Program eases Chileans' flight from slums -- and into debts
By EVA VERGARA
CERRILLOS, Chile -- Elida Mansilla is proud of the neat little apartment
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,
of three says.
She is one of the pioneers of Chile Barrio, a year-old government program
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
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
Both the government and the former slum dwellers say that problem must
tackled if the slum eradication program is to succeed.
The government is now requiring candidates for the new homes to complete
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
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
are unemployed -- a common occurrence.
``By doing this, we make sure we will not lose the houses we have struggled
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
the initial deposit of $620 that opens the door to a new house under the
Mansilla, for example, is learning to be a dressmaker so she can supplement
$190 a month she receives from her former husband as support for herself and
The Mansillas were one of 301 families who recently moved to the small
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
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.
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald