Small slivers of sunlight flit through the cracks in the roof of María Guzmán’s home. The roof, made of thin plastic sheets and corrugated metal, provides patchy shelter for Guzmán’s family, who live in a shantytown in Copiapó in northern Chile. “The cold here is awful,” she says.
Guzmán lives here with her 16-year-old twin daughters, her 14 and 24-year-old sons, her older son’s wife and their two children. The home has intermittent access to electricity and the stench of raw sewage is ever present. Guzmán has lived in this small, flimsy, immaculately maintained home with her family for the past 15 years. “It was the only way I could survive,” says Guzmán, who works as an educational assistant. “I want a better quality of life for my children.”
Guzmán’s wish is about to come true. The 47-year-old and her family are part of a group of 125 families who will soon become homeowners — most for the first time in their lives — thanks to the “Renacer” program sponsored by Chile’s Ministry of Housing, A Roof for Chile, and Barrick. The Renacer, or Rebirth, program was created to provide permanent housing in safe neighborhoods to families living in slums in Chile’s Atacama region, home to some of the country’s poorest communities.
Guzmán will soon take possession of a 76-square-meter townhouse in a new housing development in Copiapó, as will her son. “My children are very happy,” she says.
The Renacer program is part of a broader social responsibility initiative called the Atacama Commitment. Announced in 2008, the Atacama Commitment is a Barrick-led alliance of public and private sector organizations focused on improving social and economic conditions in Chile’s Atacama region. A Roof for Chile was a founding member of the initiative, with Barrick providing multi-year funding of $4.3 million to the NGO to support programs aimed at alleviating poverty in the region, home to Barrick’s Pascua-Lama project. A Roof for Chile is a non-governmental organization (NGO) whose mission is to eradicate slums and provide adequate housing for people living in poverty.
“This project has been a great collaboration among many players. We have learned a lot and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to help alleviate the housing situation of these families,” says Rod Jiménez, Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Barrick South America. “We’re committed to contributing to sustainable development of the communities surrounding our mining projects and operations. We’re especially proud of the tenacity, patience and strength of spirit demonstrated by all of these families.”
The Renacer program was a massive undertaking that took almost five years to complete. Land for the housing development had to be found, building rights obtained and government support secured — all before construction could begin. Each townhouse cost $31,100 to build, or $3.88 million overall. Costs were shared by Chile’s Ministry of Housing (83 percent), Barrick (13 percent) and the families (four percent), who were closely involved from the beginning. The program provided assistance to the families on financial management and budgeting.
“We put money in the bank and, little by little, saved enough to pay for our share,” says Amalia Idilia, who will move into one of the townhouses along with her son and two grandchildren.
Idilia, who is 80, has spent the last 16 years living in a Copiapó shantytown. She lives with her son and his two children, as well as her granddaughter and two great granddaughters. The family must walk to a nearby tap to obtain potable water and they share a single toilet. Clothes, dishes, books and boxes are stacked high in every corner of the cramped home. “There is no space,” says Idilia, whose granddaughter will also receive a townhouse in the new development. “It is not easy living here.”
Standing on a rock-strewn path outside her soon-to-be-former home, Idilia clutches her cane, her strong, weary face full of hope as she talks about the future. “Owning my own house is a dream, but I won’t be here much longer, so the house will be for all my children.”
Pedro Zúñiga, a Civil Engineer working directly on the Renacer Project for A Roof for Chile, says the housing project will restore a sense of dignity and security among the families, many of whom have been living in slum conditions for 25 years. “This has been a very complex project and would not have been possible without investment from authorities and the private sector,” he says.
While helping families move out of slum dwellings is a key component of the Renacer program, it goes deeper, taking aim at the root causes of poverty. With financing from Barrick, A Roof for Chile consolidated its presence in Copiapó and launched numerous initiatives that helped improve the lives of nearly 700 families. These initiatives included literacy, vocational and entrepreneurial training for adults, as well as loans to individuals starting small businesses. To date, 172 small loans have been provided. “We worked side by side with community leaders and Barrick to empower local communities and generate positive changes that are sustainable over time,” says Javier Zulueta, Executive Director of A Roof for Chile.
A Roof for Chile also arranged scholarships to individuals interested in learning a trade. To improve academic performance among local youth, the NGO provided extra help in after-school tutorials. “We see education as a foundation to a better way of life,” Zulueta says. “We support children through weekly coaching and try to involve parents in their children’s education.”
A Roof for Chile also helped the 125 families prepare for the transition to their new homes. It helped the families select the location for the housing development and ensured they had input into the design. It set up regular progress updates during the construction phase, organized site visits and arranged meetings with families from other communities that have made a similar transition.
And now, after years of anticipation, the families are anxious to take the final step and move into their new homes. “I’ve already seen my new house,” says Giordana Carmona, who will soon take possession of a townhouse with her partner and two young sons. “It is even better than I thought it would be. I am full of joy, because it will be my house. I will not need to pay rent, or ask others for a place to live. It is so good that some companies are supporting these initiatives. Otherwise, we would never have had this chance.”