HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 1975, ANZORENA embarked upon his own study of the housing crisis in Asia, locating community organizers in the region’s poorest neighborhoods and studying NGOs and people’s organizations that worked in the slums. Thus,
  • ANZORENA began his annual pilgrimage to the cities of Asia, in search of innovative answers to the perennial problems of slum life, to share with other housing advocates, and to steer needed financial assistance toward promising experiments.
  • ANZORENA launched in 1976 a bi-annual newsletter in which he published the fruits of his travels and studies which became a venue for housing activists from different Asian cities to share their ideas, programs and experiences with each other.
    In 1988, members of ANZORENA’s network joined formally to create the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, which mounts coordinated responses to mass evictions and works to define and achieve housing rights for Asia’s poor.
  • Although the strategies shared by ANZORENA’s far-flung associates are varied, they possess common premises that reflect his own beliefs: respect for the poor; technical assistance and funding; and, people’s organization.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his fostering a collaborative search for humane and practical solutions to the housing crisis among Asia’s urban poor.”

 CITATION

A decent home, everywhere, is a hallmark of human dignity. Yet in the cities of Asia today, how many millions of people lack a decent home? How many find shelter beneath bridges and overpasses, beside the rails, or perched in trashwood shanties above the drainage canals? How many subsist without legal title in ubiquitous slums lacking even the simplest amenities? We do not know exactly. In some Asian cities, squatters and slum dwellers account for more than half the inhabitants. And the number is growing as newcomers arrive daily from the countryside, overtaking completely the efforts of government to either assist or contain them. To the better-off classes, these mushrooming cities of the poor are a blight and an impediment to new business parks, condominiums, and shopping malls. Eviction is the common solution. For nearly twenty years, EDUARDO JORGE ANZORENA has devoted himself to this wrenching human dilemma.

Argentinean by birth, ANZORENA entered the Society of Jesus as a young man and joined its mission in Japan. While completing his studies in theology there, he also earned a doctorate in architecture from Tokyo University, rendering his dissertation in Japanese. As he began his teaching career at Sophia University, ANZORENA also sought exposure to life beyond the confines of his privileged university and of prosperous Japan. With Mother Teresa in Calcutta and among relocated squatters in the Philippines, he confronted first-hand the common life of Asia’s urban poor and their desperate need for secure and decent shelter. He wondered what could be done?

For ideas, ANZORENA met in 1975 with groups working to improve housing in the slums of Latin America. He then embarked upon his own study of the housing crisis in Asia, locating community organizers in the region’s poorest neighborhoods and studying NGOs and people’s organizations that worked. Thus ANZORENA began his annual pilgrimage to the cities of Asia— to search for innovative answers to the perennial problems of slum life, to share his discoveries with other housing activists, and to steer needed financial assistance toward promising experiments.

In 1976 ANZORENA launched a bi-annual newsletter in which he published the fruits of his wanderings. Here housing advocates in, say, Dhaka, could read about approaches being tried in Bombay, Manila, or Mexico City, to organize communities and reduce the cost of housing, to bring new economic opportunities to the poor, and to arrange professional assistance and links to government programs. In 1988 members of ANZORENA’s network joined formally to create the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, which mounts coordinated responses to mass evictions and works to define and achieve housing rights for Asia’s poor.

Although the strategies shared by ANZORENA’s far-flung associates are varied, they possess common premises that reflect his own beliefs. Respect for the poor is the first of these. A second is that technical assistance and funding are not enough; to change communities in the long run, the people must organize to help themselves.

ANZORENA, it is said, “teaches in Japanese, prays in Spanish, and writes in English.” These days he devotes half of each year to his travels in Asia. His network continually grows. His role within it, he says, is to merely “support and encourage.” But others think of him as a catalyst and mentor: “He asks questions and makes us think. When he leaves, we always have something to do.”

In electing EDUARDO JORGE ANZORENA to receive the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the board of trustees recognizes his fostering a collaborative search for humane and practical solutions to the housing crisis among Asia’s urban poor.

 RESPONSE

I want to thank very much the trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for bestowing upon me the honor of this award for international understanding.

