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LA MATANZA, Argentina (May 2, 2012) – Its not very often that Habitat for Humanity Argentina (HPHA) receives Global Village teams that are comprised solely of a single family. But when our most recent GV team, a Canadian group of 14, arrived at the National Office for their orientation meeting, it was apparent that their bond as family members and close friends would push them beyond the expectations.

Some of the very first interactions between the team and Habitat staff demonstrated just how intent the volunteers were on accomplishing more than what was planned for them. With the majority responding that the actual construction activities and tangible results were the two of the most important aspects of the build for them, it was a given that their work ethic would be one of the most prominent things that they would leave behind- which is exactly what they did.

In just four and a half days, the team, primarily from Newfoundland, Canada, was able to log more than 370 volunteer hours, collaborating with six different families and ultimately affecting the lives of 27 family members. The group worked side by side with the Habitat’s partner families and several local volunteers to work together for the improvement of the homes and the neighborhood. Their presence will remain in the community since they left a piece of Canada in La Matanza and gave the residents from this informal settlement in the suburbs of Buenos Aires the chance to get to know Newfoundland and make new friends.

One of the activities they spent the majority of their time in was also one of the most physically demanding: foundation pours. Of which they did SEVEN! Additionally, they dug drainage trenches, cut and bent rebar for support pillars, plastered walls, and painted both interior and exterior surfaces. Yet, even given all of that, one team member commented afterward, “We could have done so much more.”

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That statement is a testament not only to their work ethic but also to the humility of the team, because at the end of the day, they did do so much more. The shared bond, selflessness, and love that each team member demonstrated not only left an impression over the course of the week, but will also help to continue Habitat’s mission in the future. The family values that brought the group of 14 from Canada to Argentina are mirrored reflections of the pillars that support HPHA and allow the organization to develop further: mutual assistance, volunteerism, and faith in action. So even though they left the last day wanting to do more, and leave an even bigger impact, from our perspective, they did exactly what they were meant to do- transform the lives of the community members and be transformed themselves. Thank you team! Daonce!

 Courtney is a long-term volunteer from the US working as a Field Assistant for Brigades in the HPHA National Office.

In early April, Greater Buenos Aires (GBA) was hit by a sever storm, accompanied by heavy winds, rain and a tornado, resulting in severe damages in certain parts of region.

The tornado affected mainly the west and south zones of GBA and the southwest and south areas of the City of Buenos Aires. Violent winds (with estimated speeds between 180 and 250 km per hour) brought down thousands of trees, destroyed property, totaled homes and cars, and knocked down telephone poles and electricity lines.

At the moment, there is no concrete data on the number of homes affected, but in the municipality of Morón alone, there were 15,000 homes with damages. In Moreno, sources from the municipality have mentioned that at least 500 homes that have been made unlivable by the devastation. In response to this adverse event, a team of five volunteers and two project leaders from HPHA conducted an assessment of damages in the neighborhood of Pompeya, in the western district of Melo, to assess the possibility of offering technical assistance to families that suffered damage to their homes.

HPHA is planning an intervention that will attend to the housing problems of 20 families that suffered damage from the storm. Neighborhood residents will receive structural evaluations and recommendations from technical volunteers during at least two on-site visits. The constructive technical assistance and mitigation techniques offered by HPHA aims to help repair current damage and reduce future risks from such adverse events.

SANTA FE, Argentina (April 18, 2012) – A team of 14 from the United States, Canada, Bermuda, and Malaysia arrived on March 26, 2012 and became the first group to work on a new initiative in Villa del Parque and Barracitas Sur in the city of Santa Fe.

Habitat for Humanity Argentina (HPHA) began working in Santa Fe starting with projects in Complete House construction and Progressive Improvements in Recreo, Santa Fe in 2003 and has since hosted 26 Global Village teams. Just this year however, HPHA embarked on a new partnership with the local organization ACDI (Cultural Association for Integral Development) to assist families in the neighborhoods of Villa del Parque and  Barranquitas Sur. While the original project in Santa Fe was launched outside the city limits, this new endeavor will be carried out in the eastern part of the city close to downtown. It is here that HPHA invited the first team to engage and empower local residents through mutual assistance and an atmosphere of volunteerism.

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The site that awaited the international volunteers on their first day of work was, at the onset, one of dirt alleyways that had been filled with mud from the previous night’s rain, followed by a ten-minute walk through pure trash. While some members of the team had previous experience working with Habitat for Humanity in Romania, Portugal, Brasil, the United States, and Canada, the conditions that they faced were unlike any they have previously seen. Inadequate housing and precarious living situations are widespread here; “slum” doesn’t begin to describe the first thought one has upon entering the community. Most families have four to nine people living together in one-room houses; walls are put up with corrugated tin, broken bricks, cinder blocks, or whatever material can be found; doors are few and far between; and one is greet by darkness upon entering most houses due to a lack of windows or electricity.

