During our research trips to the campamentos of Santiago, one of the things that most struck me was the industry of its residents. A common assumption is that those living in poverty, do so due to a lack of motivation, a lack of skill or some combination of the two. But what I saw in the campamentos was a resilience and a resourcefulness that went beyond what one might expect. Many of the residents may not have been employed, but everyone worked. For those whom formal employment was not an option, due to circumstance, health or physical conditions, entrepreneurship was key to survival.

bicycle cartsalvaged metal

The majority of adults in the campamentos left for work everyday. And if they weren’t going to a formal job in town or a construction job in a new development, they were salvaging parts or precious metals from abandoned lots, doing laundry for their neighbors, selling small crafts, collecting recyclables and used clothing, or buying fruit and vegetables to resale. They create ways to support their families, take pride in their work, and are reluctant to take handouts. For me, it was an important lesson to remember.

salvaged woodferia

In our society where one is defined by their job, and in a current economic climate where many are unemployed, it is an interesting reminder that in difficult circumstances flexibility is key. If no one gives me a job after I graduate, I won’t despair, because like the families in the campamentos, I can create my own job and live with dignity as I pay off my student loans.


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