fundsforNGOs – Grants and Resources for Sustainability

NGO of the Month: TECHO

Welcome to the penultimate edition of fundsforNGOs NGO of the Month feature for 2014. Over the past year we’ve shared with you some of the leading development organizations from around the world to inspire you to help create a better world.

Last month we featured India’s Akshaya Patra, an organization headquartered in Bangalore that was ranked as the 23rd best NGO in the World in 2013 by the Global Journal. Read the feature with Akshaya Patra here.

For November we’re delighted to be able to showcase TECHO, previously known as Un Techo para mi País (UTPMP) which is Spanish for “A Roof For My Country”. TECHO is a nonprofit organization that mobilizes youth volunteers to fight extreme poverty in Latin America, by constructing transitional housing and implementing social inclusion programs. Working with more than 500,000 volunteers, it has constructed houses for more than 86,000 families in 19 countries to date.

What inspired the establishment of TECHO?

TECHO (previously known as Un Techo para mi País – A Roof for my Country) was established in Chile in 1997 by a group of young university students and Felipe Berríos S.J. The group was concerned by the deplorable living conditions in the country’s slums and felt the need to play an active role in the denunciation of extreme poverty. In a horizontal dialogue between the families living in slums and the university students life was given to a project that today touches all of society. Indeed the conditions in which over 160 million Latin Americans live and the lack of opportunities available to them is an injustice that involves everyone and requires everyone’s commitment. From these discussions came the idea of building modular wooden houses as emergency housing for families living in poverty. Initially, the organizers did not consider this a long-term project, as the initial motivation was simply to denounce the deplorable conditions of thousands of families living in slums in Chile.

Later, groups of Chilean university students motivated themselves voluntarily for the cause, raising up the project and bringing it to even younger people. As the organization continued to grow, reaching its goals successfully, many young people joined the original team to work professionally for the cause. The number of professionals and volunteers gradually grew and the NGO began to take shape. Thus, the NGO’s interventions during its first years were focused on the construction of emergency housing with the objective of alleviating the precarious housing situation of millions of Latin Americans. However, the same families motivated and inspired the NGO to use new tools in addition to housing and since 2006, TECHO has been executing community development and social inclusion projects focusing on housing, education, nutrition, vocational training and increased productivity.

In 2001, TECHO began expanding into other Latin American countries and since 2005 has been funded by the Multilateral Investment Fund of the Inter American Development Bank. Today, TECHO is present in 19 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, The Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela. These countries are united through the work that thousands of volunteers and communities are doing to fight for a more just continent.

Since 2010, TECHO has been involved in redefining and changing the scope of mission focusing in three concepts: intervention model, social management of projects and organizational culture. This change of approach is translated into a new definition of TECHO’s vision, mission and a new working scope in slums.

What is special about TECHO?

TECHO is a youth-led Latin American not-for-profit organization, seeking to overcome the precarious living conditions, which affect more than 110 million people in the region living in slums. Every day thousands of young volunteers work side by side with members of marginalized communities to improve their quality of life. Currently, thanks to all of TECHO’s volunteers and partners, the organization has been able to benefit more than 93,000 families and mobilize more than 600,000 volunteers.

TECHO is organized and managed by hundreds of young adults, who take action, plan, and take responsibility for the work in their communities and in the NGO itself. The organization also works to facilitate a knowledge of poverty in the Latin America society from an early age, through campaigns to raise awareness and present volunteer opportunities. The work of volunteers is a key component of citizen participation, contributing to the strengthening of democracy and forming agents of change in society. In this way, TECHO looks for a participative intervention, ensuring that its projects and programs promote community organization along with the mobilization and involvement of all of its residents.

Furthermore, TECHO seeks to generate a wider social conscience among young people. Since many of the students and young professionals participating in and leading the projects will be the future leaders of the continent, TECHO hopes to inspire a more humanitarian and responsible vision by making them work with families living in the poorest communities. They will thus have a stronger commitment to the development of their country and continent, be it serving the public, private or third sector.

How does TECHO change lives?

In Latin America more than 164 million people (27.9% of the population) live in poverty, of which 11.5% live in extreme poverty on less than $1USD a day (CEPAL 2013). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognizes that housing, food, and clothing constitute basic needs to which every person has the right in order to have an acceptable quality of life. (United Nations, “Universal  Declaration of Human Rights,” Article 25, (1948)). Nevertheless, in 2010, approximately 830 million people lived in slums, of which 110 million were in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to United Nations estimates (United Nations, “The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements,” (2010)). As demonstrated in the UN Development Goals, these slums are in an extremely serious situation.

