Clarissa is a GlobalGiving In-the-Field Volunteer. She is visiting GlobalGiving's projects in South America and writing postcards to donors to let them know how their donations are having an impact. Read other postcards from the field here: http://www.globalgiving.org/inthefield/.
If you have visited Buenos Aires before, you most likely think back fondly on a thriving, beautiful city, steeped in culture, and lined with impressive buildings and inviting cafes. Given this image of prosperity, it is hard to imagine that less than an hour from the city center there are areas of extreme poverty; neighborhoods lacking essential services such as gas and electricity. Moreno, a suburb of Greater Buenos Aires composed of six neighborhoods and occupied by over 4,000 families, is just one example.
Just 15 years ago, the majority of people in Moreno inhabited makeshift homes devoid of basic necessities; they were marginalized and without access to means to improve their quality of life. That was until Fundacion Pro Vivienda Social (FPVS) came, offering assistance in the form of microcredit to improve housing and the creation of integrated gas networks. Since then, FPVS has worked hand-in-hand with the people of Moreno to transform the community, training neighbors to work together to incite the change they wish to see and allowing them to be the creators of their improved futures. The model has been met with astounding results. I was lucky enough to see some of these changes firsthand and to meet several of the beneficiaries of FPVS’s work.
I was first met by Alejandra, a woman respected by and dedicated to the people of Moreno. Having worked with the organization almost since its conception, Alejandra knows the ins-and-outs of the barrios and was kind enough to show me around, offering a glimpse at the great strides that have been made as well as the work that is still left to be done. From the outside, the most noticeable sign of change was subtle; its impact, however, crucial. Small metal boxes containing meters stood before many of the homes, signifying the use of natural gas.
Natural gas is an eco-friendly form of energy that reduces more carbon monoxide emissions compared to firewood, coal, and kerosene. Its presence has the potential to improve one’s health, standards of living, and economic well-being. In homes without natural gas, people rely on “garrafas” – gas tanks that are costly, unsafe, and act only as a temporary fix. The implementation of natural gas systems, however, means mothers can safely cook food for their families, children can attend heated schools in the winter, and risks such as respiratory related illnesses and house fires are no longer an issue. In the long-term, natural gas is a sound economic investment. A garrafa, costs about $30 for two weeks of use, while natural gas, typically costs around $20 for two months.
While I’ve always understood the importance of investing in infrastructure, I must admit it never quite pulled at my heartstrings; I couldn’t attach a face to the cause, simply a pipeline. That changed, however, after meeting some of the individuals whose lives have transformed due to natural gas access and the work of FPVS. Individuals like Luli Avelleneda and Gabriela Alejandra Tedesco, who vividly recalled the hardships they faced prior to receiving natural gas. And neighbors like an elderly woman who, after welcoming into her home, proudly exclaimed what she believed to be the two most important dates in her life: her anniversary and the day her house received a gas connection.
Perhaps what is most impressive is these individuals are not just beneficiaries, but they are also the people enacting change. Committees like “The Neighbor's Union in Action” bring together members of the community and FPVS staff to provide support and encouragement to those looking to make the change to natural gas. This means community members are the ones knocking on neighbors’ doors to promote change, organizing meetings, drawing up construction plans, and offering technical assistance. The system puts the power in the hands of the community, transforming them into agents of social change, arming them with technical skills, and creating a model for long-term sustainability.
As Raul, one of the founders and Managing Director, explained to me, “It would be easy to simply send in a team of architects, builders, and lawyers to install the networks and then leave, but this plan would not provide a lasting impact nor establish trust within the community. Our goal is not only to connect, but to involve. To build trust amongst neighbors. Ultimately this trust is the key, for if there is trust and a belief in a common vision, then there is no limit to the work we can do.”