Gjenge MakersGjenge Makers is a Nairobi-based startup company that offers a sustainable, practical and affordable solution to combat poverty in Kenya. The company sells affordable alternative building materials. Its products, which include an assortment of bricks with different functionalities and styles, are forged from recycled plastic and sand. These plastic bricks can help reduce poverty and plastic waste in Africa.

The Plastics Waste Crisis in Kenya

Garbage is quickly accumulating all around the globe and Africa is bearing the brunt of rising waste levels. Governments in resource-rich regions typically have the capacity to pare the trash down into a flaky substance, slashing the amount of physical space it occupies. This process is time-consuming and expensive. However, several countries such as Kenya instead address the issue by implementing a series of plastic bans.

Plastic ban policies typically have socioeconomic and environmental consequences. Throughout the state are large piles of waste that have built up as a result of excessive plastic use, such as the infamous Dandora dump in Nairobi. “Plastic traders” scour these junkyards for limited resources like bottles and certain compounds that can be exchanged for money. Many at the lower end of the disparity are also disproportionately affected by policing under these laws as plastic bag distribution, manufacturing and usage are subject to a fine and/or prison sentence. Additionally, some businesses will generally relocate to other states to avoid such strict laws, damaging economic interests and employment numbers.

Kenya had been taking a slow-moving approach in curtailing the plastics crisis when Gjenge Makers founder, Nzambi Matee, decided to take matters into her own hands. The entrepreneur experimented with mixing recyclables with sand in her mother’s backyard and eventually composed a formula to build a brick five to seven times stronger than concrete. Her products are now a core economic ingredient toward upturning poverty and improving infrastructure at the community level.

The Housing Crisis in Kenya

Kenya is currently undergoing a severe housing deficit, with homelessness numbers rapidly escalating under the pandemic. The estimated housing deficit stood at two million in 2012 but factors such as limited resources are further distending the issue. With limited support and a lack of housing, many families are struggling to survive.

How Gjenge Makers Helps

Gjenge Makers address both the plastic waste and housing crisis through its plastic brick solution. In accordance with its “Build Alternatively, Build Affordably” model, it seeks to contribute a key product that could empower individual communities by giving them the resource needed to rise out of poverty. Matee has declared eradicating poverty a personal goal of hers and her new innovation can help build more shelters to combat the housing crisis. The company also seeks to make its products accessible to essential learning institutions such as schools.

Gjenge Makers currently receives plastic through a multipronged approach. It collects from factories and recyclers seeking to discard their trash, whether at a price or for free. It also uses a mobile application that incentivizes rewards and allows homeowners to notify Gjenge Makers when they have available plastic. The formula to build the bricks requires a particular type of plastic compound, often labeled on the products themselves.

Gjenge Makers is a champion of eco-friendly, economic empowerment in a crisis that is widespread throughout the continent of Africa. Though the startup is currently based in Nairobi, it seeks to eventually expand and support other African states as well. So far, Gjenge Makers recycled 20 tons of plastic and created a total of 112 jobs.

Danielle Han
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Indonesia
Despite Indonesia’s continuous growth both socially and economically, homelessness in Indonesia has been increasing and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this rise. According to the Homeless World Cup, 3 million people of Indonesia’s population are homeless. Moreover, with a multitude of factors such as natural disasters, urbanization and economic impacts due to the coronavirus pandemic, millions more are potentially vulnerable to losing their homes. However, Indonesia’s homeless continue to face challenges – the government does little to help those who are on the brink of losing their homes, and its policies even limit the homeless’ ability to regain financial stability.

The Government’s Action

Historically, the Indonesian government has done little to combat homelessness in Indonesia, instead opting for more harsh policies which only limit homeless peoples’ ability to financially recover and stabilize, even labeling the homeless as criminals. For example, the Indonesian Criminal Code mandates punishments of up to three months in prison against the homeless, while the sentence of those traveling in a group can receive an extension of six months. The bill, which Indonesia modeled after the Dutch law system during Indonesia’s colonial period, has not undergone modification since 1981, failing to accommodate the massive changes Indonesia has experienced over the past four decades.

