School, the heart of urban areas

Solidaridad is an area in the suburbs of Salta, Argentina. Solidaridad could be a marginal area like any other in Latin America: substandard housing, earth streets, no natural gas, lack of minimal services, high rate of temporary employment and unemployment, parents and tutors with low education and violence and drug traffic. An area situated in a huge garbage area which affects the lives of the more than 18.000 inhabitants. 

Solidaridad´s community is determined to change its reality. A community articulated in a network of institutions coordinated to improve the lives of the inhabitants. The Fe y Alegría school, supported by Entreculturas, is a key player in this network. The school was set up with the aid of community parents who helped to built it. Before, children attended lessons in houses or under the few existing trees. 

Since its beginning, the school opened its doors to the area's institutions that today make up a great network working in coordination. At present, it opens its doors to the Citizenship School "Macacha Güemes" that works to promote an active citizenship through local agents. Its info technology classrooms, the popular library and the nursery are open to community members and school facilities are also open to institutions working against urban violence, for meetings and activities. 

The Fe y Alegria School has made great efforts in making the area more hospitable. It improves the streets and recovers degraded areas. Students have participated in forest barriers and have developed seeding areas to improve surroundings. 

School teachers are also engaged in the area's development. A permanent contact with the student's families allows them to adapt the school curriculum to its surroundings. They carry out activities for the children and youth of the area. As an example the great mural representing the area's activities in which all the children and youth attending school or not, participated. 

The joint activity of organizations has achieved that the institutions are starting to focus in Solidaridad and electricity is being installed. 

The Fe y Alegría School does no desist in its goal to change the area, starting activities that slowly raise the hopes of its inhabitants to live in dignified conditions, as every human being deserves. In the words of Hector Morales, director of the school "We want the people to make their achievements, concerns and wishes their own. The community believes in the network groups and this leads us to think in the success of channelling the initiatives."



Settlement effect, the school as a tool for change in urban areas 

A healthy habitat favours the student's physical, psychological and emotional development. This is why Entreculturas regards necessarily, the school as the key tool of change of the community. The arrival of the school is the sprout of the area, influencing its physical environment as well as its social articulation.

When the schools of the popular Education Movement Fe y Alegría, Entreculturas´ main partner in Latin America, are set up in highly marginal areas, they become a reference model in regard to the habitat. The setting up of a school usually goes together with a sewage system for the community. Likewise, a school promotes building models that improve health conditions ( e.g. latrines ) and the setting up of social service buildings for community use. 

On the other hand, references of gender equity, non violent attitudes, participation and a sustainable development are strengthened at school and influence community values.

Our schools not only have a direct impact on the physical habitat, they also influence social articulation. To assume the political capacity of the school is precisely to address the growing inequalities and the social cohesion crises, both inside and out of the school, in the community. This is possible thanks to the legitimacy the community gives to the school because of the school's engagement with its surroundings. This is why pour schools try to set up networks and be part of them, with other community social actors. These networks are a very valuable tool to revalue and capitalize local work. 


Poverty moves to towns 

This influence of the school in the habitat of its surroundings is becoming most important given the process of "poverty urbanisation". 

At present, 3.3 billion people live in urban centres across the globe. By 2030 this number is predicted to reach five billion, with 95 percent of this growth in developing countries. Over the next three decades, Asia's urban population will double from 1.36 billion to 2.64 billion, Africa's city dwellers will more than double from 294 million to 742 million, while Latin America and the Caribbean will see a slower rise from about 400 million to 600 million, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

All this growth is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is so if made without planning. The problems faced by the inhabitants of marginal areas go from the lack of basic services ( access to drinking water, with the diffusion of epidemics, access to education, health services...) malnutrition, lack of infrastructures and absence of organizations to promote a strong social net key in the development of violent areas. The cause of violence should be looked for, not so much in poverty, but in unequal situations. 

In addition to the above one has to add the vulnerability of the areas of the marginal settlements: mountain cliffs with danger of landslides, flood plains etc. This requires whole solutions, since the city is the result of many elements that influence the urban dynamic. 


For more information:

Tomorrow's Crises Today: The Humanitarian Impact of Urbanisation.  UN Population Fund Report for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the International Habitat Day. 

 Segunda Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre los Asentamientos Humanos
(Hábitat II)
. Estambul, Turquía june 1996