Faith and Solidarity in Chile

By Kathryn Lawler

South America Coordinator, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


Chile’s earthquake and the tsunami destroyed or severely damaged nearly 200,000 homes. Tens of thousands of families are living in provisional camps like this one




The earthquake and tsunami that struck Chile on February 27, 2010, highlighted deep social inequalities in a country often considered a Latin American development success story.  Land tenancy issues and the lack of affordable housing and dignified work threaten to prolong the stay of approximately 50,000 displaced families living in “temporary” camps of wooden emergency houses with no heat or running water.  As a community worker in one of the camps stated, “the history of temporary, emergency camps in Chile shows that people end up living there long-term because they have no where else to go.”

Such precarious living conditions are a recent memory for Villa Cordillera, a low-income community in Santiago that organized a remarkable campaign to collect food and clothing for earthquake and tsunami survivors.  Less than four years ago, this community was living in Campamento Peñalolén, a shanty-town built over a landfill in Santiago.  In their case, however, the cause of these precarious living conditions was not a natural disaster but rather chronic and structural poverty.  Through a government relocation and low interest mortgage program, 365 families moved to Villa Cordillera in 2006 after 7 years in the camp.  But life continues to be tough.  Residents struggle to make ends meet with minimum wage jobs as garbage collectors, housekeepers, construction workers, and market vendors.  Their own resource scarcity, however, did not keep them from sharing abundantly.




With the truck carrying donations from Villa Cordillera in the background, Soledad Puebla (left) talks with leaders at a camp where the IELCH is providing emergency assistance and pastoral care near the coastal city of Coronel.




Villa Cordillera’s campaign to help earthquake survivors was the inspiration of Soledad Puebla, Director of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Chile (IELCH)’s El Sembrador Community and Day Care Center who says:  “We could not just stand there with our arms crossed watching the news reports about the hardship of our brothers and sisters in the south.  We had to step up and act in solidarity as others did for us when we were in a similar situation.”  From their community office, part of which still operates out of the emergency plywood structure from Campamento Peñalolén, Soledad, neighborhood leaders, parents and staff from the day care center amassed the community’s donations.  They walked through the streets with bullhorns, knocked on doors and left boxes to collect donations at local schools.  The campaign closed on May 1 with a street festival of dance, music and community celebration.  Soledad, her husband Tulio, and other communities leaders soon set off on the three hundred mile journey south in a large truck filled with the donated clothing, food, cleaning supplies, toys, and nylon covering for the emergency housing.  Soledad recalls: “When we got to the camps we cried because we remembered our

own history.  We urged camp leaders never to underestimate what they can do when they unite around a common cause.  And what better way to remind ourselves of that message than the success of our community mobilization for this campaign!”



Update on Work in the Campamento in Penco, Chile

By Scott Duffus

I just returned from a week and a half in Chile where I spend time at the campamento in Penco.  It was a privilege to see EPES’ community building work in action!   If you are interested in more details about my time there take a look at my blog, (there are 9 posts starting on May 20th).   I remember Karen Anderson telling me that the coldest she has ever been was in Santiago in winter.    I believe her now.  It is cold in Concepción in May and the middle of winter does not come till July.

The temporary housing called Mediaguas, which were provided by the government are small and come with no windows or doors;  no provisions for heat, water, or insulation;  they have roofs that leak, and the siding is what I would loosely describe as board and batten but the wood must have been green when they were assembled because the siding boards warp so that there are gaps which let in the wind and water.  Here is a video of one of Sandra Mora, one of the community leaders in the Campamento and her observations about her new “home.”

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wFdJ9c0nWv4&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]

EPES did a community assessment to determine what needed most by the community and who needed it.  They determined that better roofing material was vital, as were insulation panels.  EPES purchased corrugated galvanized panels and nails with rubber washers for roofs. I installed a couple of those new roofs myself, but there were plenty of others who were doing that work in the campamento.  It really wasn’t about getting a guy from Minnesota to do some work in Chile– it is about EPES being able to provide the community with the right resources to solve their own problems.  The insulation which EPES is providing is another example of a well thought out plan.  When I got there there were plenty of piles of 1″ polystyrene foam around, and I was thinking “Hmmm– this might not be the best option unless it is covered” (polystyrene is flammable).  The insulation that EPES is providing is pre-attached to flame retardant panels.

Here is another video of Sandra a few weeks later when some of the weatherization has been done on her home:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwES7gKc_j8&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0]