Field updates from Beatrice Mauger, External Relations Coordinator, Equity for Children
In Villa Fiorito, in the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin of Buenos Aires, the children of School 349 are actively participating in and taking ownership of the urban planning of their neighborhood within the scope of Proyecto Secundario Liliana Maresca. In a workshop led by artist Lorena Bossi, the 16 and 17-year-olds are drawing the first maps of their shantytown, to this day not officially included in the records of the municipality of Lomas de Zamora where it is located within the Province of Buenos Aires, even naming some of the streets of this fast-growing slum.
In 2009, the Board of Education of the Province of Buenos Aires approved the project of a Visual Arts-Oriented High School, the Proyecto Secundario Liliana Maresca, and in 2010, the first classes began. The general objectives of the project are, on the one hand, to create an identity for the local community and alumni of the high school through the art the students produce; and, on the other hand, to highlight how the students’ input, whether as spectators or as producers of art, can generate questioning and creative outcomes to every day issues particularly in regards to the development of their community.
The Proyecto Secundario Liliana Maresca is one of the many local organizations working with ACuMaR, the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority, which has three main objectives, first, to monitor the cleanup process of the Riachuelo river, one of the most polluted rivers in the world; second, to improve the quality of life of the basin’s 5 million or so inhabitants; and third, to focus on preventing further contamination. Through its Comisión de Participación Social (CPS, in English, Social Participation Commission), ACuMaR organizes talks with School 349’s students to raise awareness on environmental issues and on the importance of developing environment-conscious behaviors. On a broader level, the CPS focuses on integrating into ACuMaR’s work the vision of social organizations from the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin. The CPS’ purposes are, to inform the basin’s inhabitants and social organizations of ACuMaR’s work; to incorporate the views of those affected by the contamination of the Riachuelo in the design and implementation of policies; to hear and make note of the concerns of social organizations; and to ensure follow through on the different instances and programs of the Plan Integral de Saneamiento de la Cuenca Matanza Riachuelo (PISA), a framework for the clean-up process.
Within the scope of the 2013 International Field Program (IFP), three New School students, working with ACuMaR’s CPS, are evaluating and researching the impacts of social participation in ACuMaR’s clean-up work within the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin particularly in the areas of education, health and of the production process of small businesses. Furthermore, in visiting local initiatives like the Proyecto Secundario Liliana Maresca, the students are evaluating the efficiency of ACuMaR’s communication to the local communities in regards to their work; the perception the communities have of their ability to participate in the process; and how the clean-up of the basin has affected the local communities’ sense of identity and image. In addition to this work, another group of three IFP students are assessing the impacts of a project, implemented by AySA, the public water company of Argentina, to bring water to a shantytown, Villa Albertina, and how this undertaking has improved the lives of the local communities within the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin. A separate group of students is working directly with a university, Universidad de Avellaneda, and the local municipality to evaluate the needs and challenges of an underserved community in the area, which is scheduled to be relocated due to the contaminated environment it is built on. Finally, two IFP students, interning for the local organization, Fundación X la Boca, are studying the impact of a program implemented to build a positive community identity for the children of the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin and will be making recommendations to improve its efficiency.
Together these various initiatives aim to ensure the development and integration of the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin’s villas miserias (slums) within a more formal urban framework in order for its inhabitants to gain access to basic services and, subsequently, a better quality of life. To achieve this, it is key to raise awareness, particularly among the youth who are generally more receptive and apt at adopting new behaviors, in regards to the harms a polluted environment can do to one’s health, and, as a result, to one’s economic prospects. To prevent future contamination, education on the importance of respecting the environment and adopting green behaviors is crucial. Through the initiatives and impact evaluations being conducted by the IFP students, the inhabitants of the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin can become cognizant of the improvements in terms of environment clean-up and community development accomplished within their communities thereby acquiring a stronger sense of community identity and a respect and understanding for the need to prevent polluting behaviors going forward.