With every signed and filled out document, we get closer and closer in the process of creating permanent housing developments for the families TECHO works with. Today was a day full of collecting these documents and signatures. The process is very tedious and time consuming. Each member of the community must photocopy all necessary documents (such as their IDs), fill out a document with each of their child’s RUTs (equivalent to Social Security numbers) and sign a big book of Registers of Members of that specific camp. As you can imagine, not only tracking down every single member of the community can be difficult but added to that the difficulties of acquiring all the necessary information can take a very long time. In addition to all of the time spent doing that, the Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, SERVIU revised their documents now requiring an estimated monthly income box which means that we have to have each member of the camp refill out and sign the document for a second time, talk about a disorganized system. All afternoon Francisco, my partner, and I spent going through each member’s file ripping out the old document and replacing it with the new one. Not the most exciting work but the end result makes it all worth it. Plus it’s not that bad sitting with the community leaders who all joke and laugh; it’s a great opportunity for me to practice my Spanish.
The first place we visited today I was exposed to a standard of living I have never seen before. About 30 families live not more than 5 feet from a functioning train.
I was with Sofia filling out and collecting the necessary documentation from the families. With the first group we met, we went through each part of the document reading it aloud (seen below).
Not only are a lot of the families we work with illiterate but additionally, the phrasing and the word choice used by SERVUI can be confusing even for me: “The nuclear family with which I postulate in this act…” A member of TECHO seems necessary just to get the correct meaning across for the families to know what they are signing. It’s amazing for me to look at the book of registers at all the signatures, some look the way I would have signed my name when I first learned cursive. One woman, in place of her signature left a stamp of her thumb print. It makes me wonder how many times they get a chance to sign their names; I sign my name every time I use my debit card which is probably every other day.
Because of the terribly slow and sometimes disorganized process, a lot of families don’t have the hope that I have, having seen the newly built permanent housing communities. We met with one family of a woman, her daughter and her granddaughter. The granddaughter was the cutest little girl, running in and out of the shack where she lived returning with a fist full of candies that she carefully offered to each of us. She came back again, after we worked with another family, to bring us stickers and then cried when we left. I can’t wait for the time to come when she will be moving into a house with plumbing and heating far away from these train tracks, I just wish it would come sooner.
Sofia was telling me that the first two times she came to talk to the families of this camp the little girl’s grandmother didn’t smile once, assuming there was no point in getting excited about a project that would probably not become a reality for her. When we came back this time with the documents to sign she was beaming, smiling with the few teeth she had. It was an amazing sight to see.
Talking to Sofia on the drive back to the office she was telling me that this community has a lot of social problems that are beyond the abilities of TECHO to help solve. One woman we met was telling us about the high prevalence of drugs and alcohol abuse in the camp and how bad it all was. She also told us that she had cancer. Sofia explained that this camp needs something more permanent and consistent than what TECHO can do. She hopes that she will be able to get people who are doing their Practice (similar to what I am doing but one which lasts much longer) to come in at least 3 times a week to work with these families. While that sounds rather demanding, it is what I think is necessary in order to obtain permanent improvements.
The poverty and the condition that these families live in is unbelievable to me. Lying in my warm bed with a belly full from a fresh, home cooked meal writing this I feel so incredibly grateful for all that I have. I’m grateful for the lifestyle I was born into, my extreme freedom and opportunity for mobility, and of course, I am grateful for experiences like this where I am given a chance to help others increase their standard of living in hopes of a better life for them and for future generations to come.