A two-bedroom concrete house costing $400, which can be put up on one day, offers the key to a more human life for thousands of low-income families in Colombia, according to J. Harry Haines, director of the United Methodist Committee of Relief.
But Haines emphasized that the development project, known as Servivienda (House Service) also offrs a comprehensive program of social, economic and spiritual training. "It's efforts at consciouness-raising may be as important as its houses," he said.
"I've seen nothing comparable," said the Methodist official, who has visited development projects in 60 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Haines recently was elected chairman of Church World Service, the relief and development agency of the National Council of Churches.
Just returned from a four-nation tour of South America, Haines spoke enthusiastically of his visit with the Rev. Alberto Jiminez, the Jesuit priest who has directed Servivienda for the past five years. Jiminez reported that 3,800 poor families now live in permanent, concrete-sheet, tubular steel homes instead of their cormer cardboard, tin and mud shanties.
A Servivienda one-room house costs $300, and a three-bedroom house $700. The homes are financed through long-term, low-interest loans carried through their program.
Servivienda has seven factories in Colombia producing 22 prefabricated houses a day for slum dwellers. All parts are delivered on a flat-bed truck and can be assembled in one day.
After visiting two of the poorest barrios in Bogota, Haines observed that the Servivienda homes "stood out from the shanties around them as evidence of hope and caring for the quality of life." He noted that the cost was half that of thousands of houses constructed in Guatemala by Church World Service for victims of the 1976 earthquake there.
Haines also singled out the creative work of Diakonia, a Chilean agricultural and fisheries projects, sponsored by the Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Greek Orthodox churches.
He praised an ecumenical project he visited in Peru, directed by veteran Methodist educator Carlos Carrasco, which offers development aid principally for Quechua and Aymara campesinos in the Peruvian highlands.
In Brazil, Haines and his Methodist colleagues interviewed Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife and Olinda, who told the Methodist churchme that development projects should aim at training people to be aware of their own capabilities. "Our people must know what it is to be truly human," the archbishop said.
Archbishop Camara said that "if the Latin American church, including the Protestant church, wants to be the voice of the voiceless, it will have to go through an authentic experience with the poor and oppressed. Otherwise, its words will be mere rhetoric."
Haines reported "little evidence of majority activity by the Protestant churches in tacking Brazil's devastating social problems."
Despite the few bright sports, Haines wound up his tour pessimistic about the future of most Latin American countries. He praised the Catholic Church's commitment to the poor made by the Latin American Bishops Conference in Medellin, Colombia, in 1968. but, he said, "I despair of the church's ability to respond commensurate with the need. We have to do more. The needs have never been greater."