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  Dignity for urban poor

In August 2002 GoodNewsIndia wrote about the innovative work done by two young architects in Pune and highlighted their novel approach to solving basic problems faced by the urban poor: low cost pre fabricated dwellings that could be personalized, toilets that had baby channels and ladies wings and housed gyms and creches. It all seemed almost too good to be true. But one thing could not denied: Pratima Joshi and Srinanda Sen are committed to give to the poor the dignity that is their right.

One year later Shelter Associates has travelled further along in their quest. How do they achieve the seemingly impossible? The answer is embodied in one single word: partnerships! Shelter Associates believes in working as equal partners with collectives of poor men and women. According to them empowering people is the only way to tangible results. Three simple tenets govern their approach: the power of numbers as one person can achieve little, the power of having money and the power of information.

One such collective is ‘Baandhani’ mentioned in our earlier story. The objectives are manifold: housing and infrastructure projects for the poor, community managed housing projects and the much needed settlement improvement projects, as well as formation of savings and credit groups for women.

Shelter Associates believe that when a city is planned, the poor must be a part of it.  They are convinced that planning for the poor must have the poor as the largest participant in plan design, implementation and management. All their present activities reflect this conviction.

The third partner is of course the government which has to be ‘coerced’ when necessary into participating in the different projects. ‘We normally go with the representatives of the poor to negotiate with the government for these facilities’, says Pratima. ‘At present we are negotiating with Sangli municipal corporation to take on a city wide sanitation programme based on the models that we have already built.’
The result has been quite stunning as new housing projects have been launched in various areas, displaced families have been resettled, land obtained, loans negotiated with banks, new toilet blocks constructed and drainage systems installed. Even a vermiculture programme was initiated to deal with wet waste and has resulted in less stinking garbage, fewer scavenging pigs and lots of beautiful canna plants.”

Lack of streetlights which caused a safety problem particularly for women led Shelter Associates to take up the cause of providing legal electrical connections to slum dwellers. Dattawadi, Rajendra Nagar, Ambedkar Nagar, Kamgar Putala, are all areas touched by the drive of Shelter Associates. Now they are looking beyond Pune: Khuldabad in Aurangabad district and Sangli are their new destinations.

On another front, Shelter Associates is working to rehabilitate slum residents displaced by floods in 1997. 500 homes need to be built. The project to be implemented under the VAMBAY [Valmiki Ambedkar Yojana] will see the Pune Municipal Corporation, the Maharashtra Housing Area Development Authority and Shelter Associates, working in close partnership. As usual, part of the funds will be raised by the community people who have been saving for this since 1997, and will be contributing Rs. 5000/ each. The government will bring in Rs.15 000/, but Rs.37 500/ still remain to be found to complete each house.

Shelter Associates is looking for donors who will help give a permanent shelter to these 500 homeless families.

To learn more about this click here.