However, despite the challenges, the team was greeted by family members excited and ready to work with the first Americans and Canadians they had ever met in their lives. The children smiled playfully from behind their parents legs, shy yet eager to meet the new people that stood at their doorstep. It was the start of something new, something better. The volunteers immediately walked up to the families with a smile, positive attitude, and a timid “hola”, ready to jump in wherever they could. And did they!

Together, the team logged more than 250 volunteer hours in both construction work and community development activities. Collaborating along side three distinct families, the team helped to advance the auto-construction process of one Seed House and two Progressive Improvements. In doing so, they were able to excavate two septic tanks, one of which has now fondly become known as “the hole” for the three days of backbreaking work that was required to pump out the water, mud, and trash to make way for the cement rings that would become the support structure. They moved over 3000 bricks and 15m2 of cement, sand, and rock; they laid the foundation for what will eventually become a living room; they demolished a wall and began putting up a new one; they painted eight windows and three pieces of furniture in the community center; they aided in the installation of a new roof, and affixed new bathroom plumbing. They also spent a morning with students at the local school helping them to paint hopscotch squares and other games in the courtyard.

In addition to the physical labor, they became friends with the locals that they were working with – sharing mate, the Argentine kiss, and a few stories along the way. Most would say that the actual facts and figures of what they were able to accomplish pales in comparison to the impact that the families made on them. In the end, the team remarked that the experience had opened their eyes to a different Argentine reality and that the build challenged them to look at their own lives in a new way.

While the volunteers called the trip “life changing” because of the individual interaction they had with the community members, the local families called their first experience with an international team transforming because of what they were able to learn. Habitat calls that success.

Courtney is a long-term volunteer from the US working as a Field Assistant for Brigades in the HPHA National Office.

Transform the reality of the children of our country

No child can develop without the stability and security of an adequate house. He or she needs a place in which to grow strong and healthy, to play, to spend time with family, to do homework. The report “State of the World’s Children2012,”produced by UNICEF, states that “adequate housing can protect children and families living in urban areas from contagious and chronic diseases, as well as prevent injuries and accidents.” The report also says that an optimal environment promotes social interaction, reduces stress and benefits psychological health.

In Argentinamore than 2.5 million children live in poverty. In many metropolitan areas of the country, they live in huts made of sheet metal and cardboard walls, dirt floors, without running water or protection against inclement weather. In an interview with newspaper Página 12, Andres Franco, the UNICEF Representative Argentina, shared his concern regarding the number of children living in substandard housing, as he estimates that 16.6% of the population lives in precarious structures with dirt floors without indoor plumbing or bathrooms.

In its report, UNICEF says that in the coming decades and as urbanization progresses, the majority of children will be living in urban areas. In putting forth this scenario, the organization challenges to governments to address the problem and achieve a better understanding of “the magnitude and nature of the poverty and exclusion affecting children in urban areas.” While progress has been made, a greater commitment is necessary. “We need to talk about them [children]. The exercise of their rights in the cities has its peculiarities, “he says Franco.

Campaign: The Children Begins at Home

In this context, and being an organization that works for the cause of adequate housing, we wonder: how is it possible that our children can dream of a better future without a suitable place to live? Our answer to this is to call all those who are motivated to put their faith into action to transform reality so that many children in our country can enjoy a fulfilling childhood, growing strong and healthy.

Childhood Begins at Home is a campaign to raise funds to finance the construction of three “Seed Houses” as a concrete solution that addresses the problem of inadequate housing inArgentina’s greater metropolitan areas, an issue that impairs the childhood of more and more children. The campaign will take place through three challenges: Schools, Churches and Argentines and Friends of Argentina Abroad, and each of these will aim to engage different populations needed to motorize this action for change.

Join Us!

If you want to know more about the campaign, please write to oficinanacional@hpha.org.ar. Also, you can follow our progress at www.laninezempiezaencasa.wordpress.com.

A beautiful new house for Fabiana and her daughters

Although the “Casa Semilla” (“Seed House”) housing solution is still only a couple of years old, it has been a promising addition to our “Desarrollo de Barrios” (“Developing Neighborhoods”) project. There are new completed seed houses in both La Matanza and Santa Fe, and construction on the next set of houses began in the second half of 2011.

With a seed house, families receive a larger loan than they would for an incremental improvement, as well as training throughout the build process. With these funds and the help of volunteers, Habitat architects and technical consultants, they build a sound structure with a functioning indoor kitchen-living room area, bathroom and one bedroom. Through this solution, they create a protective, healthy and solid foundation for their family, with the proper infrastructure already in place, and they acquire the necessary skills to eventually expand the house.

Last September, we held a weeklong construction event “Semillas de Esperanza”(“Seeds of Hope”) in 22 de Enero in La Matanza, Buenos Aires. Throughout the week, volunteers helped build three seed houses for families currently living in precarious structures. All the families are led by single mothers (Fabiana, Graciela and Miguelina) living in extreme poverty under especially difficult conditions who yearn to make better lives for their children. We are pleased to report that the houses begun that week are now in the final stages of completion, thanks to the dedication and hard work of the supervising architect, Carlos, the families and volunteers.

A Global Village brigade from Australia helped Miguelina put the colorful finishing touches on her house.

