Dissertation that analyzes and endeavors to improve the project Hogar Digno de Guaraciaba do Norte

Angel Calvo defended his dissertation on September 10th, after visiting the Brazilian town and seeking more efficient and effective ways in the construction and delivery of future homes for the beneficiaries of this project that combines decent housing, health prevention and empowerment of landless farmers.
News | 2019 Oct 08

Angel Calvo, a student at the Higher Technical School of Agronomic, Food and Biosystems Engineeringat the Polytechnic University of Madrid, defended his Fin de Grado Project (TFG) or Dissertation on September 10th, which he voluntarily wanted to dedicate to the analysis and proposals to improve a social project of the Augustinian Recollects.

It was another collaboration within the collaborate agreement that has existed for ten years between the Solidarity and Educational Engineering Network (RISE), ONGd of the Area of the Polytechnic University of Madrid, and the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino of the Order of Augustinians Recollects. These collaborations have already taken teachers, students and volunteers to various projects in Sierra Leone,Brazil and Costa Rica.

Angel and his teachers and tutors took on the challenge to analyze and improve the project Hogar Digno.  It is a social project that has been carried out for 18 years in Guaraciaba do Norte, in the northeast of Brazil.

Home, health, social empowerment

The goal of Hogar Digno is to provide decent housing to disadvantaged families and landless farmers working for large landowners, but the project goes beyond the house itself, as it has health and social empowerment implications.

As for health, the traditional housing for these families is made of mud and straw, which is the ideal ecosystem for the proliferation of the Vinchuca or Kissing Bug.  Insect that is a carrier and transmitter of The Evil of Chagas, a disease that in the region has a high incidence and prevalence in comparison to any other region in the world.          

In addition, these houses do not usually have rooms or indoor plumbing.  Families often use fire over a few stones for cooking. The houses are usually surrounded by sewage and debris and filled with the smoke and soot which together seriously harms the health of the inhabitants.

Regarding social empowerment, mud and straw infrastructures, in addition to jeopardizing people's physical health, seriously harms the economic wellbeing of the families. The reason is that the dwellings are usually owned by the employers.  In addition to not maintaining the property properly, they impose rents at absurd prices that are forced upon the workers or they will be forced to live many miles away from their work.

The new houses free them from this yoke and allow them to live less dependent on their employers. In addition, it does not predestine them to spend a high percentage of their income to inhabit substandard housing and gives them a dignified dwelling.

Improving project efficiency and efficacy

Since 2001 the Hogar Digno project has given the land and all the material for the construction of 660 brick houses of 54 m2. The recipient families collaborated in the construction of their homes.

After so many years of experience, it was an auspicious time to evaluate the project, know its weaknessesand improve them, as well as strengthen its most positive points. Thus, after almost 20 years, it is known that 60% of the houses were reasonably finished and continue to be used by the beneficiary families.

The other 40% have seen difficulties or dysfunctions: some were not finished, to varying degrees, although they are still used; and in 15% of cases there were speculative investments.   A few families sold the right to inhabit the brick houses for immediate profit and returned to their former homes.

Once Angel Calvo wanted to commit to this project, together with Professor Jesús Vázquez, he made a trip to Guaraciaba to collect data of all kinds and thus elaborate his project. From this trip reported AgustinosRecoletos.org:

The project that Angel has just presented proposes the building of larger houses (77 m2) to accommodate families of between four to six children, the most common demographic in the area.  Improvements in theinfrastructure with respect to the initial project: larger cornices, perimeter sidewalks, more rational distribution of rooms that includes indoor plumbing, tiled floors, carpentry and painting.

In addition, it is advisable to look for other forms of participation of the recipients, including economic, but always ensuring that the two problems detected are avoided: the lack of completion of the homes or the sale or transfer for speculative purposes.

Thus, it proposes various legal solutions that allow the enjoyment of the house and access to the property with the participation of a Local Management Committee that will have jurisdiction of habitability, coexistence, civic partnerships, local empowerment and social support to all families.

The project, which was led by Professors Jesús Vázquez and Jordi Massana, featured in its final presentation a panel of Professors Augusto Arce (Professor of Agricultural Chemistry), Ignacio del Río(Professor of Projects) and Ignacio Cañas (Professor of Construction).

Philosophy "win/win"

This form of collaboration has brought advantages for all participants: student, teachers, tutors, RISE, Polytechnic University, Augustinians Recollects, and the Hogar Digno project. Thus, the direct participantshave done so with great enthusiasm and trying to consider the social aspects of the project, not only the technical, but imprinting into their work human values and solidarity that beautify and magnify it.

Examiners have highlighted the time spent in evaluating the project and their desire to provide some improvements. Which will bring interest when preparing applications for funding and in the implementationof the project itself.

In the case of beneficiaries, all participants in the process have always been clear that the work is done to solve their problems and in order to be carried out, that it does not stay as theory or as an academic activity.

Finally, there is an mutual knowledge that brings together positions and that, in the face of ignorance or even pre disposed prejudices, collaboration translates into a spontaneous and sincere recognition of all parties, as well as social projects carried out within the framework of evangelization and the mission of a Catholic religious order.

As an anecdote, the same day six professors from the Polytechnic University of Madrid coordinated to hear two dissertations related to social projects was the same day that the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino of the Augustinians Recollects, an entity promoting both projects, celebrated its patron saint: September 10.

The Social Apostolate Commission of this religious province, now responsible for seeking appropriate funding in collaboration with other NGOs and agencies, as well as ensuring its proper implementation, was present at both panels, as a token of appreciation, to accompany and support the students and also to thank the entire educational community of the University Polytechnic of Madrid for its’ solidarity.

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