The following guest post by Noll Tufani, the Haiti Country Director for Build Change, opens our minds to how we can share our experiences working in housing and informal settlement upgrading with both intellect and creativity.
As a humanitarian professional implicated in slum-upgrading projects, I’ve come to realize that slums are key revelators of the challenges facing modern cities, of the broader development challenges facing entire countries or regions, and of a universal condition that humanity has been facing through the ages.
The economic, social, political, environmental and ethical implications of our times can all be found in the slums.
I realized that slums had rubbed-off on me when I began to feel this urge to draw and paint them. At first representing the slum itself was important to me, but then I started to give-in to an even stronger urge to render the slum as relative as it is to the very slum dwellers and as inconspicuous as it is to the ruling classes. The best way to do this was to merge three concepts:
- The slums are everywhere: whatever the product one consumes, someone from a slum somewhere has had something to do with that product. And this is also true for the products we discard as trash. Whatever the location in the world, there is a slum of sorts, hidden from the mainstream, but very much intertwined with it. Whether a Brazilian favela or a squatted run-down building in the heart of Paris, ignoring the existence of slums is simply failing to fully understand the world we live in.
- Slums are not slums in the eyes of their residents: slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations and their moments of joy beyond the contingency of the slum. They are able to create this reality that renders the hardship of the slum relative and as a result, they transform the slums into welcoming and heartwarming places from which they project themselves into their dreams and life-plans.
- Slums evoke hardship and suffering: although slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations beyond the slum, they are very much aware of the daily hardship of living in the slum. From lack of comfort, to exposition to crime, disease and natural disasters, slum-dwellers wish they were living elsewhere, and non-slum-dwellers wish the slum were not there!