Making slums visible to the world

6 min read
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slum building

Slum dwellers often feel invisible and forgotten by their governments. Their homes don’t have access to electricity, garbage collection and other basic services.

Local politicians rarely visit; public transportation isn’t available and ambulances refuse to go to those neighborhoods because they can’t find their way around. This is why an initiative by the non-profit organization TECHO aims to move poor neighborhoods in the limelight: they map the slums and bring them onto Google Street View. 

On a cloudy day in a community in the Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, a group of slum residents equipped with a 44-pound camera with 15 lenses walks slowly through their neighborhood. The camera automatically takes photos every six feet (180 cm). Street by street, corner by the corner they map their communities. The photos are then uploaded to Google Street View.

Image of man with backpack

At first glance, being on Google Street View might not seem like an important issue. But to residents of the slums Alberti, San Cayetano and los Pinos in Argentina it means the world. It’s about empowerment. “In these neighborhoods there is indigence [extreme poverty], we are still waiting for basic services – that is why we consider this an important first step in guaranteeing our rights and to be considered real citizens,” says Eduardo Lalo Creus, a slum resident who took part in the initiative. 

The idea behind the initiative is simple: if slums are no longer dark shadows on maps, governments cannot pretend they don’t exist and have to provide basic services. TECHO, which means roof in Spanish, is used to stepping in where local governments are absent. For the last 15 years, it has been dedicated to improving the lives of communities across Latin America. The NGO builds houses for slum dwellers and puts – true to its name – a roof over their head. 

Under the guidance of a TECHO staff member, teams of volunteers, together with the future homeowners, build prefabricated wooden houses. However, the houses are no permanent solution; they are designed as a temporary shelter to keep families safe and secure while they transition to a more permanent dwelling. TECHO aims to empower poor people to take action and encourages them to keep working to improve their lives. Making their communities visible to the world is one important step of it.
“Ultimately what we seek is to empower and organize communities in order for them to be the leaders of their own development,” says David Lozano, TECHO Director of Fund Development.

Build a house, donate a house

TECHO has already built more than 111,000 transitional houses. And it aims to build many more. There is a massive need for it: over 100 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in slums and temporary shelters. To help slum dwellers help themselves, the NGO relies on volunteers, donations and partnerships with companies.

One such collaboration is the project Home4Home. A Miami-based developer had the idea to donate a temporary shelter in Latin America for every house he builds in the United States. When buying a house from developer Andres Klein, the new homeowners in the US can choose the country where the donated home will be built and will receive a picture of and a letter from their beneficiary family once they have moved into their wooden shelter. 

Klein says it’s a win-win initiative. More poor people in Latin America will get new homes while the social project will help participating developers differentiate themselves from competitors. The collaboration started in February. TECHO and the developer hope to scale up the project to include more developers and eventually provide 500 transitional homes per year.

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Why ethics should matter to small businesses
Why ethics should matter to small businesses