Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 3, 2003
This gentle heart builds ant houses
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
By April 2002, Argentina was deep into its worst economic and social crisis; every major newspaper in the world talked about it. How did it come to this? A country of plenty, of culture and of peaceful people.
But photos told the unthinkable - riots in the streets of Buenos Aires, grocery stores ransacked and middle-class families marching in protest every week; the destitute rummaging the garbage, while children died of malnourishment in the north and hospital supplies ran out. And churches filled with worshippers in prayer at any hour.
One day, Raúl Pastor was driving his car in Santa Rosa, the capital of La Pampa province, wondering what to do with his life. An architect in his late 30s, he had lost his job a year earlier. No matter how desperately Raúl searched, the jobs had simply vanished and his anguish mounted.
Lost jobThere were millions like him - professionals in disbelief, their future shattered. And Raúl wondered if he should look for a new life in another country as many others were already doing. It was autumn, and the breeze in the vast plains of La Pampa blew colder than usual.
Raúl rolled up the window and turned the radio on. An interview captured his attention: Pedro Veras, his wife and two children, ages seven and 11, were living in a tent in Villa Germinal, one of the province's poorest villages. Pedro had lost his job, couldn't pay the rent and they had been evicted. Raúl asked himself, "How can I help them?" The only way he knew was as an architect. "I'll help them to build a house."
The building beginsRaúl Pastor contacted the radio station, met with the family and collected a few pieces of construction material. Next, he organized a campaign, asking several companies to donate windows, pipes, cement, wood and other badly needed elements - some even gave food. Bricks were donated by the La Pampa government.
He also obtained guaranteed possession of the land for Pedro Veras and his family for a number of years. Before the work started, Raúl requested a formal authorization from the architects' association to work pro-bono.
But that was just the beginning: as soon as Pedro's house was completed - in the same place where the tent had been - 15 other homeless families asked to join the project. Raúl assessed the needs, assigned tasks, taught them carpentry and bricklaying, and did the paperwork to obtain the land. So far, 19 families have homes.
The antsThe project needed a name, and he called it Las Hormigas (the ants.) "Those little creatures are very industrious. Each one fulfills its duty, and together are well organized," explains Raúl. "And this is what we do here, little by little. We get the job done." He gets tremendous strength from the dedication and hope of these people who have lost everything.
But the resources are limited and the need overwhelming. The young architect still needs a truck to transport construction material, a workbench, cement and a mold to make cement blocks. The houses are modest, "but the people have a roof over their heads now," says Raúl.
But what about his life?
He doesn't have much time to plan for his future in another country. He says, "I had better opportunities in my life. I have an education; I still have my options. These families have none."
Uncertainty for himMeanwhile, Raúl does odd jobs for a few pesos, mostly house painting and small home repairs. He taught himself web design and built a website. Recently, he received an honour from the national architects' association for his humanitarian efforts with Las Hormigas.
I guess there isn't much left to say, except that Raúl Pastor and Las Hormigas are a good example that even in the midst of despair there's always something we can do to make a difference.
I can only add those words from Scripture that come to mind: "I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you" (Acts 3:6). (For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, The Many Faces of Poverty, write: The Christophers, 12 E. 48th St., New York, NY 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
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