The Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR), now 24 years old, is a coalition of Asian professionals, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and community organixations committed to finding ways to make change in the countries where their work is rooted – change that goes along with the particular realities of their own cultures, politics and ways of doing things.
The collective experience of all these groups represents a huge quantum of understanding and possibilities – Asia’s own home-grown development wisdom. After linking together as a coalition first in 1989, we began exploring ways of joining forces and supporting each other through a growing number of joint initiatives: housing rights campaigns, fact-finding missions, training and advisory programmes, exchange visits, workshops and study tours, projects to promote community savings and community funds, and city-wide slum upgrading.
This mutual support and cross-pollination of ideas between Asian groups is important, because so many of the development theories, planning paradigms and urban development models which set the course in Asia – and which we are often obliged to follow – are transplants from somewhere else.
And sometimes in our rush to grow and to develop, the wisdom and practices that have sustained Asian societies for centuries get lost, and we forget our own considerable human wealth. The skyscrapers and the shopping malls may be going up fast and furiously, and our ‘tiger’ economies may be booming, but the gap between rich and poor is getting wider, and slums and squatter settlements are still spreading faster than solutions from the government or the market sector can keep up with.
Through this collaborative work over many years, all these people and organisations in the coalition have found that they had one crucial thing in common: a belief that the key resource to solve our enormous problems of poverty and housing is the people who experience those problems directly, who are most urgently wanting change and most vitally motivated to resolve those problems. The poor themselves represent Asia’s greatest and least-tapped development force.