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.
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In his mission, Berrios is helping to tackle the urban poverty that remains one of Latin America’s most stubborn problems. Continued mass rural migration over the past five decades has made the region the globe¹s most urbanized as newcomers build illegal sheet-metal shacks on the periphery of cities.Skip to next paragraph
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Worldwide, the United Nations estimates that 25 percent of the urban population lives in poverty, and the problem is worsening. By 2050, an additional 3 billion people will live in cities, most of whom will end up in slums.
“The demand is so monumental that there is no country in Latin America that is able to address it alone,” says Erik Vittrup at the Latin America and the Caribbean office for the United Nations Human Settlements Program in Rio de Janeiro.
A Roof for Chile carries out its work in three phases. First, construction of temporary homes; second, bringing in education, social services, and microcredit programs while helping families find land to build permanent homes on; third, creation of sustainable neighborhoods.
On a recent day in Ochagavia, Elsa Gonzalez, a community leader here, emerged beaming from a meeting of A Roof for Chile that focused on helping half the community find land for new homes. “What I most long for is having a faucet with water running from it,” said Ms. Gonzalez, who is saving money for the small down payment, a requirement for each resident. She’s building her nest egg by selling hot dogs and snacks on street corners. “I cannot wait to be able to flush [my own] toilet,” she says.
By the bicentennial of Chile’s independence on Sept. 18, 2010, A Roof for Chile seeks to have each Chilean family, like the Gonzalez family, either moved into or in the process of owning legal title to their land. By year-end, the group plans to have branches in every nation in Latin America. Their newest office opened in Bolivia last year and the next on the list is Panama. They have also begun trying to raise funds in the United States, particularly among Latinos in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles.
Earlier in December, Berrios explained that after “A Roof for Chile” meets its goals in Chile, the organization plans to tackle crime and justice and other types of discrimination. The reconstruction of the country will be a first priority now, says Castro, who began working for the organization as a volunteer, and like many former college interns and volunteers, now holds a senior post. “It will be complex,” he says. “We still do not have a number of how many people are homeless.”