With 25 million people, Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world with just less than half of its population living in poverty. Transformación Urbana Internacional is currently focusing on the eastern metropolitan fringe that includes Chimalhuacan and San Vicente Chicoloapan, low-income communities on the outskirts of Mexico City which together boast close to 1.5 million residents. According to INEGI (National Institute for Statistics and Geography) Chimalhuacan is the poorest municipality in the Mexico City metropolitan area.

Roughly half of them are slum dwellers who live in substandard housing, over 80% of them employed in the informal sector and often without secure land tenure and in desperate economic conditions. As such, this area is considered among the largest slums of Latin America. Over half of the families are disintegrated due to migration patterns and domestic violence. About 70% of women suffer from psychological, economic and social violence, whereas five of 10 women experience physical domestic abuse, according to CEAVIF (Centro de Atención a la Violencia Familiar) in Chimalhuacan. Fear of their aggressors hinders women from filling formal complaints, adding to the viciousness of the poverty cycle. Civic participation in this area runs very low and where citizens get organized they are quickly co-opted by political interests. Most churches, too, offer too little to address the deep-seated hopelessness, structural injustice and rampant needs present in many urban slums.

Unfortunately, this lack of civic participation, community organizing and social involvement of churches have made Chimalhuacan and San Vicente Chicoloapan fertile ground for structural injustice, ongoing corruption, poor urban governance, opportunism by political parties and crime. All these, in addition to personal brokenness and lack of social health, have conspired to keep many residents of Chimalhuacan and San Vicente Chicoloapan in a cycle of hopelessness and apathy.

The need and opportunities to strengthen civil society by starting community-based initiatives that transform peoples’ lives and communities is great. So is the need and opportunity to equip local leaders to be agents of change in their own communities independent of political party structures. Finally, building broad-based citizen coalitions that promote change on a systemic level and build bridges between decision makers and the urban poor is crucial to see sustainable change.

 

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