Furthermore, the Indonesian government has also outlawed informal settlements (more commonly referred to as slums), a housing alternative that 25 million Indonesians utilize to prevent themselves from falling into homelessness. In the country’s capital, Jakarta, extensive urbanization has occurred, spurring the building of structures like malls, skyscrapers and landmarks. However, this urban growth has taken a toll on the population of the 17th densest city in the world. These developments have increased the scarcity of land, limiting the number of settlements available and making them a hot commodity, driving up prices and forcing the larger population that cannot afford homes to look elsewhere.

Through its criminalizing of homelessness, the Indonesian government essentially suppresses its own people. As Gita Damayana, executive director at the Center for Indonesian Law and Policy Studies, articulates, labeling the homeless as criminals also limits their abilities to procure jobs, only pushing them further down the rabbit hole of poverty. Even though homelessness in Indonesia has become a growing threat to its larger population, the government’s hardline stance against it has only worsened the situation for its already-struggling population.

Solutions for Homelessness in Indonesia

Despite the fact that the Indonesian government has maintained an indifferent stance in assisting its homeless, measures have still occurred to ensure that Indonesians in need can receive assistance. Since 1997, the NGO Habitat for Humanity has been extremely active in maintaining stable homes for Indonesians through projects such as building homes and repairing essential infrastructure like water pipelines, ensuring that families can live in a secure home. Its efforts have been instrumental in aiding over 40,000 families across the country attain safe housing.

Furthermore, Indonesia’s homeless have been the focal point of films and social media campaigns, helping to raise global awareness towards homelessness in Indonesia and empowering them to tell their stories. However, these actions will only be a fraction as effective as they could be as long as the Indonesian government criminalizes homelessness. But in the present, the government will not be taking action anytime soon.

– Nathan Mo
Photo: Flickr

Housing Crisis in VeniceVenice’s resident population is drastically shrinking, from around 175,000 people within its boundaries after World War II to about 50,000 today. Despite this small number, the high cost of housing and the lucrativeness of the tourism industry leads to many homeowners turning properties into short-term tourist rentals. Estimates indicate that 25 million people visit Venice every year and 14 million of those people only stay for a day. This precarious economy reliant on tourism increasingly proves itself to be unsustainable due to high housing costs relative to resident income. Fortunately, Nicola Ussardi, the co-founder of Social Assembly for the House (ASC) is trying to address the housing crisis in Venice.

The Housing Crisis in Venice

In a nutshell, Venice has become the “world capital” of tourism which has predictably led to overtourism — a term the World Tourism Organization uses to describe “the impact of tourism on a destination, or parts thereof, that excessively influences perceived quality of life of citizens and/or quality of visitor experiences in a negative way.” To put this into perspective, more than 20 million tourists visit Venice per year but loses about 1,000 residents in the same span of time. The remaining citizens face tough financial situations with regard to housing costs. Property owners have the option to keep their buildings affordable for locals or transform their properties into short-term rentals and make a potential windfall profit.

More than 8,000 Airbnb apartments in the city point to a frustrating reality of the housing crisis in Venice that Ussardi’s grassroots movement concerns itself with. For ages, Venice has relied on mass tourism for the overall well-being of the country but it is increasingly obvious that it also has a negative impact on citizens. Ussardi’s plan to provide housing circumvents traditional methods of applying for and receiving public housing. Ussardi says that many public housing properties have fallen into disrepair. Even abandoned convents become hotels instead of public housing.

Assembly for the House (ASC)

Assembly for the House is a housing community that focuses on finding homes for Venetians who have to leave their residences due to the rising cost of rent. People who lose their homes can count on ASC to locate uninhabited, abandoned or dilapidated spaces, repair them for occupancy and move them in. ASC also works with residents to block evictions.

In essence, ASC not only lobbies the government for fairer housing practices but also finds abandoned homes for people to occupy. This applies a communal face to the crisis in a kind, albeit unconventional approach to ensuring shelter for the people of Venice.

How Assembly for the House Helps

Assembly for the House hosts 150 people in Cannaregio and Giudecca, two working-class neighborhoods in Venice. Emanuela Lanzarin is a social services assessor for the region and plainly admits that while ASC’s actions are illegal, there are also not enough public houses to meet demand. Shockingly, 2011 is the last time a Venetian received a public apartment.

For people like Simonetta Boni and Davide de Polo, two Venice residents who lost their homes after steep rent increases and ineffective social services, ASC provided housing spaces at a crucial time. De Polo said, “We [occupiers] are the alternative to the death of Venice.” The Assembly for the House is helping facilitate that alternative.

