Earthquake 2010: EPES/Mercy Corps Training –Helping Children Heal & EPES Visit to Emergency Campamento

Eric Gives a session

Eric Gives a Session

by Karen Anderson & Lezak Shallat, Fundación EPES

Friday, April 16, Hualpén, Chile — The EPES Center is humming with activity. In its community hall and playground, scores of school teachers, psychologists, social workers and community leaders are crawling, jumping, pulling, pushing and cheering one another in games with names like Treasure Chest and Streets and Avenues.

It lifts my heart to hear these laughs and shouts. Six weeks ago in this same playground, we were distributing emergency health kits and water to stunned families in a state of shock. Their homes and livelihoods had collapsed or been washed out to sea, looting was rampant and an 18 hour curfew was in place.

Today is the third and final day of the Mercy Corps training sessions here at the EPES Center in Concepción, in Hualpén, one of many Chilean cities devastated by the Feb 27 earthquake and tsunami.

Trainers Eric Loc and Fabian Vinces worked with children after Peru’s 2007 earthquake. As this was their first visit to Chile, they spent a week visiting the areas hardest hit by the catastrophe and adapting the Mercy Corp programs to central and southern Chile’s triple  disaster of earthquake,  tidal wave and unrest.

Children participating in sessions

Children Participating in Sessions

They brought with them two programs: “Comfort 4 Kids,” based on storytelling, for children age 7 to 10, and Hacia Adelante (Moving Forward) based on games and sports, for children age 10 to 14.

One of the first changes to be made was the name of program. EPES adopted the term “recuperación emocional” (emotional recovery) to describe these new programs for psycho-social support to children to deal with post-earthquake trauma. But we were so taken with the idea of providing comfort that we packed the “Telling My Story” workbook into a backpack with crayons, toothpaste, toothbrush, a flashlight and a stuffed animal toy for each child.

The second program, “Hacia Adelante” (Moving  Forward), uses games and sports to reach out to children ages 10 to 14.  As I write this, the EPES office in Hualpén is jammed with tote bags of soccer balls, volley balls, marbles, nets, cones, jerseys, caps and a referee’s whistle – a full kit for every adult  mentor who promises to reach out to children  here, in Coronel, Penco, San Pedro and Talcahuano.

At the end of today’s training session, 55 enthusiastic mentors have signed up to work with young neighbors and students over 10 weeks of exploration and expression to dissipate frightening memories and lingering fears.

Maria Herrera, paramedic and health promoter from Huachicoop, will work through her Junta de Vecinos at the local community center. She is excited about the Mi Historia del Terremoto y Maremoto de Chile (¨My story of the Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile¨) the twice-weekly workshop for younger children to narrate and illustrate their own stories of fright, hurt  and  confusion, as well as their  dreams and realizations. Fabian Vinces, the therapist in charge of the training, says that narration is vital to recovery because, “what is unspoken remains unresolved.”  By writing their own stories, “children recover a sense of what is their own, because they lost everything and now have to share everything.”

Boys Focus Group

Boys Focus Group

“Children cannot always explain their feelings, and adults are too preoccupied to listen,” Maria believes. One of the children she wants to see participate is her grand-daughter, whose house in Santa Clara, Talcahuano was flooded by the tsunami.

Adriana Maureira comes from Penco’s Población Baquedano, in Cerro Verde Alto, is President of the Hospital Penco Lirquén community council. Among the children she believes will benefit from mentoring is a 12-year-old granddaughter who continues to vomit and cannot be left alone since the quake yanked her from sleep, bed and home in late February.

Early in the sessions, conducted in the EPES Community Hall from April 14 to 16, these 55 mentors-in-training shared their own stories of shock, grief, escape and survival. Behind the common denominator of loss, their stories tell how, as in Tolstoy, every family lives disaster in its own way. All continue to live with its consequences, both material and in strained family relations due to sudden joblessness or sharing living quarters with relatives and strangers. In La Higuera, 50 families from the low-lying Penco neighborhoods of Gente de Mar, Cerro Verde Bajo and Playa Negra live one-room wooden boxes  with wide open slats and no windows, already defenseless against the coming cold winter rains and wind.

