In 2006, Habitat for Humanity Argentina implemented its Global Village program by welcoming its first international brigade from the Habitat affiliate in Central Arizona. Four years after participating on that trip to Santa Fe, Bob Rasmussen took on the role of team leader, bringing a group of volunteers to Buenos Aires this August. Nearly half of the brigade had worked with Bob on the previous trip, and now were able to discover a different part of the country, as well as the particular housing issues faced in urban areas. The work site this time was La Matanza, the largest municipality in the Greater Metropolitan Area of Buenos Aires (GMBA).
There are currently well over 12 million people living in the GMBA (a third of the nation’s population), with 33% percent living in inadequate housing. Faced with minimal housing options within the boundaries of the city proper due to the extremely high cost of land, many people new to the region have set up communities on underused government-owned land in the outlying municipalities. These neighborhoods are created under a range of circumstances and are at different stages of development, but most have limited access to schools, clean water systems, health centers and public transportation, creating daily commutes of up to three hours each way.
Working in the “22 de Enero” settlement in La Matanza, Buenos Aires, team members spent the week on a number of different housing improvements. The settlement is home to 22,000 residents, many who live in houses constructed of cardboard, tin and other scrap materials found in the adjacent garbage dump. During major storms, accessibility is even worse, as mud collects in the dump and along the settlements unpaved streets. Fortunately, the rain held off as winter went into its second half, and the group was able to make great strides in fixing up existing structural problems and readying homes for future expansions. The international volunteers and families got along very well, sharing lunches and blowing bubbles with the children during work breaks.
In addition to the strenuous work of cementing, digging, shoveling and rebar straightening, the brigade joined up with members of the HFHA staff to take a tour around some other sites in the capital. First, they met with architects and lawyers doing housing projects in Villa 31, a slum located in the northern part of the city on Buenos Aires’ most expensive land. While there are not usually many opportunities to visit this area, the group was lucky to have local residents with them to explain the intricacies of life in the villa. It was interesting to see the differences and similarities between this area and the settlement in which the Global Village was working. Afterwards, they headed south to La Boca to learn about the conventillo (tenement building) that HFHA is turning into seven full apartments.