This uncommon approach from a nonprofit focused on ending the housing crisis in Venice is providing necessary housing assistance to citizens who otherwise would not have a roof over their heads. Ussardi is an inspiring example of a citizen taking action to solve a crisis that the government has overlooked.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Sao Paulo
Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil has experienced devastating economic and human loss in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From his initial downplaying of the seriousness of the novel coronavirus and spreading of misinformation about treatments, Bolsonaro has now taken on an apathetic role in the crisis. His attitude persists in the midst of the country’s highest daily death toll counts and hospitalization rates. The failure of Bolsonaro’s government to lead the charge in Brazil’s COVID-19 response has created an urgent need for communities to step in. Community action is necessary to help deal with the growing homelessness in São Paulo and other major cities. Furthermore, many in Brazil’s middle class are at risk of falling into poverty due to COVID-19’s long-term effects on the economy. This includes layoffs, a lack of jobs and a lack of financial support from the government.

Rise in Homelessness

São Paulo, the largest city in Latin America, was already struggling with high rates of homelessness prior to COVID-19. In the four years leading up to the pandemic, São Paulo’s homeless population increased by 65%, totaling an estimated 24,000 people. Aid workers believe the true number is likely much higher. Many of the newly homeless during the pandemic were already living day-to-day in crowded favelas, while some previously had employment in middle-class jobs, such as teachers.

The protracted issue of homelessness in São Paulo has created much frustration. Violence has occurred as police have recently attempted to disperse large homeless settlements notorious for open-air drug use in central neighborhoods of the city. Wealthy citizens increasingly isolate themselves from issues of poverty in São Paulo. Meanwhile, the middle classes face increasing economic instability and coexisting with a growing homeless population.

Community Approaches

Community action has been a lifeline for São Paulo’s homeless population before and during the pandemic. Two common approaches local NGOs and community leaders are advocating for are Universal Basic Income (UBI) and housing. A law guaranteeing UBI in Brazil underwent signature during the presidency of Lula da Silva several years ago, but to date, the country has not put it into action.

The Gaspar Garcia Center of Human Rights

The Gaspar Garcia Center of Human Rights advocates for the right to decent housing in São Paulo. The center provides legal guidance for citizens in precarious living situations. It also has programs for job training to work in the formal sector. One program the center has created is a recycling collective, which has employed 150 formerly-homeless Brazilians. The center also raises awareness for the rights of informal workers and provides legal guidance.

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church has had a long-standing presence in the homeless communities of São Paulo. Father Júlio Lancellotti of the São Miguel Arcanjo parish has garnered media attention during the pandemic for distributing meals and hygiene products to over 400 homeless citizens on a daily basis. For his activism, he has been subject to death threats and harassment by some. This highlights the complexities of public opinion towards the homeless in São Paulo.

The Homeless Workers Movement

On the political side, an up-and-coming Socialist politician named Guilherme Boulos recently ran for mayor of São Paulo. Although he lost, expectations have determined that he will be a leftist challenger in wider Brazilian politics in the near future. Boulos is a leader of the Homeless Workers Movement, a group that demands housing for the city’s homeless population. The group takes over abandoned buildings in the city center. By doing so, it demonstrates its potential use for public housing in acts of civil disobedience. Boulos has support from the controversial but still widely popular former Brazilian President Lula da Silva.

Conclusion

Homelessness was already an important issue in São Paulo prior to COVID-19, and it will remain one. Without more governmental assistance to community organizations, inequality and homelessness will continue to escalate. President Bolsonaro has shown a general lack of empathy for impoverished Brazilians. Instead, he chooses to exude strength and use harsh law enforcement tactics to address societal issues. Fortunately, community action in São Paulo has shown that many have not given up on trying to help vulnerable populations during these challenging times.

Matthew Brown
Photo: Flickr

South African Orphans
In 2005, Michelle Potter traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, as a volunteer football coach. Some of her players on the team were homeless and resorted to begging on the streets to get by. Having left home at age 16, Potter was able to relate to the loneliness of entering adulthood without familial support and she wanted to help. In 2008, SAYes Transition Mentoring began. SAYes is a Transition to Independent Living (TIL) program that assists young South Africans, either living in or recently out of children’s homes, who are on the precipice of life on their own.

