When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Chile last year, it struck a country already in a profound state of crisis. The brutal repression in response to social protests beginning in the fall of 2019 was the worst seen since the days of the military dictatorship. Instead of responding to the pandemic with humane measures to control it and mitigate its impact on the already disadvantaged, the government used the legitimate tools of public health for further repression—even raiding community kitchens!
Thus the pandemic, compounded by mismanagement, has exacerbated the huge socioeconomic disparities that already existed in Chile, hitting hardest those who have the least resources.This is dramatically apparent in the communities where EPES and affiliated groups of health promoters work. Angélica Arredondo’s summary of the situation, quoted in the Update, is chilling: Those who are dying are poor people like us.
Throughout, EPES staff have continued to work with communities to address immediate needs while advocating for systemic changes necessary to resolving them over the longer term.This Update highlights critically important work in the areas of food security, gender-based violence and migrant rights. I continue to be moved and inspired by the ability of EPES staff to adapt to changing conditions and maintain the relevance of their programming in the face of seemingly insuperable obstacles. All this is possible because of people like you, who have faithfully supported EPES over almost four decades.
This past weekend, Chileans went to the polls in an historic election to select representatives for a Constituent Assembly that will draft a new Constitution (to replace the one imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship in 1980). Fortunately, supporters of the Piñera government failed to win enough seats to veto any proposed draft, but history tells us that those who benefit from structural inequality will not readily give up their privileged positions.There may well be increased repression in an attempt to block true systemic change. In such conditions, EPES’ work is even more essential, and it depends on your help.
We thank you in advance for continuing to support and enable EPES’ work on behalf of health and human dignity in Chile.
Please continue to take care of yourselves and one another. In solidarity and peace,
Dear friends of EPES, I hope this finds you and your families safe and well. We are living in a world quite different from the one we took for granted when I last wrote to you, one that is more difficult in many ways, but one in which some essential truths about our interdependence have become clearer to many more people. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us, although some have been hit much harder than others, both among and within countries. Chile ranks eighth in the world in number of COVID-19 deaths per million population, with almost 15,000 deaths to date (and more than half a million cases). Within Chile, of course, the poor and marginalized bear the brunt of the pandemic.
We are so thankful for all the faithful and generous folks who have continued to support EPES’ work throughout these long months of the pandemic. As you will see in the Update, public health isolation measures to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus made it necessary for EPES to transition to an online environment to continue its work for health and dignity. I’m sure you’ll be as impressed as I am by the results.
To begin with, EPES had to help the health promoters get connected via their smartphones, which became a lifeline connecting them to their health teams (although few people in these communities have computers, most households have a smartphone). Through their phones, they have been able to participate in a wide array of workshops EPES offered on such practical and important topics as bread baking, how to create a family garden in a small space, how to preserve foods, and more. These workshops—and the family and community gardens that emerged from them—helped address long-term food security issues, while EPES also helped address immediate urgent needs through support for seven soup kitchens and provision of food boxes at the most critical point in the pandemic, particularly to the Haitian immigrant community in El Bosque (Chileans, of course, have a long tradition of organizing soup kitchens, from the days of the Dictatorship, but they were new to the Haitians, who turned to EPES for help in getting started).
EPES produced easily phone-accessible educational materials on a wide range of issues, including information on COVID-19 in both Spanish and Creole (for the Haitian community), immigrants’ health rights (in Creole), and approaches to prevent and address violence against women, etc. The COVID-19 materials are particularly important in light of the Chilean government’s dismal performance in risk communication concerning the pandemic.
EPES also launched a new area of work, reaching hundreds of people through online forums on issues facing the community, such as migrant rights, human rights and the constitutional reform process, and how to address the pandemic together. The forums continue to be available through EPES’ YouTube channel.
Most recently, EPES collaborated with Canada’s Coady International Institute to deliver an online women’s leadership training program, with participation by 24 women from 13 Latin American and Caribbean countries. This is a remarkable example of successfully adapting popular education methods to online reality, and its benefits have potential to extend beyond pandemic conditions.
At the same time that Chileans have been facing the health and economic challenges of the pandemic, there has been an ongoing crisis in human rights because of the government’s violent repression of the social movements emerging since October of 2019. Under inexorable popular pressure, the government was forced to hold a referendum on the need for a new Constitution to replace the one imposed by the Pinochet dictatorship. On October 25, Chileans voted overwhelmingly for a new Constitution, to be drafted by a completely newly elected constituent assembly (i.e., untainted by vested political interests). Many Chileans regard the referendum as the beginning of the true end of the Dictatorship.
In the midst of all the turmoil of 2020, it is good to see how EPES’ leadership takes care of their team throughout the year—offering online self-care sessions, online pastoral support, financial support to help defray the costs of working from home, and sending gift boxes to everyone for their birthdays and for Chile’s national holiday. I’m grateful to EPES for setting an example of collective self-care. For any good work to continue, those who do the work must take care of themselves, and each other.
EPES continues to stand with the Chilean people, providing essential tools, advocating for structural change to eliminate inequities, denouncing human rights violations, and demanding the right to health and dignity for all. This essential work would literally be impossible without your continuing, generous support, so please consider EPES when planning your year-end giving. Our deepest thanks go out to you.
Please take care of yourselves, and of one another. In solidarity and peace, Christina Mills MD FRCPC
P.S. Your gift was just doubled! An anonymous donor has offered to match all donations up to US$10,000.
This series, Stories of Hope and Resistance from Chile, presents accounts of concrete ways EPES is working to address the covid-19 crisis as it affects the communities, families and people EPES loves and works with in Chile. Click on the titles below to read the stories! For US friends who would like to support this work, you can make a tax deductible donation online by going to AHA’s Donation page – thank you!
Needless to say that Covid 19 has affected everyone. EPES, as we and its community have come to expect, once again has stepped up during this extraordinary times to go above and beyond in supporting those who need it most. Through your generosity, EPES continues to meet these challenges head on.This May’s EPES Update focuses on what EPES has been able to quickly do to address the new needs of the communities they work with.
Fortunately – yes fortunately – your contribution provides more benefit than ever. Due to the strong dollar and the very weak Chilean peso, we are quickly converting US dollar contributions into Chilean pesos, reaping a benefit of approximately 38%….in other words, for every $1 you donate, it will be equivalent to $1.38.
We are so thankful for your continued support to EPES. If you are able to, we hope you will consider making a contribution now so that we can take advantage the the favorable exchange rate and help EPES to stretch their budget.
EPES’ 11th International Training Program (the Escuela) was held during the third month of national protests in Chile. Ninety-four percent of Chileans are demanding a change of the 1980 Constitution in order to be able to build a fairer country. The demands of the social movement are the right to education and health, pensions and living wages. EPES supports the Chilean people in their struggle for dignity and justice, and condemns the state terrorism that prevails in the country. The police repression has been denounced by four international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. The National Institute of Human Rights has received 4,780 complaints as of January 15, 2020, for homicides, torture, mutilation, arbitrary detentions, sexual violence, among other human rights violations; and has filed 1,118 legal actions in favor of 1,476 victims.
The EPES team evaluated whether or not to hold the Escuela following months of extreme unrest and police violence. In mid December, we agreed that the situation was calm enough (due to the summer) to carry it out without risks for the participants. We are happy to share this Update of the events of the XI International Escuela. We had an incredible group of 19 committed young people from 8 Latin American countries.
Blessings to all and thank you for your love and support,
ELCA Global Mission Personnel in Chile
Director, EPES International Training Program