In Bolivia, residents emerge from the "invisible city"

14 March 2011

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Editor’s note: These stories are taken from the February newsletter of the Bolivian SDI Alliance. All of their newsletters can be found in the original Spanish at the Bolivia country page.

By Maria Eugenia Torrico, Rede de Acción Communitaria (Communal Action Network)

Deep in the old section of the city of Oruro, one finds the neighborhood of San Miguel. It is an informal settlement that is now 20 years old. San Miguel is characterized by a lack of: basic services, access to police and security, and informal house construction. Here, men and women with few financial resources have settled on land that is contaminated, as it is located on top of old mineral reserves.

Most residents of Oruro (known as Orureños) and government officials simply ignore these informal dwellers. Yet their existence is replicated in settlements throughout the mining town. Such settlements comprise the “invisible city” of Oruro.

But what percent of the population is living in these informal settlements? And how many such settlements exist?

Our challenge is to understand the magnitude of the problem, and to find answers collectively to make cities more inclusive. We are inviting those who are now indifferent, to discover the invisible cities of Bolivia, to become familiar with the challenges of the urban poor in our country, and develop broad-based solutions.

Junta Vecinal Taruma counts itself

In the month of February, the community of Junta Vecinal Taruma in Oruro, undertook an enumeration exercise. From 4 to 12 February the “Jefes de Manzano,” a community youth group, trained to be the main participants in the enumeration. They also recognized a growing capacity for youth leadership within the community at-large.

On 13 February, the group went door-to-door and counted all the households in a time-consuming exercise that included the participation of all the community residents.

The next week, on 20 February, the enumeration group, joined by other residents worked with technical assistance from Red de Acción Communitaria to tabulate the results from all the household surveys. The team is currently compiling a final document, and the results are set to be released in a special ceremony.

Savings brings solidarity and action on the ground

The residents of Villa Vista have also decided to form a daily savings group. The goal of this group — 59 families strong — is to save to get title deed for their property. They are already recognizing the solidarity and collective vision emerging from this decision.

On 6 February, the Bolivian Alliance began its work with the community of Junta Vecinal Villa Vista to improve the construction of houses there. This project is being funded by SELAVIP.

In attendance at the brick-laying ceremony were Representative Marcelo Elio and Germán Delgado, president of the Oruro Municipal Council. They each lay a symbolic brick to open the process.

A group of volunteer architects will support the technical assessment of the houses to develop a joint participatory design with the community. The Fundación Pacha Kamacque are giving legal assistance.

The ceremony also served to celebrate the opening a community day care centre for the 20 boys and girls in the community. The initiative is being promoted by Aldea SOS and the government.