Almost four years later…

Our first blog post focused on the immediate post-earthquake work EPES was engaging in in and around Concepcion, Chile.  Who would have thought that it would take over three and a half years (the earthquake occurred February 27, 2013) for the residents of the seaside villages – whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami – to finally move back to permanent homes??? While it has been a long journey, it has been one that has highlighted the power of community action. Finally, the families who have been living in emergency camps and temporary housing recently moved to their brand new homes:

Residents moving to new homes



In the photo you can see the houses and a group of people as they walked up the first day to see their new houses. In early December, EPES is having a celebration to commemorate their almost four years living in the emergency camps and their work together to defend the health and dignity of their families and community. EPES will continue working with the Health and Environment Committees as they face the new challenges of living in their new community with over 400 families from different emergency camps.


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.”

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:

There Is Still Much That Needs To Be Done In Concepción

By Scott Duffus

My friend Karen Anderson tells me that there are still people living in tents and in emergency housing in and around Concepción.  Last night’s rain thoroughly drenched them.  She tells me it is a sad and frustrating time, as winter sets in and many have still not been able to winterize their damaged home for lack of resources.  It has taken longer than we had hoped to raise funds for this vital help.  Take a look at this video that we put together and if it is possible for you to contribute to this effort, please press the donate button to the left.  Thank you for support.

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.