The construction process at the other seed house in 22 de Enero is also moving along nicely. With the help of volunteer brigades and their high capacity for auto-construction, owners of one of the seed houses, Laura and Daniel, are already in the second stage of building after only a month and a half.

Similarly, the four seed houses in Santa Fe are coming together, brick by brick. The Pereyra Paselli family is almost done with stage 2, as they have raised the walls and installed pipes for the bathroom plumbing. Once they get their work certified, they can begin stage 3 with the new materials recently delivered from the lumberyard – another step closer to a new house! In addition, a brigade made up of HPHA employees, local volunteers, neighbors, other recipient families, and members of the civil association Rayo de Luz recently joined the technical consultant in visiting and helping out with construction tasks at two of the seed houses.

One of these, the house of Nestor and Maria in the city of Recreo, Santa Fe, is nearly complete! Nestor originally heard about Habitat through a coworker at the factory where he works. His friend was involved through former HPHA project “Levantémonos y Construyamos” (“Rise Up and Build”). Nestor and Maria have worked very hard over the last year, struggling with rising costs due to inflation and handling a lot of the construction on their own.

Nestor and Maria with the Global Village brigade that helped them build in the fall of 2011.

They are very grateful to have received multiple Global Villages to help them with their house and for the opportunity for cultural exchange. Although it was challenging for Nestor to oversee such a large group of foreign volunteers, he understood its importance, especially in demonstrating why the houses are built here in a certain way (as opposed to how houses are built in the U.S.). He was also duly impressed by how the men and women of the teams worked in equal roles. The couple was able to complete construction projects that, without the help of the brigades, would have required Nestor to contract workers. The couple plans to move in by the end of the month. They are very happy to no longer have to rent and to finally have a place to call home.

Nestor and Maria in front of their new house.

Maria: “It was a lovely experience because even without knowing the language, we understood each other – there was nothing missing from our dialogue.”

Nestor: “I really admire them [the Global Village volunteers] because they came from so far away without receiving anything in return…From this I learned how wonderful it feels to help another without any expectations, without receiving anything in exchange.

As we approach the launching of the “Reciclando Hogares” (“Recycling Homes”), we are delighted to be adding suppliers to our list of supporters! Amongst the first of these is the Argentine steel company, Acindar Grupo ArcelorMittal. A major advocate of Argentine industry since its founding, the company is responsible for manufacturing the many essential steel products that make up our country, from the smallest nail to the strongest beam.

We have been very lucky to count Acindar Grupo ArcelorMittal as a friend of HPHA, having hosted their enthusiastic corporate brigades in our communities regularly over the course of the past 4 years. And Fundación ArcelorMittal International has supported our work through donations to a number of different HPHA projects, including the purchase of the lot for the first Recycling homes project in La Boca. In addition, last year the company sponsored an HPHA Global Village brigade, made up of employees from Mexico, Costa Rica, India, Colombia and Argentina, for their corporate Solidarity Holiday program.

The relationship between Habitat Argentina and Acindar Grupo ArcelorMittal has been reinforced through the latter’s commitment to the “Recycling Homes” project. The company has shown its support and faith in our initiative by contributing all of the steel and iron materials needed for the new building! The result will provide local families with access to a safe, adequate house in line with fair rental conditions. With the help of important donors like Acindar Grupo ArcelorMittal, we believe this project will be an important contribution to a livable and sustainable Buenos Aires and will change the face of urban housing solutions for low-income families, in La Boca and beyond.

Between June 2011 and January 2012, HPHA executed a pilot project in the area of Human and Community Development. The main goal was to conduct a social and habitational audit of the families that have received or currently receive loans from the organization. More specifically, we wanted to evaluate the impact and satisfaction with the housing solutions offered, as well as receive input for improvement.

HPHA staff in La Matanza coordinating which families to visit

The audit was also a chance to reconnect with our large base of families in various neighborhoods in the provinces of Santa Fe and Buenos Aires. After months of planning, survey design, volunteer outreach and training, we interviewed 179 families in nine communities. Now that the results have been systematized, we can offer a current snapshot of the families we work with:

  • Almost 3/4th of HPHA loan recipients are married or living together, and of these, 69% have been together 10 years or more.
  • Of the families with children living with them, the majority have two children in the house.
  • Of the recipients not born in Argentina (around 1/4th), the majority are from neighboring country Paraguay.
  • 1/3rd of families have an email account (mostly in Luján).
  • Around 40% have a computer in the house, and only a little over half of these have Internet.
  • Well over half of the families don’t have land phone lines in their homes (though most have cell phones).

Volunteers and staff recapping highlights of the interviews

As we continue to move ahead with new projects, we seek to maintain the focus on our mission and deeply-held values. We want to ensure that our methodology is accomplishing the goal of bringing adequate housing within the families’ reach: that the solutions are relevant, durable and economically-sound; that they meet expectations; and that the families are involved throughout the process. With the success of this pilot project, we hope to use these experiences to put into place a more regular schedule of such surveys in the future so that we can continue to provide quality service to Argentine families and communities in need.

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