EPES was born when Chile was in the depths of the Pinochet dictatorship, and we didn’t know then whether EPES would survive one year, never mind forty. Defying the odds (few, if any, small nongovernmental organizations survive from that time), EPES has continued to work tirelessly for health and justice over the succeeding four decades. Along with information about recent activities, this Update provides a snapshot of EPES’ achievements so far. I think you’ll agree that it is a remarkable story of dedication and solidarity.
Among recent activities, you’ll read about EPES’ work in nutrition, migrant health, mental health, human rights (including the right to be free from gender-based violence), and more. I think the four-decade snapshot gives useful context and helps explain how they are able to achieve both breadth and depth in their programming. I am always amazed at how much EPES is able to accomplish with such a small staff—EPES truly is the Little Engine that Could!
But, like so many millions around the world, EPES staff and allies have been hit hard by COVID. Most recently, we mourn the death of Mónica Jeannette, a beloved leader of the Llareta Health Group, one of the earliest health promoter teams trained by EPES. Two of EPES’ senior staff are on sick leave right now, which places an additional burden on the rest of the staff.
Nonetheless, this is a year of hope for Chile, with a newly elected government that is vastly more representative of the people than any since the military coup in 1973, and the Constitutional Assembly preparing to release a new constitution to go to referendum in September—if approved, it will replace the one imposed by Pinochet, which enshrined neoliberalism and ensured the immiseration of the majority of the population. Just imagine how much more EPES can accomplish when no longer obstructed by a system based in institutionalized injustice.
Of course, none of this would be possible without your generous support—and I hope we can count on your continued solidarity. I hope, too, that you will be able to join us in Chile November 19–26 to celebrate EPES’ four decades of work for health and dignity, and to help launch another decade of commitment to social justice.
In solidarity and peace,
Christina Mills MD FRCPC President, Action for Health in the Americas
I am always moved and impressed when I receive descriptions of EPES’ latest work and realize how much they are able to do with so few resources. In 2021 alone, EPES reached people from 18 countries, all while coping with the ongoing stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic, now in the latter half of its second year. In this Update, you’ll learn about how EPES is addressing mental health issues in the communities it serves. EPES has organized workshops on psychosocial support, addressing issues such as self care, Grief, caregiver burden, collective responses to mental health challenges, and the importance to mental health of engagement in the natural world.
EPES’ important work on food sovereignty continues apace, with a training workshop and creation of a community garden in Concepción. In Santiago, a transcultural workshop with participants from the Mapuche community who live in the El Bosque municipality provided an opportunity to explore and exchange indigenous knowledge and methods of growing food.
Food sovereignty was also on the agenda (along with other topics) in an exciting online event in October, when women from Kenya, Uganda and Zimbabwe who had attended EPES’ International Training Course held a reunion to share experiences applying what they had learned about popular education, strategic planning, community participation, and creative evaluation methods. EPES’ methods clearly travel well, and are contributing to improved nutrition and greater economic autonomy for women in these communities.
The Update also describes the various activities through which EPES has continued to support the struggle for human rights and access to health care on the part of Chile’s immigrant communities. This work, as is EPES’ custom, combines practical responses to concrete needs, capacity building, and advocacy to change public policies and institutions.
This multilevel approach has characterized EPES throughout its history, and, I believe, has been a major contributor to its extraordinary longevity. Next year, EPES will celebrate 40 years of work, 40 years in which they have dealt with recession, repression, natural disaster and public health calamity, never once wavering in their commitment to stand with the poorest and most marginalized. Thank you for all you have done to support EPES’ efforts on behalf of health, dignity and justice. I hope we can count on your continued support as we enter the homestretch for EPES’ 40th anniversary.*
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!