Of these, over 100 million reside in Latin America and the Caribbean. Life here, in overcrowded settlements like the favelas of Brazil or the campamentos of Chile, is a daily struggle to survive. There’s scant access to basic amenities like clean water, and housing, if it can be called that, is often flimsy, unsafe and insecure.
TECHO, which means roof in Spanish, has been dedicated to improving the lives of communities across Latin America for the last 15 years. Mobilizing the energy of their young volunteers, this non-profit organization works closely with families to help improve their living conditions and the community as a whole.
“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.
How do they do that? Well first of all, true to its name, TECHO literally puts roofs over people’s heads. Under the guidance of a TECHO staff member, teams of volunteers, together with the future homeowners, build prefabricated wooden houses designed to keep families safe and secure while they transition to a more permanent dwelling. The houses are 162 square feet and take two days to construct. So far, TECHO has built more than 111,000 transitional houses as well as over 6,000 permanent homes.
Although temporary, the houses are immediate and tangible solutions that build community confidence in TECHO. From there, families are encouraged to keep working to improve their lives. As Mariana, a volunteer on the building trip to Bogota, puts it, “This is the place they will have to grow as a family, to organize themselves, because our idea isn’t that they keep the house and that’s it, but rather they keep working.”
Residents agree. Jades who lives in the barrio says, “To us it means the foundation upon which we can build and to keep growing as people.”
"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth"
To further cement that foundation, TECHO also helps to set up a committee where members of the community and volunteers can meet to discuss the most urgent problems in the neighborhood. This fulfills the organization’s goal of bringing people from different socioeconomic backgrounds together to overcome poverty.
TECHO places great importance on the encounters between volunteers and the families they help home. These expose young people to the reality of poverty while enabling community members to participate in the process of improving their lives. Over one million volunteers have helped over the years, with 8,000 becoming permanent members of the TECHO team.
The effect on volunteers is profound. “Since then I have been a different person. I believe everyone should go on a building trip and gain a new understanding of the world and the challenges that many people face,” says Ben, a volunteer who went on a building trip to San Jose, Costa Rica.
As well as ending poverty, TECHO’s goal is to create an environment where everyone has equal rights and opportunities.
To achieve this, the organization helps families access education and micro-credit: small loans that they can use to set up their own businesses.
Over 17,000 adults have graduated in basic skills training and more than 26,000 children have participated in education, thanks to TECHO. Such programs create sustainable solutions, helping communities help themselves.
“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth,” said Muhammad Ali. By making sure everyone has a comfortable and safe place to live, TECHO and its volunteers exemplify that spirit of service to others. Watch the film to see how families have been given new hope along with their new homes in Bogota.
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