Helping Poor Communities Have a Say in Their Own Development
The New Idea
To provide technical and legal assistance to poor communities which will (1) educate them about the potential effects upon their lives of development projects and (2) help them secure basic necessities such as housing, sanitation systems, etc. for themselves without depending upon limited, often flawed, government programs
Development projects approved or supervised by the Brazilian government often have negative consequences for poor communities. For example, dam-building projects can result in the displacement of thousands or the destruction of fishing-based economies; urban development schemes are frequently poorly managed and do not include consultations with the communities that will be affected by the development. These communities are unable to voice their dissent or to propose alternative development plans because their inhabitants often lack the education necessary to understand the potential effects of development projects upon their lives. In addition to being handicapped in their dealings with the government, poor communities lack the technical resources and know-how necessary to plan and develop effective sanitation, waste removal systems, and infrastructure improvements. Geraldo Marinho is educating urban slum dwellers and other disadvantaged groups about the consequences of development projects for their communities and helping them to develop concrete, positive alternatives to these harmful projects. He is also helping them obtain assistance from trained experts in structuring community sanitation and infrastructure development programs.
In 1985 Geraldo and two friends founded ARRUAR (Assessoria de Ubanizacao Popular), an organization composed of trained professionals devoted to providing architectural and legal services to people in poor communities. ARRUAR's mission is (1) to help urban slum dwellers understand development and other projects affecting their communities, (2) to assist these communities in the development of concrete, positive alternatives, (3) to provide whatever follow-up assistance is necessary to bring about successful execution and completion of the proposed alternative. ARRUAR consists of a team of eight, including three architects, two engineers, and a lawyer. ARRUAR also advises communities on raising funds for housing improvements and construction and helps plan these construction projects. In addition, ARRUAR assists communities in the planning of sanitary systems, street improvements, and other community infrastructure projects. Geraldo's organization has developed video and slide presentations to help explain development and urbanization work to poor communities. It also provides legal assistance to help communities obtain legal documentation for rights of usage of the land they occupy; this documentation provides the communities with a degree of protection from displacement resulting from development schemes. Geraldo's strategy for ARRUAR's future is to encourage the formation of other similar small, local groups and to establish ARRUAR as a clearinghouse for an association of these groups. He also envisions the organization taking on a role similar to that of groups involved in the environmental mediation field in the United States; these groups function as intermediaries between firms carrying out development projects and the communities affected by these projects.
Geraldo is a twenty-eight year old architect who graduated from the Federal University of Pernambuco. He left a government job in 1985 to found ARRUAR and devote himself to serving Brazil's poor communities.