With 25 million people, Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world with just less than half of its population living in poverty. Transformación Urbana Internacional is currently focusing on the eastern metropolitan fringe that includes Chimalhuacan and San Vicente Chicoloapan, low-income communities on the outskirts of Mexico City which together boast close to 1.5 million residents. According to INEGI (National Institute for Statistics and Geography) Chimalhuacan is the poorest municipality in the Mexico City metropolitan area.
Roughly half of them are slum dwellers who live in substandard housing, over 80% of them employed in the informal sector and often without secure land tenure and in desperate economic conditions. As such, this area is considered among the largest slums of Latin America. Over half of the families are disintegrated due to migration patterns and domestic violence. About 70% of women suffer from psychological, economic and social violence, whereas five of 10 women experience physical domestic abuse, according to CEAVIF (Centro de Atención a la Violencia Familiar) in Chimalhuacan. Fear of their aggressors hinders women from filling formal complaints, adding to the viciousness of the poverty cycle. Civic participation in this area runs very low and where citizens get organized they are quickly co-opted by political interests. Most churches, too, offer too little to address the deep-seated hopelessness, structural injustice and rampant needs present in many urban slums.
Unfortunately, this lack of civic participation, community organizing and social involvement of churches have made Chimalhuacan and San Vicente Chicoloapan fertile ground for structural injustice, ongoing corruption, poor urban governance, opportunism by political parties and crime. All these, in addition to personal brokenness and lack of social health, have conspired to keep many residents of Chimalhuacan and San Vicente Chicoloapan in a cycle of hopelessness and apathy[SJK2] .
Clarity in our definition of urban poverty also helped us formulate how to address the challenge of urban slums. The basic structure of our change model has four strategic focus areas that correspond to our working definitions about urban poverty.
- Focus Area 1: Communities that Transforms the City
- Focus Area 2: Relationships that Transform the City
- Focus Area 3: Systems that Transform the City
- Focus Area 4: Processes of Reproduction that Transform the City
Areas of Impact[SJK3] :
- Children/Youth: children and youth as agents of change in their communities
- Healthcare: community led health prevention and advocacy
- Faith Communities: spaces for people of all faith to seek hope in community
- Grupos Vida: helping people deal with past pain and trauma
- Community Organizing: building a community’s capacity to organize itself and foster trusting relationships that are inclusive through group reflection and action planning
- Advocacy: working on local and city wide initiatives to influence the systems that affect the urban poor
- Social enterprise: business, micro-loan and entrepreneurship training initiatives
We seek to transform urban slums by equipping the urban poor to become change agents in their own communities. This in turn will contribute to the building of healthier cities where people can live purposeful and dignified lives. We do this by living among the people we serve, sharing life, practicing hospitality, building bridges between the poor and non-poor and by engaging in a variety of strategic interventions that encompasses youth development to community organizing to public health, psico-spiritual support and more. Click here to read more.
We are working with the following strategic interventions:
- Community Organizing & Community Development
- Increasing Civic Participation & Strengthening Civil Society
- Developing Capable Servant Leaders who have Vision and Integrity
- Promoting Community & Family Health
- Sports, Recreation and Life Skills Training for Children and Youth
- Developing Youth & Children as Change Agents
- Developing Educational Initiatives and Community Arts
- Offering Psycho-Spiritual Counseling and Emotional Health Retreats
- Economic & Business Development
- Building Relational Bridges between Civil Society-Business-Government
- Doing Networking and Coalition Building
- Engaging in Public Defense and Advocacy for Better Governance
- Contributing to Urban Design Research and Research on other Pertinent Issues
- Provide consulting, coaching and technical assistance to civic organizations, agencies and churches interested in making a difference in urban slums
Our overarching goal is to develop a change model that strategically addresses the five core areas of poverty. Our desire is that this change model can be adapted, reproduced and multiplied by other civic organizations, social actors, churches etc. in Mexico City and beyond so that many more slum dwellers can experience a better life.
Measuring Transformation – The 10 Signs
Our mission is to transform urban slums. But what’s the goal of transformation and what does transformation actually look like?
