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Over the last few decades, Peru has seen mass migration into Lima which has led to huge numbers of people gaining land through squatters rights and setting up unstable, poorly built homes to enable them to live in the country's capital. Since the 1970's, migration to urban centers has been a huge problem throughout South America and has let to the construction of Brazil's favelas, Argentina's villa's and the pueblos jóvenes that we see in Peru. MEDLIFE's architecture intern, Edinson Aliaga, explained the effect that this dramatic urbanization had on Lima: “There was an area that was created for urban expansion in Lima, but they didn't expect just how many immigrants would be coming in.” This extensive migration and the unprecedented number of people moving into the urban centre, led to people grabbing land where they could and constructing quick temporary structures to allow them to gain land titles on unstable terrain. These badly constructed houses left the residents susceptible to illnesses and infections from the poor living conditions and other structural dangers due to the unstable nature of their homes.
In more recent years, there have been many housing projects and design programs developed across South America that attempt to deal with the growing issue of social housing in the slums. Alejandro Aravena is a Chilean architect who this year was awarded the Pritzker prize for a social housing project he developed in Iquique, Chile. The Pritzker is the Architectural equivalent of the Nobel Prize and is generally awarded for design ingenuity and projects that are considered to be ‘momentous' works. Therefore, the seemingly unimpressive social housing project that Aravena won it for, came as a surprise to many in the Architecture community. However, in reality, Aravena's project was more than just a social housing scheme, it was a piece of architectural innovation with Aravena's desire to tackle Chile's social housing issues at the heart of it.
Aravena's idea to develop a sustainable housing model, shaped to the needs of the poor, is something MEDLIFE is currently investing in with its own housing projects. MEDLIFE's new architecture and civil engineering interns, Edinson Aliaga and Raul Huapaya, have been working closely with Carlos Benavides, director of MED Programs Peru, over the last few months to expand MEDLIFE's work in the field of social housing. Many of the illnesses and health problems we treat come as a result of the poor living conditions and lack of basic resources, caused by the structures built after migrating.
Aravena's project ‘half of a good house' was developed after similar issues of migration and centralization had arisen in Chile due to sudden dramatic urbanization. The idea behind the project was Aravena challenging the thought that the public money received to improve the living situation of many impoverished Chileans could either be used to build many low quality houses or a few high quality houses. Aravena instead presented the idea of creating a secure, sturdy structure which could then be expanded on relatively cheaply by families in the future when the time came- essentially half a good house. “Aravena is something of a pioneer in this field of social housing.” Edinson explained, “He was one of the first people to think about social housing as a way for the poor to be able to have stable, comfortable housing at an affordable cost. He came up with the idea of developing a house after it has been built, thus giving people a stable foundation which they can then expand on if they want to. Essentially meaning they could put in more bedrooms, a small shop, anything they need, knowing it's on a stable structure.”
Creating houses with stable foundations and basic commodities has been a large focus of the work of the MED Programs department over the summer. Edinson and Raul have been working on developing plans that are similar to Aravena's in the way that they have the option to be expanded on but are also designed with the individual in mind. The department has already undertaken two housing projects for MEDLIFE patients Santusa and Soledad and are looking for ways to further incorporate Aravena's philosophy of ‘half of a good house' into future projects. “These houses can really cost anywhere between $7,000 and $10,000.” Raul said when talking about how the housing projects are funded. “So Santusa's cost one price, Soledad's will cost a different price. Soledad's has two floors which obviously will cost a little more but it will be a smaller house.” Both these houses have been constructed with the possibility of expansion either upwards or outwards and both were designed with various structural elements taken into account including location, terrain and ‘cultural elements' such as the number of people who will be living there. “The houses we build have to be both secure and practical with everything that the person needs thought about. That includes a bathroom, a bedroom, and a living space. All these things have to be done within a structure that has been thought about for Peru and for Lima where we find many earthquakes and other structural issues” Raul explained.