What SAYes Transition Mentoring Does

Governmental assistance for young South Africans living in children’s homes ends at age 18 and many do not have anywhere to go. SAYes Transition Mentoring pairs each participant with a highly trained mentor to offer support during this vulnerable transition period. Participants range from 14-25 years of age, giving priority to older youth, as they are the ones who are soon leaving or have already left residential care. Mentors work one-to-one with mentees for at least an hour a week during the nine-month program. The role of a mentor is to be a stable and non-judgmental ally. In many cases, this is the first positive relationship participants will have with an adult.

The Situation in South Africa

In 2019, South Africa ranked as the most economically unequal country in the world. This essentially means that the economy does not benefit all its people. In fact, the richest 20% of South Africans have control over almost 70% of the country’s resources.

SAYes is a program that emerged for those who are not fortunate enough to be in that top 20%. Many participants have had to leave their homes as a last resort because of abusive family situations. Some suffer from neglect, addiction, prostitution or an array of other adversities.

How SAYes Transition Mentoring Works

SAYes TIL care is specific to each participant depending on their age and developmental needs. The mentor offers guidance in education, housing, employment, personal development and community reintegration. One mentor, Mashudu Matshili, described the importance of mentorship with an old African saying: “If you want to know directions to a place, you need to ask those that have already reached the destination.”

The first few weeks, they get to know each other and find common ground. If the mentee is interested in a specific career field, the mentor might help facilitate an internship or job-shadowing opportunity. The mentor is a friend first, and then a guide to building the skills to live responsibly and independently.

Speaking fondly of his mentor, participant Destino Nzonzidi said, “I always say, I can forget away my pains, but not forget Tony for what he has done.” Many of the SAYes participants continue their relationship with their mentors long beyond the nine-month program and consider them family. More often than not, charities focus on young kids, not young adults. The benefit of SAYes Youth Mentoring has been huge and the proof in the success stories. SAYes Transition Mentoring serves over 100 young South Africans a year.

– Sarah Ottosen
Photo: Flickr

Fight Against Homelessness in Italy
Italy is located along the Mediterranean coastline. The European country has a population of more than 60 million people with an average of 95 million tourists visiting every year. What many are not aware of is that immigrants, women and children are especially vulnerable to experiencing homelessness in Italy. The fight against homelessness in Italy has become a more prominent issue. Police began fining homeless people in the street for not following the lockdown measures that the country implemented. Thus, the Italian Federation of Organizations for Homeless People has appealed for greater leniency from the state.

The organization wrote, “They cannot stay at home because they do not have a home. There is an economic sanction which they cannot pay, and they have to go to the magistrate. They are not on the street for fun.”

Historical Context of Homelessness in Italy

Though worsened by the pandemic, homelessness in Italy has long been an issue. Italy is a developed nation with a GDP that expectations have determined will be around $1920 billion in 2021. However, homelessness has worsened due to the economic crisis. In 2016, homelessness impacted 50,724 people in Italy. Since 2013, this number has increased by roughly 3,000. Furthermore, 5.1 million people were living in extreme poverty in 2017. Due to its geographical location, Italy receives an influx of immigrants. As a result, 58% of Italy’s impoverished population are immigrants. In 2017, 117,153 people arrived in Italy by ship. About 67% of these migrants use Caritas, a counseling service offering advice regarding homelessness. Homelessness impacts the region of Lombardia in northern Italy the most. According to Italian Caritas, there is an increase in youth homelessness as well.

The Good News

There are various organizations that are striving to fight homelessness in Italy. For example, the Baobab Experience is an organization that previously aimed to find shelter for 120 people who slept in Piazzale Spadolini (Tiburtina Station) and has continued to provide hospitality for the homeless population in Rome. Additionally, it has advocated that the homeless receive health checks, beginning with migrants who do not have residency permits. Many of these migrants avoid hospitals in fear of detainment, so this would allow them to check their health without those consequences.

The Baobab Experience emerged in 2015 as a result of a migratory emergency when 35,000 migrants passed through Baobab, located in Via Cupa, Rome. More than 70,000 people have passed through the camps that the organization has since established. Thanks to private donations, the Baobab Experience also supports individuals with medical and legal assistance. Furthermore, the organization provides water, food, clothing and an opportunity for leisure. Many of the migrants travel through Italy to reach other countries, however, others are asylum seekers, often must wait in the streets for months before any legal practice can begin.

