Promoting change through community partnerships: The ARISE project

By Bintu Mansaray

Being a part of this project gives me valuable insights to a whole new world. A world of those living on the fringes of our society, so easily ignored or when thought of, pitied for not being able to rise above their circumstances. It has made me realise in this short time that these residents are just like us, trying to survive in this world with as much dignity they can.

ARISE (Accountability and Responsiveness in Informal Settlements for Equity) is a research consortium focused on identifying and highlighting the issues affecting health and wellbeing of the residents in urban informal settlements, commonly known as slum dwellers. According to UN-Habitat informal settlements are residential areas where people do not have legal ownership of the lands or houses in which they live, the dwellings do not meet current safety regulations and hence are in environmentally unsafe places. They are often marginalised and deprived of basic services and proper infrastructure and are invariably unprotected from evictions, disease outbreaks, violence and, in some regions, natural disasters.

This project has pooled together a collection of actors working on all facets of informal settlements and creating a unique niche in that, instead of going to these settlements and writing down what they need, ARISE is allowing the residents to tell us what their needs are; what are their priorities when it comes to their health and wellbeing; what do they really need to be the drivers of change for their health and their community’s collective health.

This project comes at a time when multiple partners are working towards achieving SDG 11, that is, to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. With a focus on four countries, India, Bangladesh, Kenya and Sierra Leone, this project encompasses the continents with the highest burden of informal settlements. It seeks to provide needed information so as to arm all partners in preparation for an even greater increase in informal settlements which according to UN-Habitat is expected to double over the next two decades in two of the world’s poorest continents, South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

During our inception meeting in Nairobi, we had the opportunity to visit some informal settlements and talk to the residents. This was the highlight of the trip. It brought home the similarities in the problems residents of informal settlements face, irrespective of geographical location. In addition to what we already know, issues of violence including sexual abuse were raised with discussions on safeguarding beginning at the early stages of project development. These were pervasive and present in all informal settlements and this brings home the importance of creating safe spaces for these residents. So many similarities were noticed even though the countries, cultures and languages are different. Indeed, there is more that unites us than divides us.

Photo credit: John Hassan Koroma/SLURC