For-life associations: That is how spokespeople of the communal councils refer to former neighbours’ associations. These organizations supposedly represented the community but provided no room for diversity. But in the end, the will of the people prevailed.
This is how Commune Antonio Jose de Sucre in the lively Petare barrio began; After a 20-year battle to have their voices heard, and the need to find answers for the communities, especially the children, a group of neighbours from the Antonio José de Sucre sector created the Tía Elena Communal Council.
Targeting the improvement of the council, the members got involved with professional subjects such as social management and children’s rights. Six of the founding members studied social management, and five went to law school.
In 2005 the group started cultural, educational, and entertainment activities especially designed for children, who, according to the commune’s spokesperson Mariela Castillo, “are the source of values, of a new life, and a new vision.”
Before the community recovered the spaces surrounding the boulevard, the place was controlled by drug dealers and other criminals who did not have anything to do with the community. As the first projects materialized, also new forms of participation took shape and by 2007, the group was registered as the Communal Council Antonio José de Sucre.
The communal council was granted BsF 2 million (US$ 400,000 approx.) by the special Plan for the Comprehensive Transformation of Habitat in 2009. The resources were used in the restoration of 120 houses, in which according to Castillo: “there were many families sharing one room for all its members. But now each one of them enjoys far better living conditions.”
One of those families is Judith Farray’s. She tells her story from her newly restored kitchen. Seventeen years ago she moved to a makeshift “house” consisting of a roof supported by a couple of planks made of zinc. But the house she shares today with other nine members of her family doesn’t look like it used to.
“I worked for a long time for the community but I never achieved anything, never got a
brick, nothing. Not for me, not for anyone. But after joining the communal council I was approached by those who coordinated the activities in the community before and I told them: Working with you for 30 years was useless, nothing was done. But now, with this government I can finally do things for my family and my community. We’ve built contention walls, stairways, markets. What haven’t we achieved?”
Her experience is ratified by Fatima Tous Arteaga, who coordinated the Commune’s Battle Room. She highlights some other works such as the dentristry centre and a computer room with top technology.
The communitarian work continued and more neighbours joined it as more actions were taken up, in response to the neighbours’ activism. When the communal council legalization process was finished in 2010 the council gave the first steps for the creation of the Commune Antonio Jose de Sucre. To do that, the council joined with other six communal councils, and the resulting commune was then comprised of 7 health committees, 6 urban lands committees, 7 housing committees, 1 tenants’ network, 7 sports committees, 1 transport committee, 1 students’ committee, 1 telecommunications committee and 1 energy committee. Each one of them has spokespeople trained by the School for the Strengthening of People’s Power.
“In 2009 we received BsF 400,000 for the purchase of a day-care house for 0-12 year-old children, a grandparents club, and a bakery. There was a surplus that was used for other projects proposed by the different communal councils. It was done after being voted by the assembly,” Mariela Castillo says.
The surplus was given different uses: house fronts were painted, social aid has been provided, and outdoor activities by the group Semilleros de la Patria were financed (a program aiming at the development of values, joined by 200 children). “There’s still a surplus of BsF 100,000 which will be used in the restoration of houses,” Castillo says.
The works have also become a source of employment as 87 men and women have received training in different areas like construction and plumbing In the INCE (National Institute of Socialist Training and Education).
Just like a family
After the heavy rains that scourged the country in the last months of 2010, the humanitarian sense and levels of organization of the developing Commune Antonio Jose de Sucre became even clearer.
Mariela Castillo says the communal council members provided assistance during the first eight days of the emergency until late at night. They took part actively in the rescue efforts, evacuation, and primary assistance to those who lost their homes.
Since then, the council takes care of the “William Lara” shelter also known as El Fortin. The council also made use of the day-care centre for children as a temporary safe shelter to the children of the area. But their best support was the human warmth and hope given to the family.
It was in this shelter where Cintia Lara gave birth to her first child right after losing the house she shared with 15 members of her family. But not everything is lost for her, as her neighbours have been helpful and attentive, like a big family.