Further Efforts

Other NGOs such as Asgi, Naga, Magistratura Democratica and Fondazione Migrantes have called on the government to protect vulnerable migrants and homeless people. The organizations argue that these people lack sufficient protection from COVID-19 and protecting them will improve public health. Additionally, the NGOs have requested authorities shut down large migrant reception centers, enable access to the international protection system, accept homeless people into appropriate facilities and create alternatives to detention centers.

Although the fight against homelessness in Italy remains a serious problem, especially for marginalized groups such as migrants, women and children, NGOs and similar organizations keep the government accountable and provide hope for all of those impacted. By supporting such organizations that positively impact the lives of thousands, we can all contribute to eliminating homelessness in Italy.

– Marielle Marlys
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Guatemala: An UpdateIn Guatemala, more than 50% of the population lives below the poverty line. Families of four or more live in small one or two-room huts — if a shelter is available at all. On average, a child is abandoned every four days because families do not have the means to take care of another child. Homelessness in Guatemala often forces people to sleep under benches or in the dirt.

Street Children

Among the homeless individuals in Guatemala, 7,000 of them are children and adolescents left to survive on their own. Many street children turn to drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism, which adds to the cycle of homelessness in Guatemala. Violence directed towards street children is not uncommon. The Guatemalan police’s use of deadly violence toward these children remained unchecked until the early 2000s, but the threat of physical harm has not been yet been completely abolished.

Homelessness in Guatemala is a ripple effect that has cyclical consequences for the children of the impoverished. It is often necessary to work instead of going to school. The little income they make working often does not stretch far.

More than a quarter of the population of children in Guatemala are actively involved in child labor out of necessity. One in four children under the age of 15 is illiterate. Chronic malnutrition and hunger are a consistent part of life. Without access to proper education or nutrition, the children of the impoverished do not have the ability to move forward.

Inadequate Housing Plagues Families

Traditionally, Guatemalan culture revolves around family. Tight-knit communities are hindered by a lack of funds, nutritional food and educational opportunities. Those with shelter often live in small huts with a tin roof and dirt floors. Children, parents and grandparents often live together without running water or electricity. Diseases plague newborns and small children due to an inability to keep housing sanitary, leading to high infant death rates. Medical care is frequently nonexistent.

Cooking is done over an open fire kept inside the home, leaving the women and children breathing in smoke for hours at a time with no ventilation. Some houses are made from straw or wood, both of which are extremely flammable and pose an additional risk to families inside while food is being prepared. As a result, respiratory illness affects a large portion of the poor population and the idling soot becomes toxic for the entire family. Without running water, there is no way to properly clean the soot and, without electricity, there is no other option for families to cook food.

The Plight of the Indigenous Woman

Half of the homeless in Guatemala are indigenous women. Indigenous impoverished women not only suffer the fallout of poverty but face racism and gender-based violence.

Compared to the rest of the country, including non-indigenous Guatemalan women, indigenous women have a higher chance of having multiple unplanned children, living in poverty and being illiterate. The birth mortality rate for women of native heritage is double that of non-indigenous women, who also have a life expectancy of 13 more years compared to that of indigenous women. These women are malnourished and underpaid. The inequality trickles down to their children who face food insecurity, a lack of education and, if they are young girls, the same fear of violence and racism their mothers have endured.

Housing Aid in Guatemala

Basic human necessities are not available for many in Guatemala and haven’t been for generations. However, The Guatemala Housing Alliance is focused on providing proper shelter to families and works in tandem with other groups aiming to help education, food insecurity and sexual education for the impoverished in Guatemala.

The Guatemala Housing Alliance built 47 homes with wood-conserving stoves that eliminate the danger of open-fire cooking. It installed flooring in 138 homes that previously had dirt floors. The foundation also offers to counsel young children and has hosted workshops for women to speak openly and learn about sanitation, nutrition and their legal rights.

Even amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Guatemala Housing Alliance is still hard at work. It provided 1,340 parcels of food, and each parcel supports a family of four for two weeks. With the organization’s many goals, individuals who are homeless in Guatemala are slowly but surely being given access to a plethora of resources that can help improve their quality of life.

