The Miami Herald
December 9, 1998

Program eases Chileans' flight from slums -- and into debts

             By EVA VERGARA
             Associated Press

             CERRILLOS, Chile -- Elida Mansilla is proud of the neat little apartment she lives
             in now, after the cardboard and wooden shack she inhabited for years in one of
             Santiago's poorest slums.

             Yet the change doesn't mean she no longer has to fight for a better life, the mother
             of three says.

             She is one of the pioneers of Chile Barrio, a year-old government program to
             move more than 500,000 people from 972 slums throughout the country into small
             but solid new buildings. The goal is to clear out all the slums by 2003.

             The program faces a major problem, however: Families remain as poor in their
             new apartments as they were in the slums, but now they have financial obligations
             they didn't have before.

             In the slums, they cooked with firewood and survived without running water,
             electricity or sewers. After the move, they have all those services, but they also get
             the bills.

             Both the government and the former slum dwellers say that problem must be
             tackled if the slum eradication program is to succeed.

             The government is now requiring candidates for the new homes to complete job
             training that will allow them to increase the meager income that kept them in the
             slums for years.

             The residents are organizing in neighborhood associations to unite forces.

             ``We organize to educate people to live in real houses and with real services and
             not to waste them,'' said Patricia Rojas, president of the association in Cerrillos, a
             sprawling suburb west of Santiago.

             She said women are being given training so they can find jobs when their husbands
             are unemployed -- a common occurrence.

             ``By doing this, we make sure we will not lose the houses we have struggled so
             hard to get,'' Rojas said. ``We cannot accept people losing them simply because
             they can't pay their water or electricity bills.''

             It is a hard fight for families who must survive on small, occasional wages to save
             the initial deposit of $620 that opens the door to a new house under the
             government program.

             Mansilla, for example, is learning to be a dressmaker so she can supplement the
             $190 a month she receives from her former husband as support for herself and
             three children.

             The Mansillas were one of 301 families who recently moved to the small but neat
             apartments in Cerrillos, in an area that includes paved streets and a playground for

             Chile Barrio aids families who haven't saved enough money to qualify for a new
             apartment, providing them with tools and construction materials to improve their
             huts until their time to move comes.

             Gabriela Rubilar, a social worker for the program, said money is also being
             invested in community improvements, like nurseries where women take turns
             caring for children so others can go to work.

             Even the unemployed are helping. Jorge Muñoz, a wall painter who has been out
             of work for some time, plants grass and flowers in public areas in his new
             neighborhood in Cerrillos.

             Social workers say the program has improved relations in the communities
             involved and provided many people with motivation to attempt bettering their lives.


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