The idea of these houses being built “with everything that the person needs thought about” is the main focus of MEDLIFE's social housing project. As with Aravena, we want to be able to provide the communities we work with with the same safe quality of housing as the rest of Lima and not just give them something cheap and comfortable because that is the easiest way. However, we also want to make sure that these houses are suitable for the individual both in terms of space and structure, dependant on the location. Previously, the issue of social housing has been addressed with a ‘model home' approach, essentially designing one practical living space and putting that up wherever a house is needed. However, Edinson explained how this approach is not really feasible. “The problem there is that no one is thinking about the individual. They're just thinking about making it simple. 20-30% of the terrain around Lima is not recommended to build on in these areas but people don't know about this. Really, no buildings should be being constructed on this land but if they have to be built, they have to be built well. So that's the first thing, you have to think about the foundations of the house dependant on where it's being built. Secondly, you have to think about the actual individual. For example, Santusa had a single floor to her house because she is living alone. Soledad's house however, had to have two levels so there is room for her and her son. So that's another thing to think about.” Making a blanket design of a ‘model home' isn't feasible because whilst it may serve well for one individual living in one place, it will not be safe or comfortable for a different individual.
Part of the MEDLIFE mission is working together with community members and patients to give them what they need and what they ask for. We are committed to seeing this through with our housing project in constructing sustainable, stable homes for those patients in need. Santusa and Soledad were both one off cases where the individual was in desperate need of a house which we then constructed to according to their personal needs. However, MED Programs have more recently been talking about developing a happy medium between Aravena's ‘half of a good house' theory and our own belief that the individual must be taken into account. On a recent visit to Urucancha, a remote community in the uppermost hills, Carlos Benavides began discussing plans with the community leader of designing a ‘model home' specifically for that community. This would essentially mean that the structural elements could be taken into account as all the houses would be being constructed on the same terrain and the cultural elements could be covered by the possibility of expanding on the solid structure. Raul explained a bit more about how this ‘community model home' would work. “We would make a plan for a ‘model home' that would meet the cultural and physical requirements for that community. We would then help with and supervise the construction of two of three homes with the help of community members. So, everyone then knows how to build this ‘model home'. The idea is that it's an easy and repetitive way of building so we can get enough materials for however many houses the community needs and then after having help with the first few, they can build the rest by themselves. However, this will only work for this community. As Edinson said, when you go to a different community with a different terrain, it's a completely different world. For example I would never design and build the same house for someone living in Surco as I would for someone in Villa Maria del Triunfo and it works the same way amongst the communities.”
The possibility of creating ‘model homes' for communities is still very much in the planning stages but in combining what we have learned so far with inspiration from other projects like Aravena's, the direction for the housing projects is becoming increasingly clearer. We hope to be able to continue to work with Edinson, Raul and Carlos to develop this project even further in the future.
In August 2016 MEDLIFE Ecuador completed two bathroom projects as part of ongoing earthquake relief efforts in Jama, Ecuador, an area that very affected by the earthquake, but that did not receive as much aid or attention as other areas like Pedernales. MEDLIFE has begun working together with the local government on these construction projects, the government is constructing the houses and MEDLIFE is building the bathrooms. Bathrooms are an extremely important of the infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt following the earthquake.
In 2011, The World Health Organization (WHO) declared diarrheal diseases to be the second leading cause of death in low-income countries. The WHO and UNICEF estimate that functional, clean bathrooms can reduce cases of diarrhea by more than 33%. Following the earthquake, maintaining proper hygeine is critical to maintaining healthy populations and water supplies.
Here are some photos from the inaugeration of the project:
Over the next few months, MEDLIFE staff, interns and chapters all over the world will be working to fundraise for Kirua Schoolhouse in Tanzania. MEDLIFE discovered the school in August 2015 when we set up our first mobile clinic in this community. One of the three pillars of MEDLIFE is education and in fundraising for this project we are keen to also raise awareness of the importance of education in underdeveloped communities. The fundraiser is designed to last for the duration of the first four months of the school semester. Each month will focus on a different aspect of the project; education, sanitation, food hygiene and infrastructure. We will also be promoting a different educational day each month to raise awareness of the issues we are trying to help resolve.
In September, we are focusing on the necessity of having a clean, comfortable space to work in and in this way, we hope to provide the school with 29 desks and chairs to allow for easier access to learning. 120 students attend the school every day and the current lack of desks is resulting in many resorting to working on the floor. It may seem like a small thing but not having a desk to work on can do a lot to hinder a child's ability and willingness to learn. In order to raise awareness of this issue, the education day we are promoting in September will be ‘Day Without A Desk'. The aim is to challenge students from MEDLIFE chapters to spend a day at their own college without access to desk space to work on. This will not only raise awareness of why it is so important for us to fundraise for this cause but will also help students to understand struggles they would otherwise never come into contact with.