We have come to adopt the term “holistic transformational development” to describe what we seek to effect in the urban poor communities in which we live and work. Defining ‘holistic transformational development’ is no easy task, since the term is value-loaded, making it difficult to express a precise meaning. Nonetheless, the following attempt seeks to approximate what we mean by the term.
We use ‘holistic’ because we see people as whole beings. Every person is inherently an economic, a political, a social and a spiritual being at one and the same time. Human poverty, it follows, is multi-dimensional and needs to be addressed in multiple ways. It’s not good enough to leave the body to the doctor, the mind to the psychologist, the soul to the church and the socioeconomic to the social scientists and politicians. In order to achieve ‘wholeness’, integrated and multidisciplinary approaches are required. Indeed, only by working towards the restoration of people, relationships AND systems will we be able to experience abundant life and overcome poverty in any sustainable manner.
We use ‘transformational’ because real change needs to occur if poverty is to be alleviated – sustainable change on a personal, relational, cultural and systemic level. People need to change, relationships need to change, cultures need to change, and systems need to change. Anything less will fall short of ‘transformation’. It’s not good enough to promote economic growth and add a few provisions for a social safety net, hoping that this will meet the demands of transformational change. Sustainable transformation will only happen when people reject the web of lies based in disempowering worldviews and cultural beliefs. It will only happen when people recover their true identity and vocation. It will only happen when relationships among the poor and between the poor and non-poor are reconciled that the poor and non-poor alike are able to experience life in its fullness – materially, physically, socially, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. It will only happen when people from different spheres of society sit together to imagine and propagate an alternative culture that is inclusive of the urban poor. It will only happen when economic, political and religious systems promote the wellbeing of all – not just a privileged few.
We use ‘development’ since we realize that ‘holistic transformation’ is a process with a goal that we will never fully attain. It’s hard work! While a marked change for the better is possible, holistic transformation never ends. There is always more before us. Since the process is as important as the end, the transformational journey is about finding and enjoying life. It is not solely about achieving goals, although these are important too. Without joy we quickly get dreary and miserable in our efforts to restore people, relationships and systems.
Also, the ‘development process’ by which we get to ‘holistic transformation’ matters. In the end, transformation is about people and their environment. If we don’t intentionally include people to participate in their own ‘transformational change process’, we effectively hinder the growth and depth of holistic transformation.
In conclusion, in Transformación Urbana Internacional we recognize that at its best, a 10 to 15 year holistic transformational development process will bring limited good to an urban slum, none of which will be sustainable in the long term, unless fundamental choices are made about redirecting the community’s story and the dominant cultural paradigms guiding it. Envisioning a better human future is hard work for both the poor and the non-poor. The act of getting the poor to believe in the possibility of a better future is a major transformational frontier. The act of getting the non-poor to participate in this venture is an even greater transformational frontier. Nonetheless, this is what ‘holistic transformational development’ is all about. It is based in changes that visibly and positively affect the circumstances of individuals, communities, systems and even cultures.
But how do we measure it? We have developed 10 signs of a transforming community to help address this question. While change will look different around the world, we have identified these ten common elements of transformation.
- Sign 1: Learning that Empowers – Improved Accessibility to Life-enhancing Education
- Sign 2: Healthy Habitat for All – Improved Environmental and Community Health
- Sign 3: Wealth Creation at the Bottom – Expanded Opportunities to Achieve Economic Sufficiency
- Sign 4: Mental Freedom – Increased Psycho-Spiritual and Emotional Health and Freedom from Destructive Patterns Sign 5: Whole Families – Increased Family Health and Well-Being
- Sign 6: Strong Civil Society – Increased Civic Participation for the Common Good
- Sign 7: Faith Communities – Increased Participation of Faith Communities in Holistic Change
- Sign 8: Deepening Reconciliation – Improved Relationships and Collaboration between the Poor and Non-Poor
- Sign 9: Systems that Work – Presence of Political, Economic, and Legal Systems that Work for the Poor
- Sign 10: Healthy Reproduction – Presence of Change Processes that are Being Scaled and Reproduced