San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

NGO Takes Hammer in Its Own Hands

Un Techo Para Mi País, the Chilean nongovernmental organization working to build shelters for victims of the Jan. 8 earthquake, is showing its determination to advance more quickly in its work by bypassing governmental red tape and working directly with local municipalities.

The NGO has impressed victims and observers alike by rapidly building emergency shelters for the victims (TT. Feb. 27).

Frustrated by waiting for government permission to build homes for those displaced by the quake on public property, Un Techo Para Mi País has joined with the HerediaMunicipality to build the houses directly on properties belonging to the affected families. According to Patricio Morera, social director for the group, as long as the organization and the affected families are working with the municipality and on private property, they don’t need the central government’s permission to build.

“The government is conducting a lot of time-consuming research, whereas the HerediaMunicipality’s desire to help and their quick response has been a large asset,” Morera said.

The government held a press conference last week to explain the reason for its slow response. Marco Vargas, the inter-institutional coordinator of reconstruction efforts, said substantial assessment was needed to ensure houses weren’t rebuilt in high-risk areas (TT, Feb. 27).

Morera said the properties where they are building the shelters are not high-risk areas and the original homes were damaged because of poor building practices.

Maria Teresa Avila, Costa Rica’s health minister, supported the NGO’s action, saying, if “Techo can work with the local municipality to get things done more quickly, so much the better.”

Last weekend Un Techo Para Mi País built 17 new shelters in the region of Vara Blanca and seven more in Poasito, all on properties previously occupied by families whose homes were damaged in the earthquake.

According to Morera, the quick response from the HerediaMunicipality was an unexpected surprise after the central government’s slow response. Un Techo Para Mi País has said the partnership is working out well.

“The government just doesn’t seem to have the desire to get things done now, when they need to be done,” said Morera. “They need to be more compassionate about the people and compromise a bit on paperwork to get results. There are people who have been living for two months without a roof over their heads, and that’s just not right.”

Other Partnerships

Un Techo Para Mi País has four different programs whereby organizations and volunteers can support their work. Through one such program, called Construya con Tu Empresa (Build With Your Business), the NGO collaborates with private businesses that launch their own campaigns.

Grupo TACA’s campaign, A Roof for Hope, donated funds and workers for eight emergency shelters, built under the supervision of Un Techo Para Mi País. Other businesses donating workers and funds include Coca-Cola, Banco Promérica and Kraft Foods.

Other companies are helping by providing construction materials. For example, Pinturas Sur offered 550 gallons of house paint for the effort.

Another program involves university students in the project. Nearly 100 volunteers from National University (UNA) joined Un Techo Para Mi País last weekend to help build homes.

“The aid from the UNA signifies a very important step,” said Morera. “We are beginning to see families, volunteers and (educational institutions) come together and seek solutions for the communities that were destroyed.”

The other partnership programs allow high school students to lend a hand, as well as families who want to donate money and perhaps time to a specific project.

In a separate initiative to provide shelter for quake victims, the international organization Habitat for Humanity has entered into an agreement with Florida Ice and Farm, Costa Rica’s leading brewery, to build 13 houses for the victims of the quake, together worth approximately ¢120 million (over $214,000).


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