La Casa de la Buena Vida is a story of hope, struggle and salvation.
La Casa de la Buena Vida is a story of hope, struggle and salvation.
Set in the hills of Palma Palmilla, in an old abandoned finca, it is a unique place whose doors are open to all who come in search of a new life.
The Casa was founded in 2008, by Jesus Rodriguez (known to everyone in the barrio as Chule),with the Association for the Integration of the Gypsy Community in Palma Palmilla.
The philosophy central to it is simple: every person who has been helped back on the path to a new life will then extend his or her hand to another who is in need of help.
Chule had himself been in prison for several years for drug crime and lost two of his brothers to drugs. In prison he turned to religion and decided to change the course of his life.
He says, " I lost my brother whom I was very close to and now I help people by trying to give them the chance that my brother never had."
La Casa de la Buena Vida means many things to many people. It is a shelter, a refuge, a home for the sick who are dying and have no one to care for them as well as a centre for drug addicts who come in off the streets or from other more conventional rehab centres. It welcomes migrant families, often with children, who have few resources and no where else to turn.
To many it is also a spiritual refuge, where religion and faith play an important role in rehabilitating people who have lost their faith in the world and in themselves.
Significantly, it is Chule´s personal answer to the problems that are mushrooming in one of the most stigmatized districts of Malaga.
Palma Palmilla, Malaga´s fifth district has long been a barrio with a tarnished image. It has a reputation for crime, movement and sale of drugs and unemployment. The economic crisis has accentuated the problems in this area over the last few years. Many people have been expelled from their homes and with no work and no possibilities, the future seems bleak.
"There is so much hunger," admits Chule
To this end of providing some means of injecting a new energy, a new hope, he has been working with the Association of Las Gitanos de Palma Palmilla and other district organisations to set up Er Banco Gueno a project to feed people who come off the streets, a communal soup kitchen opened in the abandoned premises of a Unicaja bank.
La Casa de la Buena Vida is strongly linked to Er Banco Gueno and one of the daily responsibilities of some of the members of the Casa is to cook for and serve food to the scores of hungry people who haven´t seen a hot meal in a long time.
Since it´s inception, there has been an "entente cordiale" between the police, correctional institutions and La Casa de la Buena Vida, that the premises would not become "an Ali Baba´s cave" (The magazine El Observador reported). The Casa would take responsibility for the voluntary handing in of people who are wanted by the police. To date (35 people........confirm figure) have been delivered and no one has refused to go.
Although it does not receive a great deal of help from the local authorities, the Casa is a constantly evolving entity. The numbers of tenants fluctuates from thirty in the summer to well over double that figure during the winter months.
Life within its walls is a microcosm of the larger district- a melange of different races, creeds and backgrounds.
Each day both volunteers and residents work on different tasks essential to the maintenance of the house.
Land around the main building is being cultivated organically to provide a source of food. Workshops and counselling sessions are regularly held, run by volunteers including many from the University of Malaga.
The singer Diego El Cigala has staged concerts at Malaga´s Teatro Cervantes to help raise essential funds for the rental of the land the house stands on and to keep it going.
The project has also received media attention in the form of Kiko Matamoros, of Telecinco´s Salvame fame, who spent three days with the residents. Interviews and stories from within were then aired on the program.
No one is judged on their past but there are rules which have to be abided by.
Be it caring for the many horses, donkeys, goats and dogs that share the grounds or helping to repair and construct new extensions for the house, each tenant has his or her own duty.
Long term tenants who have successfully turned their lives around are entrusted with the role of "responsables" and they help to make sure that the house functions on a daily basis.
The house has seen hundreds of people come and go through its doors since it opened. Their have been success stories as well as sadnesses.
Carlos "Sandro" is one of those who made it out to begin a new life in Malaga with his partner Isa.
Both Carlos and Isa lived in La Casa de la Buena Vida for a few years, trying to overcome a history of drugs. In Carlos´s case, he had been in and out of prison since he was a teenager for various crimes but while in prison he "heard the word of God and was given the strength to change his ways". During his time at the Casa he would visit prisons in Malaga to talk to inmates about how it is possible to start afresh.
Juan, 49, is another example of a man who has been given a new chance at life. He has no family and no home other than the Casa. He is also HIV positive as are a number of other residents. The doctors at the local hospital had discharged him into the care of Chule and La Casa de la Buena Vida because "they could do no more for him". He arrived there emaciated and very ill but now, a few months on,thanks to both the spirit of camaraderie and round-the-clock care he has received within the House, he is a different man, with a renewed interest in living.
It is clear for many that the place represents both physical and emotional security. Antonio, one of the older residents, said, " I look from up here to down there", referring to the barrio below, "and think that is where the problems are. I´m not a part of all that anymore. But at the same time, I am afraid to go back to my old life, my old friends. It´s hard to break out from a circle where drugs are involved."
2013 has been a special year at La Casa de la Buena Vida with the birth of two babies to two couples who met there.- beautiful new beginnings and renewed hope.
Ramon and his partner Yoli welcomed baby Analia during the summer as did Rafa and Bea to little Rafalito.
Amidst the joy and wonder of becoming a mother, there are of course, also moments of anxiety.
Bea, 27, has been in the House for over a year recovering from her addiction. She comes from a broken family, having suffered abuse as a child. She said, " I was trafficking drugs in Italy by the time I was 15. While other girls my age were doing the normal teenage things and interested in boys, I was moving large quantities of drugs." She was arrested and later found her way back to Spain.
Asked how she saw her life in the near future, with a new baby, she replied, " I don´t want my baby to grow up here. I don´t want him to be surrounded by problems with drugs. Maybe we´ll get a flat in the barrio. Somewhere just for us.
But wherever we go, we will make sure we are near Chule."
La Casa de la Buena Vida is an ongoing project and I have been documenting life there since 2012 with the aim of sharing the stories, of the residents in this remarkable community. January 20, 2014