Like Sandra Mora and Zunilda Barrales, who lives with her 104-year-old grandmother Maria Luisa Calfuqueo, the women here have reacted with strength and intelligence to the disaster that swept them off the coastal strip and onto the Cerro del Cura hill and a camp of emergency media aguas across in the elegantly-named Villa Bosquemar across from what is possibly the only church left standing in the La Higuera.  Like most women, they feel they must hold in their own grief for the sake of others more vulnerable than themselves, and especially their children.

EPES will be working with Villa Bosquemar  to help residents winterize their “temporary”  homes (Sandra Mora shudders at the government’s estimate of a three-year wait before being considered for permanent housing), with material support. EPES will also help them to equip the community hall and train residents in basic first aid and other health care skills, including prevention of the respiratory illnesses that the crude Southern Chile winter always brings.

Mediagua in Campamento Bosquemar in Penco where EPES is working

Mediagua in Campamento Bosquemar in Penco where EPES is working

Amazingly, there is no self pity here.  Only a sense — with the earth still shaking noticeably several times a day — of security randomly shattered and immense vulnerability.  This glimpse of fragility behind the face of stoical Fuerza Chile (“Chile Be Strong”) and similar public campaigns reaffirms something important: we cannot dismiss the emotional impacts of the quake, even if the rubble is now being cleared and a certain pretense of normality restored.

The two programs will be conducted in schools, community halls, churches and playgrounds over the next three months. After that, they can be replicated among the families, women and others who need to process their earthquake experiences through self expression or team work. To accompany the process, EPES has hired Zicri Orellana, a community psychologist and University of Concepcion lecturer experienced with youth, thanks to a grant from the SEIU 1199 Health Workers Union of New York State.

Games And Sports Help Children Recover Emotional Health After Chile’s Earthquake And Tsunami

By Karen Anderson

The three month program starts this week and will help 1300 kids and adolescents from Hualpén, Coronel, Penco, San Pedro  y Talcahuano

Concepción, VIII Región (April 14, 2010) – Two programs aimed at returning emotional peace of mind to kids and adolescents affected by the earthquake begin this week in Concepción. These programs are lead by EPES, a community organization that has been working to promote health and dignity in the poor sectors of the area for almost 30 years.

“Our children need help,” notes Dr. Lautaro López, the director of EPES Concepción. “Their worlds and homes have collapsed and they are deeply frightened – they are scared of the aftershocks, the treacherous ocean, of living in their wrecked homes or of having to spend the winter in a plastic tent in a camp.”

Two psychologists who worked with children after Peru’s 2007 earthquake are in charge of training the first group of 60 facilitators. By using stories, games and sports, the facilitators will counteract the psychological harms that Chile’s earthquake has caused.

The program will involve elementary and pre-school teachers, social workers, parents and guardians of public school students, volunteers, municipal services, NGOs and community organizations in Hualpén, Coronel, Penco, San Pedro y Talcahuano.

In the program Mi Historia del Terremoto y Maremoto de Chile (My story of the Earthquake and Tsunami in Chile), 7 to 10 year old kids will narrate and color a workbook with their own experiences, dreams, fears, and lessons learned.  Fabian Vinces, the therapist in charge of the training, notes that narration is vital to recovery because, “What is unspoken remains unresolved.”By writing their own stories, “children recover a sense of what is their own, because they lost everything and now have to share everything.”

Along with the workbook, every child will receive a new backpack with pencils, erasers, a stuffed animal and a small flashlight to scare away the monsters under their beds.

