Today is World Habitat Day. The first Monday of October of every year for the past 30 years has been designated as a day to raise awareness about adequate shelter and the state of our towns and cities.
It was established in 1985 by the United Nations to remind the world that we all have the power, and the responsibility, to shape the future of our cities and towns. This year’s theme is Public Spaces for all.
Every neighborhood, every town and every social space begins with housing.
Last week, I was doing some research on the families we built with in 1993 after the El Niño rains devastated large areas of Tijuana and forced hundreds of families to relocate to Valle Verde. During that time, Amor was asked by local leaders to help rebuild homes.
As families faced losing everything, they started their new lives on plots of land that lacked basic services in rural Tijuana. Here, Amor came to build alongside those in greatest need.
Twenty-two years ago we built the first homes.
Valle Verde camp circa 1993. People displaced after the El Niño rains were relocated to Valle Verde, East of Tijuana.
As I sought out a family who could tell me about the impact Amor had on their lives, I found a community center. There I met three women cleaning after feeding the community. They were among the first families in Valle Verde. Two of them received an Amor home and still live in them.
Norma Berumen Simental, Director of the Center and community leader, told me about those first days.
Norma Berumen Simental, one of the founders of Valle Verde, remembers the first time Amor came to Valle Verde.
“They brought displaced people from different neighborhoods in Tijuana, rich and poor, who had lost everything. We had to learn to be a community together. But those first months were difficult. Most people who secured a plot of land didn’t have money to build a decent home. Then, the pastors began knocking on our doors and Amor came to build those first homes.”
“Seeing those first homes changed our perception."
Although Norma was not one of the beneficiaries of an Amor home (because she and her husband were not among the people with the greatest need), she said that seeing the homes Amor was building for her neighbors made her believe that things would improve and saw the potential for this newly created community.
Eventually, she and other women joined forces to request services for the people in Valle Verde. The government paved roads, brought the infrastructure to bring electricity, water and schools. Norma said their neighbors didn’t mind paying extra every month for those services because they knew that their homes were permanent dwellings.
“Today we have this Community Center where we feed people of the community. We also provide classes and crafts so people can start their home businesses, and it’s also a place where we connect and serve each other. Tomorrow, for example, like every first Tuesday of the month, we will gather here with our seniors group. They are among the founders of Valle Verde and will have many stories of how we came to be. But everything, like I said, started with the first homes."
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