Chile earthquake relief: How one priest provides shelter for masses
Rev. Felipe Berrios's award-winning organization has in less than 15 years nearly gotten all Chilean families into permanent housing. His group is now joining the effort to help those made homeless by the Chile earthquake.
If anyone will play a crucial reconstruction role after the 8.8 Chile earthquake it is the Rev. Felipe Berrios, a Jesuit priest whose award-winning organization has in less than 15 years nearly gotten all Chilean families into permanent housing and expanded its work to 16 countries across Latin America.Skip to next paragraph
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Father Berrios, who set out to build emergency housing in Chile’s shantytowns in the late 1990s, had an ambitious goal when he founded a “Roof for Chile” in 1997: By the year 2000, he sought to construct 2,000 new homes throughout the country.
He reached the goal and kept going, expanding his organization regionally. The newer project, called “A Roof for My Country,” now aims to replace every shantytown in Chile by the end of 2010 – a goal the group still maintains is possible even after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country Feb. 27, killing more than 700, destroying more than 500,000 homes, and affecting an estimated 2 million residents.
“To get out of poverty you need a job, you need education and health services, but if you do not have a physical space to live in, the rest of it does not matter,” Father Berrios said in a December interview at his office on the outskirts of Santiago, which was bustling with college-age volunteers. “You need a place to be able to get a letter; you need to be able to say, ‘this is my home.’”
Rush to build emergency homes
While “A Roof for Chile” aims to find permanent housing for the 20,000 families registered as living in illegal settlements – when Berrios started the number was 135,000 – they are also rushing to build 30,000 emergency homes for those left displaced by the earthquake and tsunami in Chile.
“We have to respond to this crisis,” says Claudio Castro, the social director for “A Roof for my Country,” which also recently began working in Haiti in the aftermath of its 7.0-magnitude earthquake that left over 200,000 dead in January. The group plans to build 10,000 emergency homes in the next four years there with university students from across Latin America.
“But we will continue with the goal of having no [shantytowns] in Chile by this year,” says Mr. Castro.
What that means for Chileans is obvious in the Santiago shantytown of Ochagavia, where homes made of all shapes, colors, and materials are plunked down haphazardly. Before the earthquake, half the community was scheduled to move across the street to a little neighborhood behind a gate. There, 47 two-story brick homes neatly lined both sides of a paved road in December. A small park sat in the middle and a community center was under construction.
It wasn't possible to immediately verify whether that project had been damaged in the earthquake.