Many former Magsaysay awardees have taught me how the poor can improve their own situation and habitat with their own energies: Dr. Akhter Hameed Khan, Dr. Mohammed Yunus, Fr. Richard Timm, Duang Prateep, and the Bogum Jahru team from Korea.

I want to thank my Philippine friends because they called me to this work and guided me from the beginning to now. They are the organizations Freedom to Build, Marian, COPE, CHHED, Pagtambayayong, UPA, FDUP, and the Human Development Office of the Jesuits; and so many other individuals and people’s organizations.

Thanks to the friends from the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, representing all the countries of Asia.

I need to thank especially the urban poor with whom I have related and collaborated during these years. But to tell you the truth, when I was called to this podium to receive the prize, I had a very strong feeling that I was not the real recipient of this award. The only thing I did was to try to understand the heroic struggle of millions of human beings who, for survival, left the countryside and are enduring the inhuman conditions of urban slums. Of course, I will transfer the whole amount of the prize to them, but still that is not enough. I feel that they are telling me:

Jorge, it is okay. Go ahead. You can receive the prize for international understanding for us and for our children. We are unnecessarily sick and we are dying before our time because our water is not clean. We do not have toilets and medicines. We do not have permanent jobs. Yet we are also citizens. With respect to our habitat, please ask society to stop the people who aggravate our situation by throwing our women and children to the streets. Please do not evict us without giving us a decent alternative. More than a hundred thousand of our families are evicted every year in Asia.

Ask society to please support our efforts to improve our environment. Hundreds of thousands of us are involved in innovative approaches to do this. If there are problems, please collaborate in improving communication between us and those inpower. And in your good efforts to improve our lot, please be consistent from one government administration to the next. When you do that, and implement programs for several years, things begin to change.

The urban poor are asking just a little comprehension, respect, and support. The Magsaysay Foundation obviously understands this, which is not surprising since it is inspired by the example of Ramon Magsaysay. He commanded respect because he was a simple, humble man who cared for all people as individuals, including the poor, because he believed in their dignity and importance.

 BIOGRAPHY

It was about three hundred years ago that Eduardo Jorge Anzorena’s first American ancestor journeyed from the Basque lands of Spain to Argentina. From Buenos Aires, he traveled inland, crossing the vast western plains of the country and exploring Chile and Peru before returning to Argentina. He settled in Mendoza, a Spanish outpost nestled in the eastern foothills of the Andes Mountains and the capital of a vast frontier province rich with grainfields, orchards, and vineyards. The Anzorena clan prospered there and became part of the local Spanish elite. Some members of the family joined General Jose de San Martin in the revolutionary upheavals that led to the liberation of Chile and Peru in the early nineteenth century. Later, an Anzorena patriarch, indeed Eduardo Jorge’s grandfather, served twice as Mendoza’s provincial governor. By this time, the family owned great tracts of land and monopolized the carriage trade between rural Mendoza and Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires, some one thousand kilometers away.

Anzorena’s father, Rafael, was only thirteen when his own father died. Upon completing high school just a few years later, Rafael left Argentina to study in Europe, where an interest in textile production led him to Italy and Belgium. While studying in Belgium, he met a young German woman named Maria Vecqueray. Maria was one of sixteen children of a hotel magnate whose establishments spanned Belgium, Holland, and Germany. She was just twenty years old when she married Rafael, the same age as he. French was their common language.

Soon after their marriage, Maria returned with Rafael to Argentina and Mendoza, where their first child was born. For Rafael, Mendoza offered security and opportunity; his family had social position and political influence there. But Maria languished in the hinterland and felt like a foreigner amid the tightly knit Spanish society of the province-all the more so because Rafael’s own family seems to have snubbed her. She longed for the more cosmopolitan life of Buenos Aires and begged her husband to move there. By the time their second child was born, just two years later, they had shifted to the capital. This, at least, is how Anzorena understands his parents’ momentous decision to abandon Mendoza for Buenos Aires and, consequently, the family’s presence there some seventeen years later when, he says, “by accident, I was born.” His father, an Anglophile, named him Eduardo Jorge after the English princes who eventually reigned as Edward VIII and George VI. Jorge is the name that stuck.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)