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César Sanabria: The architect who organizes the first TED talk in an Argentine village | What moves … | Future Planet


“Make visible voices of the town”. That is the motto that was chosen for the first TED talk to be held in a popular settlement. César Sanabria, a neighbor of Villa 31, put on his shoulder the organization of this event, which will take place today, October 28 in your own neighborhood. The idea of ​​organizing this meeting arose because in 2018 the architect saw the talk online What do the poor have in mind? by Mayra Arena, a video that has more than 4.7 million views on YouTube and where a young woman describes prejudice against the poor.

When he finished listening to that conference, organized within the framework of the TED cycle, Sanabria decided to organize one of these talks in his neighborhood with speakers who live or lived in a village. His idea is to show the potential and talent that exists in popular neighborhoods. This 37-year-old man is a social reference, an architect, a journalism student and is in charge of El Milenio Continúa, the neighborhood radio station. He is also a security guard at one of the offices of the Scholas Occurrentes organization and is a volunteer for the Los Principitos de Retiro Civil Association. He is a constant fighter for the rights of the most humble and for the definitive urbanization of Villa 31.

César Sanabria, in the background on the right with a microphone in hand, at one of the events held in Villa 31.
César Sanabria, in the background on the right with a microphone in hand, at one of the events held in Villa 31.

“After listening to Mayra, I went to the TED page,” says Sanabria. There he read about this American non-profit organization, which is dedicated to organizing events to spread ideas. “The issue stuck in my head and I thought: ‘Why not replicate this initiative here in the neighborhood?’ I googled the contact of the organization and sent them a first email. At first, my application was rejected because I wrote it in Spanish. Time passed and last year, in the midst of a pandemic, I contacted Fabián Solano Balderrama, a person who had organized a TED talk in San Nicolás, a neighborhood very close to here. I asked him for some tips to put together this event, we got together several times and decided to put it together. When we sent the new request, in 14 days they approved the proposal to carry it out in one of the neighborhood fields, which is called Güemes ”, he says. The talk can be seen via streaming on the official TED channels and also in person at Villa 31.

Sanabria always says that she has three families: blood families, her community, and the University of Buenos Aires, which gave her the opportunity to receive free higher education. In May 2021 he became the first neighbor of the Padre Carlos Mugica neighborhood, as Villa 31 de Retiro is currently called, to obtain the title of architect. “The last matter was virtually rendered by the pandemic. That day was celebrated threefold: I finished my degree at the University of Buenos Aires, my mother recovered from covid-19 and it was my birthday, ”he says.

In May 2021, Sanabria became the first neighbor of the Padre Carlos Mugica neighborhood, as Villa 31 is currently called, to obtain the title of architect

On the one hand, César chose this career because his father was a bricklayer and he transmitted a lot of knowledge to him from that trade. On the other, the constant demand for urbanization in his neighborhood was another point that prompted him to focus his studies on this aspect. The Padre Carlos Mugica neighborhood comprises 40 hectares inhabited by between 40,000 people, according to official figures, and up to 70,000, according to an internal census. Since 2018 the villa has a law for urbanization.

“I wanted to make a contribution to urbanize my neighborhood and achieve social and urban integration. Today we can see that the urban part is already running, the social part is going to cost a little more. There are barriers to be overcome. The intention is that a neighbor from another neighborhood of the City of Buenos Aires can enjoy the shops or the gastronomy that we have here. We have an Urbanization Law. That means that legally we are no longer a village, we are already a neighborhood. This year, for example, the names of the streets were formalized and they appear on Google Maps ”, explains Sanabria.

Two months ago, César started working for Saint-Gobain, a multinational. “They summoned me and told me: we know your story, we know your vocation of service and we want you to be part of our team. My role in the company is to generate projects and ideas to reduce the housing deficit in Argentina. I am excited because I have a tool to be able to somehow manage this dream. I found a job that accompanies my purpose ”, he expresses.

Another idea that Sanabria had was to put together a group of professionals from poor neighborhoods. There he summoned two neighbors, senior master builders, another architect from the Army of the Andes settlement, popularly known as Fuerte Apache, and a quasi-architect — he has yet to pass some courses — from the Qom indigenous community. “The idea was to form this group to generate ideas and projects that have to do with improving our communities. I would like this group to grow and that there are more and more professionals in these neighborhoods, that we have more doctors, more architects, more nurses. That is going to change our reality ”, he reflects.

A whole life involved in the neighborhood

Sanabria came to Villa 31 in 1986, when her father was unemployed. At that time, his family settled in a modest home. His mother, 63 years old, always dedicated herself to cleaning private houses. His dad passed away when he was a teenager. So prematurely, he went on to take charge of the family finances, through the same trade as his father.

“My dad got up every day at five in the morning and my mom religiously prepared lunch for him. At around 6 pm, he returned exhausted. I am proud of all the sacrifice my parents made. The year I started studying at the university, I lost my job and my mother was the one who helped me pay for the first years of my degree, ”says Sanabria.

The covid-19 pandemic had a great impact on Villa 31. “The context and the situation of confinement had the consequence that contagions will increase. The lives of many neighbors who were social activists and leaders of community spaces were lost. I was very affected by the death of Gladys Argañaraz, a person in charge of the dining room where I went from a very young age, ”says Sanabria.

Last year, the architect organized a festival, which was called A hug for the 31. The event, which sought to raise funds to mitigate the impact of the pandemic in the neighborhood, had the participation of more than 70 artists who came together to support it virtually.

Highlighting the commitment of your neighbors to Sanabria is very important. That is why he created the Carlos Mugica Awards. “Seven years ago I started doing some recognitions in one of the neighborhood fields to people who dedicated time to social work. In the middle of the mud on a humble platform he called them to stand out and thank them. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to deliver these same recognitions in the National Congress, since they were declared of legislative interest ”, he says.

I am concerned about the lack of access to decent housing and the lack of social inclusion. I seek to convey to young people that no matter how much they encounter obstacles, they have to pursue their dreams

Cesar Sanabria

Sanabria is always thinking of new projects. At this moment he is writing a book, which he titled La 31, a history of resistance. He believes that this work that he is producing can be a great contribution for future generations.

An anecdote that marked Sanabria was when one of his neighbors was wounded with a knife. “We had to take him out of the neighborhood through one of the internal streets and carry him in a cart, which used a cartonero. Unfortunately, ambulances cannot enter because the streets are still very narrow. We did not arrive on time and the neighbor died. That motivated me to create a medium complexity hospital project. No progress has been made there yet, but the Community Health Centers have been expanded ”, he says.

The great trigger that makes Sanabria constantly think about new projects is the need that he has as a neighbor of a popular neighborhood to be seen. “I am concerned about the lack of access to decent housing and the lack of social inclusion. I seek to convey to young people that no matter how much they encounter obstacles, they have to pursue their dreams. I do the TED talks, the book or the Carlos Mugica awards to make the voices of the Villa visible ”.

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