In October we will be focusing on sanitation and how it can impact a learning environment as well as why it is important for students to be educated on this issue. In Tanzania, only 3% of schools have access to basic commodities such as electricity, water and sanitary bathrooms. Despite there being 120 students at Kirua School, there is no bathroom and no safe place to get clean water. This lack of sanitation is very dangerous and causes 2900 deaths every day worldwide. We plan to build a bathroom for the school with sanitary facilities for the children to wash their hands, access clean drinking water to fill bottles and even brush their teeth. To raise awareness of this issue in October, MEDLIFE college students will be encouraged to take part in our ‘Tally for Tanzania' educational day where they will be asked to make a note in a tally every time they use their bathroom facilities around campus. Again, we hope that this will raise awareness for students, friends and family and will demonstrate the importance of raising money for this cause.
November and December will be focusing on food hygiene and infrastructure respectively with the aim of raising money for a new kitchen, the final aspect of the school that needs drastic improvement. We will be keeping our website and social media pages up to date with the progress of the fundraising and stories from different chapters and MEDLIFE offices about how each education day turns out and how the project is going as a whole. Due to the importance of these educational days in the overall success of the fundraiser, we will be really pushing for greater involvement from MEDLIFE chapters around the world and will be hoping to keep our social media updated with information from all different schools about what they are doing to promote the cause.
This is one of the most ambitious fundraising projects we have attempted so far and we are hoping that it will be a chance for many different MEDLIFE chapters to work together for a rewarding end goal. Overall, we are hoping to raise $11,500 over the 4 months to enable the children at this school and the surrounding community to be given the amenities and support they need to learn in a safe and sanitary environment.
To donate towards this project click here.
Jorge's ramp is complete! The MEDLIFE Summer Intern 2016 project was inaugurated yesterday, and Jorge used his ramp for the first time. After fundraising over $700 in 7 hours, the project construction began: his home transformed and we were able to add the ramp, redo the roof and frontal structures, add plants and paint the exterior! Jorge is now able to leave his wheelchair-accessible home and is no longer confined to staying inside despite his limited mobility. He is excited to be able to play with his son and engage with his family outdoors. Thank you to all donors - it is because of you that we were able to make a positive impact on Jorge's family.
Camila is 4 years old and suffers from cerebral palsy which she contracted aged 1 year and 2 months as a result of an intraparenchymal hemorrhage. Her illness means that Camila is unable to move or communicate with anyone around her.
Tatiana is Camila's mother and primary carer. She gave up school and then work for Camila and, until recently has been working at a local market selling honey and coffee in order to pay for the medication Camila needs. Camila is in constant need of attention and therapy and it falls on Tatiana to make sure she gets all the treatment necessary to deal with her illness.
MEDLIFE have been working with Camila and her family for over a year and since then have been able to contribute to the medication Camila needs. However, one of the biggest issues Tatiana faces is having to balance earning money to afford Camila's treatment with being around to care for Camilla. Tatiana told MEDLIFE that one of the most useful things would be for her to be able to work close enough to home that she could bring money in whilst also being able to take care of Camila.
One of the pillars of the MEDLIFE ideology is sustainable development and support, therefore, MEDLIFE made it our mission to make this hope of Tatiana's a reality. We fundraised to buy a sandwich cart for Tatiana that would allow her to make and sell sandwiches directly outside her house. After raising the $1000 required thanks to the support of the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras and individual donors, last week we were able to deliver the sandwich cart to its new owner.
Tatiana told us what a difference this would make to hers and Camila's lives. She told us how “[Camila] needs help almost every hour of the day. I can't leave to work or go out with anyone. This cart will help me get back my independence and will enable me to earn the money I need to deal with Camila's condition”.
This year's summer volunteer affairs interns were lucky enough to be Tatiana's first customers and enjoyed chicken and beef burgers and vegetarian sandwiches from Tatiana's cart on Friday afternoon. Volunteer affairs intern Alexa Friedman said “being one of Tatiana's customers really showed me how the work MEDLIFE does is personal and sustainable. It made me proud to be interning for this kind of non-profit.” This opinion seemed to be shared by many of the interns who seemed happy to be able to partake in what will hopefully be a life changing moment with Tatiana, Camila and the rest of their family. Tatiana Gerena, another intern told us how “being able to support Tatiana from start to finish was so great. Her sandwiches were delicious and I have to admit that I went back for seconds!”