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.