Father Jorge Anzorena visits South Africa

Father Jorge Anzorena (82) is an Argentinian by birth and entered the Jesuit (Society of Jesus) order in his early thirties when he was ordained as a priest. He completed a PhD in Architecture from the University of Tokyo and has received numerous accolades such as the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding in 1994. Prior to his retirement around several years ago, Fr. Jorge taught at Sofia University in Tokyo six months of every year. The remaining six months he literally traveled around the world visiting low-income housing activities and building coalitions and networks of the urban poor.

When receiving the Ramon Magsaysay award, it was said of Father Jorge,

Given Anzorena’s nonstop networking over the years, it was probably inevitable that his many friends would also become friends with each other. Among the consequences of this networking, in 1988, was the creation of the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR). Founded in Thailand by several of Anzorena’s longtime associates in the world of housing, its goals reflect the interests and commitments he shares with them. In the words of its founding declaration, these are: “to articulate and promote the conception of people’s laws and rights to housing; to put an end to evictions and displacements of people; and to define and achieve the housing rights of all.”

The coalition now links nearly a thousand like-minded organizations and individuals throughout Asia. Anzorena’s newsletter and annual pilgrimages constitute essential ties that bind the members together. Characteristically, however, Anzorena says the credit for ACHR should not be accorded to him. “They are just friends of mine,” he says. And it is true that the coalition has developed a life of its own. But Anzorena’s philosophy guides its efforts. Among ACHR’s fundamental principles, for example, indeed its operating credo, is that the contribution of the people themselves is essential both to identifying the true needs of the poor as well as to developing strategies to meet those needs. This is Anzorena to the core.

Father Jorge visits the South African alliance associated with SDI once a year. This is really a time of reflection and recasting ideas and visions of ways and means of building networks of the urban and rural poor.

On the 8th October, Father Jorge Anzorena made a presentation to the CORC Cape Town office on the three groups in Thailand and their experiences in building institutions for collaborative planning. He speaks about some of the initial champions of the community based groups and support organisations, the political and civic culture, evictions and responses from organised communities, savings and social capital, and other critical aspects according to his grassroots observations.

Below follows a transcript of his introduction, with the full sound-clip available for online steaming.

Today I will speak about three groups that have a lot of things in common and want to see change and help the people to develop.

The one group is the organisation of the slum dwellers in Thailand. They have been trying to improve the situation and to have permanent things … Then there was also CODI (Community Organisation Development Institute), which you know of, which had many creative people and this was needed because people in government could not be very creative because they had so many rules. The other day when we were talking we said that we also have constraints, but it is the rules themselves. Seven to eight people were very creative in organising people in different activities, not only as recipients, but as actors in their development. The basic things are very much centred in the people, and are very flexible. The main mission is that it belonged to the urban poor, and later the rural poor too because they were so efficient. This is something that is very unique and creative because this institute is so flexible in the laws that activate the people.

So there are these three groups. One is government, and the two activities outlined above. They have some common approach. The basic things are that the poor has the energy to solve their problems. This means that it is not the government or the NGO, but basically the people need to solve their own problems. But they need some help in organising and then to solve the problem. The people should be the main actor in their activities. Even though the government is very flexible but there are things that they can not do. This is where these two groups come in. Firstly, the formations of slums and the coordination centre. It is a community-driven thing. In the 1990s the government was a military dictatorship, and the NGOs could not operate.

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