A new president has taken office in Chile and he has made his country's reconstruction part of his agenda but, as Fr. Eugenio Valenzuela, SJ, notes, Jesuits and many volunteers have continued to work — sometimes to the point of utter exhaustion — to come to the aid of victims of the earthquake and tsunami, especially of the very poor.
Here's the Chilean provincial's latest report:
Last Friday the new president took office and it will be a part of his agenda to carry out the reconstruction of the affected areas of the country as well as to support the victims of this tragedy.
There are many people who have suffered physically and emotionally and they need for us to listen to them and support them as they begin to heal. This is a very important dimension of this emergency that we cannot overlook.
Alberto Hurtado University
Right after the earthquake, students from the Alberto Hurtado University volunteered to help the victims. They launched a campaign to collect nonperishable food, clothes, and toiletries.
A group of students decided to work and support a very specific poor area in Santiago called Pichilemu where migrants live. These students in coordination with “El Hogar de Cristo” are providing tents, food, and other supplies to the community as well as helping in the removal of debris and other clean up tasks. Other students are developing recreational and educational programs for the children of this community.
It is also important to emphasize that the entire university community (professors, administrative employees, and students) is making a remarkable effort to support the victims and provide them with different kinds of assistance such as psychological, educational and social services. This initial support to the emergency is turning into a long term developing program for this community. More information can be found at: www.movilizatehurtadiano.tk
We went to Moche Island ito support the distribution of aid sent by “El Hogar de Cristo” and to assess the damage caused by the earthquakes on families’ properties, belongings and their fishing boats.
The families were waiting for us and they were so kind and showed us how they are organizing to meet their basic needs. At the moment that we were visiting a camp, a small tremor shook the island and a little child clung to his mother for dear life and asked her, “Is the sea going to rise again?”
Is the sea going to rise again?
We also went to the area where that the tsunami had destroyed everything.
In coordination with physicians of the island we have developed an emergency program to implement a hygiene and health care plan in the camps which are providing shelter and assistance to the affected people. Day by day we are more aware that we have to develop a greater emotional, physical and spiritual commitment with these poor and suffering people as they rebuild their lives.
Tirua from Isolation to Solidarity
Tirua was one of the most affected cities by the tsunami and the collapse of the communication made the situation more difficult. In Tirua where we have an apostolic work called “The Mapuche Mission,” we sent some more Jesuits to support our brothers who are working with the affected population.
It is important to emphasize that the population here is one of Chile’s poorest and the situation was made worse by the tsunami. Our Jesuit brothers are receiving and distributing food and other donations quickly and efficiently as well as supporting emotionally and spiritually the victims of this tragedy who have not lost their hope in spite of the dramatic circumstances. We noticed that some buildings and the chapel linked to our mission were severely damaged by the tsunami and quake, but we do not have time to evaluate the damages yet.
Migrants: Silent Victims
The Jesuit Service for Migrants (SJM) is making a remarkable effort to support and meet the needs of migrants who are settled in Santiago. After the earthquake all kinds of migrants' needs arose. Thousands who were living in extreme poverty left their cities and went to Santiago after their houses collapsed or became uninhabitable.
In Santiago the SJM in coordination with Jesuits from different provinces have been supporting and providing these victims with shelter, clothing, and food. However, as a consequence of the quake, the cruel face of poverty in which this population is living even before the earthquake was manifested and revealed to us their poor living conditions which challenge our solidarity and love for our neighbors.
“Un Techo Para Chile:” Power and Work Amidst the Desolation
In the few weeks since the earthquake, “Un Techo Para Chile” had built around 300 emergency houses in the most devastated areas. Thousands of university and high school students have volunteered in this reconstruction effort. However, this is only the beginning because in the coming months we need to build thousand more.
Many Jesuits (theologians, juniors, and novices) are also offering psychological and emotional counseling and support to the affected population.
In Iloca a theologian said, “While I am building houses, I look at the group who are working with me and see hope and encouragement arising. However, when I look through the window of the houses and see the desolation surrounding them, how helpless and frustrated I feel.
“Hogar de Cristo” from the seventh to eighth Region: When our strength runs out.
Our institution has been one of the first organizations to develop a network to receive and distribute food, water, and other basic supplies to those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. “El Hogar de Cristo” is doing a great job in response to this emergency in many areas affected by this tragedy. We were present in Arauco, Maule, etc., even before the aid from the central government or municipalities arrived.
Although we notice the exhaustion of our brothers who started to work very hard right after the earthquake, we try to support each other.
We are involved in a mission we think is very important “to develop and implement a program of spiritual support in a context of fear and helplessness.”
Finally, this is a reflection from Monsignor Goic who called our Jesuit community asking for some help in order to serve the poor rural areas of his diocese which were affected by the earthquake.
He says, “The situation in the poor rural areas is very painful because of the destruction of houses and chapels. In these areas the priests are working alone and asking for help and volunteers who can serve these rural populations who are living in fear and sadness. In this way the volunteers could be a sign of hope and they will be a sign of a Christian community that is living in solidarity.”