For 10 to 14 year old children, the program Hacia Adelante (Moving Forward) offers support through games and sports. The facilitators will work with groups of 10 to 12 kids in sport clubs, youth groups, church groups and other community organizations. Each facilitator of the sports activities will receive a kit with soccer and volleyball balls, a net, cones to outline court boundaries, marbles and team shirts. The kit also includes a whistle and baseball cap for the trainer.

The program will begin with weekly sessions for the next three months. After this pilot experience, EPES will be able to repeat the program throughout the year.  After an earthquake, leaving children without treatment and support can cause serious harm as they can develop regressive or anti-social behavior, depression, aggression and school problems.

Mercy Corps, the humanitarian organization working with EPES in this initiative (, developed this methodology to help the children of NYC recover after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The program subsequently helped children and their families in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and in Peru (2007), China (2008), and in Haiti (2010) after their respective earthquakes.

EPES Steadfast On Shaking Ground

When the ground began to shake in southern Chile on February 27, one of the strongest earthquake ever recorded, EPES was already steady on the ground. With nearly 30 years’ experience mobilizing local communities to defend the rights of the poor to health and dignity, EPES was immediately on hand to respond with humanitarian aid and community organization.

Washed up Fishing Boat in Penco

Washed up fishing Boat in Penco

The EPES Center in Concepción, built in 2005, withstood the quake with only minor damage. Surrounded by collapsed structures on all sides, it quickly became the hub of help and hope.

From day one, EPES could rely on strong, long-standing relations with local individuals, families, organizations and public services in order to get to work. Within 24 hours, the EPES Center had obtained an emergency generatorand was pumping water from the building’s underground well for some 300 families.

Within days, it had mobilized its network of community health promoters to identify priority needs in neighborhoods still lacking power and water, barricaded against outbreaks of looting and shut down by 18-hour curfews.

The earthquake and its aftermaths have shattered many illusions that Chileans, and the world, hold about this class-divided society fragmented along social, as well as geographical, fault lines. EPES’ response to the

Damaged Home in Penco

Damaged Home in Penco

catastrophe and its aftershocks exemplifies the assessment of the Chilean Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (ACCION) that community efforts are the key to providing “urgent, rapid and creative responses to the social crisis that millions of families are experiencing.”

The ground is still shaking, both literally and figuratively, and geologists predict that the aftershocks will continue for months to come. EPES, however, is steadfast in its historic work of building from the ground up, fostering and regenerating spaces for participation and collective action and recovery.


Like many coastal towns, the city of Penco – located about 10 km from the EPES Concepción Center – was most vulnerable to the disaster but
least prepared for it.

Most families in Penco draw their sustenance from the sea. Even before the catastrophe, one-in-five residents were living in poverty, by government

The earthquake and tsunami washed away their livelihoods, wrecking houses, boats and nets, docks and warehouses, shops and restaurants. Nearly one-third of the workforce now finds itself unemployed. One thousand houses were flattened or flooded in this city of 50,000 residents. Some of the homeless are living in tents next to the piles of debris on their plots. Others are being housed in temporary shelters. As the cold and rains of the winter in the Southern Hemisphere approach, the need for permanent housing grows more urgent by the day. Permanent housing for families in Penco is one of the priorities that EPES will focus on over coming months.

Elderly Women in Penco

Elderly Women in Penco

Reconstruction has already begun on 40 houses and two community centers.EPES is working with families to repair structures that can be salvaged and to build as many new homes as funding will allow. Community members supply the labor for their own houses and for the houses of those – like the elderly and mothers with small children – who need a helping hand. To assist the community take stock of its possibilities and its needs, the EPES health team conducted a door-to-door survey of the affected areas.

EPES’ previous work in Penco helped to overcome obstacles of fear and distrust, opening doors to help and hope.  It is almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the scale of the destruction in these poor communities. The EPES vision of community participation and empowerment converts short-term emergency aid and charity into long-term assistance, accompaniment and transformation. Your contribution will help EPES help these communities to rebuild themselves.