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ThinkRevolutionist: Build Change

Build Change Hopes to Avoid Disaster, by Planning For One
October 17, 2016

In Colombia, Build Change has been focused on building up the resilience of cities before the next disaster- a first for the organization. Preventing building collapse before a disaster has the potential for an even greater impact than post-disaster reconstruction through avoiding death, injury, and destruction in the first place.

On August 3, Build Change broke ground (if that is what you call a retrofit – more like broke walls and broke roof!) on Maria Amalia Suarez’s house in Bogotá.

The Build Change team in Bogotá, along with Founder & CEO Elizabeth Hausler Strand, met with Maria the previous week and heard her story. She has three generations, a total of seven people, living in her single story, three-room home. She lives in a part of Bogotá which used to be controlled by one of the guerrilla factions, who extorted her multiple times to “pay rent” on the land that she already owned. Eventually, they were all killed, and she was free of this harassment.

When the team went over the proposed retrofit solution with her, such as where columns were planned and which walls needed to be fixed, Maria told the engineers that the rear of her house where her kitchen and bathroom are located has no exterior walls to separate her from her neighbors. The designs were updated to include these walls.

This project has been a long time coming. Maria applied for a home improvement subsidy from Caja de la Vivienda Popular (CVP) 10 years ago, and Build Change is proud to support them both in making Maria’s house safer.

There is a lot of optimism in Colombia, but sadly Maria’s story is just one of tens of thousands of similar stories. This is Build Change’s first permitted retrofit in Bogotá, with hopes of getting 11 more permits through the process by the end of the year. These houses will serve as training opportunities for local builders and government officials, demonstrating how retrofitting can be effectively and efficiently implemented on a wider scale. This is a big step on the path to scale in the years to come.