In April 2019, I flew to Asunciόn, Paraguay in South America to join my colleagues from Habitat for Humanity Paraguay, Habitat for Humanity Brazil, Habitat for Humanity Argentina and the Habitat for Humanity International Latin America and Caribbean area office. The goal of the trip was to participate in the XVIII Inter-American Development Bank’s Civil Society Annual Meeting, one of our important partners based in Washington DC. This meeting aligned well with our primary purpose for the visit: conducting our first regional policy and advocacy workshop with the Paraguay team. Through this workshop we learned much from our Argentina and Brazil colleagues on how the Solid Ground campaign and our advocacy work is being implemented in their countries. Additionally, I saw first-hand the work we are doing in a number of neighborhoods and heard from our Paraguay colleagues and partners about the challenges and progress they are making in communities.

During the first part of the week, we participated in the civil society annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank themed “Future of Work.” Aiming to advance the region’s sustainable development agenda, global and regional experts, the private sector, government authorities and civil society—from over 26 countries—joined this event.

During the event, we discussed regional trends and impacts of demographic and technological changes. Together, Habitat for Humanity colleagues developed a new regional strategy for housing in cities through people-centered development.

We had the opportunity to share the innovations of our network with others attending the civil society meeting invested in sustainable development. Habitat for Humanity colleagues presented on the innovation to turn abandoned buildings into affordable social housing, based on the models developed by Habitat for Humanity in the cities of Recife, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

A highlight of the visit was to witness the incredible work of Habitat Paraguay and their partners in the local communities where they work. Habitat Paraguay—in partnership with the national government, civil society organizations and community members—has worked with 1,000 families to transition from informal to permanent and safe housing.

While there, we visited with families in one of Habitat Paraguay’s projects in the San Francisco neighborhood in Asunciόn, which is a neighborhood resettlement project. We visited the school and some of the housing units to speak with residents and learn about the progress made after resettling from hazardous locations. We learned and witnessed how many homes in the city are underwater and how families are regularly displaced by the annual flooding of the Paraguay River. These families live under the fear of displacement and experience temporary displacement to the sides of city’s streets until the flooding ceases. Families relocated to San Francisco are much safer and children are thriving in their newly built school.

A highlight of the field visit was a community meeting with the Paraguay Housing Minister, Mayor and partners, where community members voiced their concerns and fears around the most recent flooding. Through participatory processes, Habitat Paraguay has worked with these families to secure land rights away from flood plains. With secure tenure, families have greater access to schools, health services, safe water and sanitation, public spaces and livelihood opportunities.

This work would not have been possible without strong partnerships and cooperation between the local and national levels. The entire Habitat for Humanity network can learn from Habitat Paraguay’s experience.

Habitat for Humanity is present in nearly 70 countries with a network that includes not only Habitat national organizations, but partners across civil society, grassroots community groups, academic, private and public sectors. One of the many advantages of our vast network is the opportunity to learn from each other and share experiences of overcoming common challenges through innovation. 

The week spent in Paraguay offered an incredible opportunity to learn and strategize together in order to realize the full benefit of this extensive network.

During the second part of the week, our Latin America and the Caribbean Advocacy Manager, Maria Luisa Zanelli, and I led a workshop with Habitat Paraguay, Habitat Argentina and Habitat Brazil where we exchanged learnings, advised each other on advocacy challenges and coordinated efforts and outcomes across the region.

This time of sharing was impactful. Habitat Paraguay is now working to employ a similar advocacy strategy as Habitat Brazil and Habitat Argentina around transforming abandoned buildings into social housing in the Historical Center of Asuncion, working with the Ministry of Urban Planning, Housing and Habitat. The three organizations connected their local work to global sustainable development frameworks and advocacy work happening in other regions across the globe. After the workshop, colleagues returned home, taking their learnings back to the local level.

This exchange, from local to global, then back to local, is paramount to the success of sustainable development practices.

My position within Habitat for Humanity International is to connect our network and partners together so that we can learn from one another, hold each other accountable and not duplicate efforts but rather support a common goal. My trip to Paraguay perfectly exemplifies what we can accomplish through the power of partnerships across sectors, cities, countries, regions and the globe.