between the South Africans and Brazilians capped off the final night of the exchange.
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