In this context, poverty is the root of the problem TECHO addresses: the high level of vulnerability of the families in slums is a result of their exclusion from society. Besides facing precarious living conditions, these families are excluded from formal systems of housing, education, health, employment, and governance, and they lack the skills and tools necessary to be included. TECHO recognizes that a prolonged situation of exclusion generates a profound impact in the way in which these families live their lives. In order to resolve these problems, long term compromises are necessary, such as the implementation of programs to empower families. Thanks to the construction of transitional houses, TECHO intends to solve the problem of housing, which is too often ignored in the government’s public agenda. Besides this, TECHO calls on all of society to confront the injustices of poverty in Latin America.

TECHO works in slums for the following reasons:

  1. The urgent need to work to find solutions and the lack of attention on the part of society. Slum communities possess particular and concrete problems that are not addressed adequately by governments and other organizations.
  2. The existence of slums represents a violation of fundamental rights.
  3. TECHO inserts itself into the reality that families in the slums live in. The organization understands slums to be groups of eight or more families that live on unregulated land, without access to at least one basic service (water, electricity, or sanitation). One of TECHO’s principal objectives is to change lives by creating real and sustainable solutions to families in the slums, through the joint work of the families themselves and local volunteers. Since it was founded in 1997, TECHO’s results to date amount to the construction of more than 100,000 transitional houses improving the lives of more than 250.000 people; over 450 community organizing committees are active in the countries where TECHO is present. To date 8,600 community dwellers have graduated in specific job-skills training; 16,302 children have participated in education programs; 352 community centers were built in slums; and 5,583 definitive houses have been built (in Chile).

Why is TECHO important to the communities you work with? 

TECHO’s Community Intervention focuses on people living in excluded slums. The joint work of families and young volunteers, who work to produce concrete solutions to the problematic of poverty, is the key driver of the intervention. TECHO drives a continuous community strengthening process, taking community development as the transversal axis of the intervention.

The initial phase of the Community Intervention consists of the insertion into slums and in the development of a diagnostic of the families in need. Youth volunteers have their first approach to the reality, which can be seen in the slums, working in the field in order to develop a diagnosis. They further enhance the residents’ leadership by promoting organization, participation, and community co-responsibility in the whole process.

In the second phase, as a response to the identified needs in the community, there is an implementation and management of solutions in the areas of livability, education, labor and others that address existing problems. These solutions are developed throughout joint work between young volunteers and families, enhancing individual and collective capacities for community self-management. Young volunteers get involved in an awareness process about poverty and its causes, which leads them to act in order to generate real change.

Within this phase TECHO emphasizes the construction of transitional housing, which meets a need that is urgent and a priority in most slums. Creating a link of trust between the volunteers and the community since it is a concrete, tangible and achievable solution in the short term. The house built by TECHO is a prefabricated module of 162 square feet, built in two days, with the participation of young volunteers and families in the community. The construction generates an encounter between these two realities, promoting critical reflection and concrete proposals on how to overcome poverty. This process is done with a community approach, which promotes the organization and participation of the community.

Deepening this process of community empowerment, the community-organizing committee is implemented. This is a meeting where community leaders and youth volunteers dialogue and discuss about possible solutions to the priority problems in the slum. TECHO focuses on the implementation of education plans and work plans, such as basic skills training and microcredits for the development of small businesses. TECHO seeks to link communities with networks to develop other programs to meet community goals and contribute to the generation of solution.

As a third phase of the intervention, the implementation of lasting and sustainable solutions is promoted in slums, such as: regularization of property, basic services, housing, infrastructure and local development. TECHO articulates and links organized families living in the slums with government institutions, so they can demand their rights.

Starting with the constant and massive hard work of young volunteers and families living in slums, TECHO denounces the exclusion and violation of rights that exist in slum, so that these problems are recognized by society and become a priority of the public agenda. Moreover, TECHO generates relevant information about slums, and seeks to be part of instances of proposal and public policy decision making, promoting structural changes that contribute to the eradication of poverty.

What is TECHO’s vision for the world?

TECHO’s vision for the world is a fair and poverty free society, where everyone has the opportunities needed to develop their capacities and fully exercise their rights.

Connect with TECHO

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