– Amanda Rogers
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in Germany
Located in Central Europe, tourists visit Germany to enjoy its world-famous beer, flavorful bread and historic castles. However, despite Germany’s booming economy, the country suffers from a high rate of homelessness. According to the Federal Association for Assistance to Homeless People (BAGW), approximately 650,000 Germans currently do not own a home. Two German restaurants, Hofbraeu Berlin and Istanbul Kebap Pizza, as well as the nonprofit organizations, Rise Foundation e.V. and v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel, strive to tackle homelessness in Germany by offering housing, food, job training, counseling and basic necessities to those living on the streets.

German Restaurants

Many restaurants in Germany have begun donating their food to the homeless population. However, two establishments called Istanbul Kebap Pizza and Hofbraeu Berlin stand out for engaging in charity work.

Located in Koblenz, Germany, Istanbul Kebap Pizza hands out complimentary food to homeless individuals who come in on Thursday evenings. The restaurant produces a surplus of leftover food at the end of the day, which guests gratefully consume. The homeless can enjoy a wide variety of Turkish cuisine, such as “doner, pizza and other meals.”

The Hofbraeu Berlin restaurant in Berlin, Germany used to attract thousands of tourists during peak seasons. However, after COVID-19 cases became rampant in Germany, the restaurant put a stop to dine-in eating. Now, the business offers a place for homeless people to relax and enjoy free gourmet meals and regular food. In addition to offering food, the restaurant’s continuation of public bathroom usage allows individuals to remain clean and sanitary. Non-profit organizations also frequent the restaurant to give professional guidance and warm garments to the guests.

Rise Foundation e.V.

The Rise Foundation e.V. began in 2018 and strives to eradicate homelessness in Germany by encouraging human connection and handing out food and basic necessities. With the help of volunteers, the organization cooks homemade vegetarian meals and heats up tea and coffee to provide the homeless with warm meals. Volunteers attempt to establish a relationship with homeless people to demonstrate compassion and respect. The foundation also hands out first aid kits, hygiene products, clothes and other basic necessities, as well as pamphlets on useful resources, such as where to find places to sleep, free healthcare services, professional guidance and recreational activities.

v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel

v. Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel was founded in 1867 with a mission to help elderly, unemployed, disabled and mentally ill individuals, as well as children and college students. More specifically, the organization aids the homeless in obtaining housing and finding self-autonomy. It does this by providing a place for the homeless to temporarily stay and assisting them in obtaining permanent housing.

Bethel Foundation volunteers also go to homeless communities and provide medical care, including counseling services for mental health issues and drug and alcohol abuse. Furthermore, the foundation teaches essential skills needed for securing a job and provides guidance on how to search for employment.

Overall, the efforts of German restaurants and nonprofit organizations help many homeless individuals obtain basic necessities and find their independence. As more entities join the fight against homelessness in Germany, the nation will hopefully see a decrease in the number of people living on the streets.

Samantha Rodriguez-Silva
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Helping the Homeless
When topics of direct involvement to relieve global poverty come up in casual conversation, young people sometimes find new and innovative ways they can volunteer. Since young adults and teenagers often do not have a lot of disposable income to donate to causes that speak to them, they may choose to involve themselves with an NGO they can give their time and energy to. This is where Un Techo Para mi Pais, or TECHO, comes in as it has an impeccable volunteering model. Techo is a South American nonprofit that emerged in 1997 in Santiago, Chile. Since 2001, the organization began its expansion throughout Latin America, and by 2010, TECHO was one of the most prominent entities providing natural disaster relief to nine South American nations and helping the homeless.

About TECHO

TECHO’s main aim is to decrease homelessness rates on the South American continent, while improving the quality of life of those in comunas and favelas, building sanitary and safe communities and employing the work and energy of volunteers. As of 2021, Techo operates in 19 Latin American countries, with over a million volunteers across the continent helping the homeless and impoverished communities.

TECHO’s initiative consists of not only providing marginalized and impoverished communities with the dignity they deserve but also linking the volunteers with the communities they are aiding. The organization discusses each community’s specific needs as it helps design a unique action plan for each neighborhood and settlement. Joint action occurs as volunteers and settlement dwellers construct paved roads, community centers and emergency homes. The latter is their most popular project: modular prefabricated spaces that are easy and fast to build and provide shelter and insulation from the elements to families in need.

