Brazil’s Ministry of Cities’ National Urban Development Policy program (PNDU) has arrived in a slum on the outskirts of Teresina, capital of one of Brazil’s poorest states, PiauÀ.The slum is known as Irmã Dulce and in the past it has not even appeared on any maps, much less BrasÀlia’s radar screen.
It sprang up in 1998, rapidly expanded chaotically to cover 316 hectares and become home to some 7,000 families, along with much hunger and misery.
When Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva became President of Brazil in January 2003, the government decided to deal with problems like Irmã Dulce by meeting them head on.
President Lula met them head on, literally, by personally visiting Irmã Dulce during his first month in office. What he saw was what had originally been a barren landscape now clogged with hovels made of mud where people were living.
The fact is that Irmã Dulce was known in some quarters: it had gained notoriety as one of the world’s largest disorganized, wretched land settlements. Lula promised to do something.
What the PNUD is doing is helping the residents of the slum to help themselves.
A community group (Grêmio Comunitário), that was formed in December 2002 by Irmã Dulce “pioneers,” has become the community guide, overseer and organizer.
“We are linked to social and worker movements. We are proof that this kind of association can be effective,” explains William Ferreira dos Santos, the vice president of the community group.
In order for PNUD projects to achieve their goals grass roots support in the community is essential. That has occurred in Irmã Dulce where residents are managing their own urban development projects.
“The local population lives closest to the problems and they know them best. Their participation in the projects ensures success, socially and economically,” says Marta Garske, who manages Housing projects at the Ministry of Cities.
“This is where self-interest works in everybody’s favor as the future owner of a house monitors its construction by a bricklayer who may be his neighbor.”
The organized effort by the residents of Irmã Dulce has resulted in some victories.
“The most important thing is ownership of our lots. We also had a school built, a first aid station and a day care center. As for infrastructure, we have water, electricity and are enrolled in the government’s Subsidized Housing Program,” says Ferreira dos Santos.
One of the main concerns of the community group is unemployment. They have insisted that government programs, such as home construction and the water pipeline, employ local labor.
“We want fathers to have work so they can provide for their families,” says Jose Levi Almeida Lima, the president of the community group.
Translation: Allen Bennett