Let's build a house together!
- Techo is a Latin American Charity that builds homes for families living in Latin American slums.
- For the past 2 months Danny and I have been volunteering with Techo in the slums of northern Medellin, Colombia
- As the building phase approaches, resources are limited and we want to raise enough money to build a whole house.
- A house costs £900. Danny and I will each match all the donations we receive (up to the price of a house) and put this towards more houses.
- Once completed in June, I will report back with a full post on the house you helped to build and the story you helped to write.
If you would like to help us, please visit the donation page on Just Giving. Thank you!
I've been in Medellin, Colombia, for nearly 2 months now and have been continually amazed by the stunning scenery that surrounds the city, the perfect climate that is like an eternal British summer and the incredible people who, despite my horrible pidgeon Spanish, always seem willing to make the effort to connect. But above all of this, has been my weekly experience volunteering for an organisation called “Techo”.
Techo, which means “Roof” in Spanish, is a charity originating in Chile, whose mission is to improve the lives of those living in extreme poverty in cities across Latin America. If you have visited Medellín, even for an extended period, you might ask yourself where this extreme poverty is; the city is generally well developed, and although they have significant problems with homelessness and drug abuse, it is not immediately obvious that as little as an hour from the city centre lies communities that resemble the poorest parts of a third world country.
These communities are made up primarily of people displaced by Colombia’s civil war which continues to this day in large swathes of the countryside. Families flee to the cities in the hope of escaping the horrors of war, only to find themselves living in conditions most Colombians, nevermind us westerners, would find hard to imagine. These communities, high up the mountainside, situated at the very fringes of the city and accessible only by long grueling walks up steep dirt paths are controlled by gangs and have no official recognition by the Colombian government.
Normally, people from outside would not venture to these parts. Only by volunteering for an organisation like Techo can you have your safety guaranteed, gain the respect of the people that live there and have a glimpse into the lives of the people for whom the rest of the city would rather pretend were not there. Techo’s primary activity is to build houses for the people who are most in need in these areas. Large families living in a single cramped room or pensioners with severe illnesses, living in a shack with a mud floor that could tumble down the steep slope at any time. The ingenuity that presents itself in these structures is astounding, they make the best of what they have available to them. And, inside they really feel like a home. But ultimately, they are dangerous, unsanitary and far below what we in the west would consider habitable. The 'transitional' houses that Techo build (pictured below) are very simple, prefabricated wooden structures which would pass for a large garden shed in the UK, but here are a vast improvement over what people are able to achieve on their own. They are cleaner, sealed from the elements and most importantly, they are stable and safe. And so, twice a year, volunteers spend a weekend building these houses for those who have been deemed most in need.
For the past 2 months my Saturdays have been spent meeting residents with incredible stories, walking the ‘streets’ of these communities and helping the exceptional group of young Colombian volunteers who give up their Saturdays to help. Our primary goal has been to survey the people who have requested a new home and rank each one on the urgency of their need. Taken into account are things like number of young children, health and disability, income and condition of the current accommodation. It’s not an easy process, as everyone we visited is in need, but due to the limited resources available to Techo, priorities have to be put in place.
As you walk around, Techo built houses are a common sight, and the families that live in them seem to have really had their lives improved. Take Marina for example. Her and her daughter were living in an dangerously unstable home with no income and very little hope of a better life. When Techo approved their application, Marina feared she would not be able to pass the last hurdle of the small contribution Techo asks from the residents (they are reluctant to gift homes as they fear the beneficiaries would not value them sufficiently). Instead of walking away, Techo encouraged Marina to start selling her delicious Empanadas to the community to earn the required sum. 1 year later, Marina and her daughter are in their new home and Marina now runs a small but successful business selling her homemade food in the community. Her daughter (pictured below) can now hope for a better life because of the work done by Techo and it’s volunteers.
And so one house, one story at a time, Techo is having an impact. And as the building phase approaches in June, they are attempting to raise as much money and awareness as they can. Yesterday, along with fellow Gringo volunteer Danny, I stood in the streets of Medellin collecting money. Despite being a grueling day filled with repeated rejection, it featured countless generous and understanding Colombians giving what they could to the cause. But after 7 hours, I had managed to raise less than a paltry 200,000 pesos (£45) in my box. A house costs £900.
So I started thinking. I will be taking part in the next building phase and I will certainly be helping to building a house. That’s great, but what would be better would be if I could provide the house I was building as well. So here’s my idea: I am going to ask you to donate anything you feel you can, even the price of a packet of crisps in London would be a magnitude more than most people here were able to put into our collection box. And then both myself and Danny will each match all of those donations up to the price of a house and put this towards more houses. This means if we raise £900, not only will you have made one house possible, but also ensured another 2 can be built by Techo. In return for your donation, I will provide a full write up of the house you helped to build. Photos, the story, the blood, the sweat and the tears and of course, the end result. You will get to see exactly where your money has gone and who it has helped.
So, what do you say? Shall we build a house together?
If you would like to help, simply visit the Just Giving page to make your donation. Thank you!