How Young People Can Participate

One does not need formal training in construction or city planning, as teenagers as young as 14 can participate by following a simple guide and plan of action. Young volunteers can do a wide range of jobs, such as asking for pecuniary donations as individuals or with their schools, collecting construction materials and assisting at construction sites to lend a hand. It is through this hands-on model that TECHO has become a very popular “club” to be part of within Latin American cities, as young people dedicate a lot of their time to campaigns fighting extreme poverty while learning about systemic and structural problems their particular societies face at a community level.

Anyone Can Help

Professionals are also necessary at TECHO for the most ambitious plans, and the organization accepts almost all areas of expertise including volunteer firefighters, cooks, construction workers and nurses. Even those with no experience in humanitarian aid or those without a formal profession can help, as according to the organization, “The first step is to get to know the organization’s model very well, and the tools necessary to carry out your role. Then, TECHO seeks to offer various activities that will help you to deepen your knowledge on topics such as poverty and human rights. No previous experience is required to lend a hand.”

The Inter-American Development Bank recently gave TECHO the rank of fourth most visionary organization of Latin America. Moreover, the organization is currently working on more than 500 settlements across Latin America hoping to expand its reach into the most precarious areas of the region, helping the homeless and providing many more families with dignified services and homes.

– Araí Yegros
Photo: Flickr

Homelessness in BosniaHomelessness in Bosnia is a multinational emergency. Recent snowfalls in Bosnia’s Northwest region threaten the lives of thousands of migrants. The region, a de facto landing ground for thousands of migrants, is the site of a mounting humanitarian crisis. Bosnia and Herzegovina, which functions as a buffer state between the Eurozone and parts of eastern Europe, have served as holding grounds for migrants. Even more worrying, the COVID-19 pandemic has further strained these communities.

COVID-19 Emergency Shelters

At the beginning of the pandemic, close to 2,500 migrants struggled without access to shelter. As a result, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) established a facility that could serve as living quarters for 1,000 migrants in Bihac, one of Bosnia’s major northern cities. The facility provided “basic humanitarian aid, including accommodation, food, hygiene, sanitation and medical care.” Previously, IOM increased the capacity of a shelter in the Bosnian capital city of Sarajevo.

Both measures were taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between and among homeless migrant and civilian populations. To say the least, homelessness in Bosnia is a complicated subject. In addition, for Bosnia’s civilian population, it’s a source of ongoing tension. By mitigating interactions between migrant and civilian populations, IOM interventions were designed to resolve tensions.

Tensions between migrants and local authorities haven’t been quelled, however. Reports of looting and vagrancy led local authorities to close migrant camps around the country. In late September, after local authorities evicted hundreds of migrants from a migrant camp in Bihac, Peter Van der Auweraert, an IOM official, called on state authorities to take control of the situation.

Homelessness in Bosnia

At least 2,500 of the 10,000 migrants who are held up in Bosnia, in limbo between the Eurozone and the countries they fled, live outside without proper shelter. They are exposed to the elements, and seasonal weather conditions will make their situation much worse. IOM tent camps have served as temporary shelters, but they are inadequate solutions for the winter.

An estimated 25% of rural Bosnians live in poverty. This statistic doesn’t include the rate of poverty among migrants who live in the country. A variety of reasons have been cited for Bosnia’s poor economy. However, the fact of the matter is that Bosnia lacks the resources to provide safe facilities for migrants.  

Appeals for Additional Support

There is no clear solution to the dangerous conditions that migrants in Bosnia will have to endure this winter. However, one could come from a collaboration of the Bosnian government with governments in the Eurozone and international organizations. Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor called on the Bosnian government to construct emergency facilities. In addition, it cited international law as the basis for its demand. In an effort to ensure that international law is upheld, Amnesty International filed a complaint against local authorities after reports of violence against migrants were reported.

To that end, Euro-Med Monitor underlined the role of the European Union to “establish a monitoring mechanism in Croatia to ensure that the authorities deployed at the borders respect migrants’ fundamental rights and European law, including their safe access to asylum procedures.” Additionally, IOM began to distribute winter kits, including food and sleeping bags, to thousands of migrants in October. Future funding may come as a result of the United Nation’s appeal for $455 million to address the global refugee crisis.

A concerted effort between advocacy groups and governments is required. So long as the world decides that Bosnia’s marginalized populations deserve the world’s support, then there is hope.

Taylor Pangman
Photo: Flickr