Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CHILE: Rebuilding Smiles

Daniela Estrada

SANTIAGO, Apr 17 2010 (IPS) - Alongside crucial emergency relief efforts, numerous organisations are offering free movies, concerts, plays, comedy performances and other cultural events aimed at lifting the spirits of people suffering the after-effects of the earthquake and tsunami that struck central and southern Chile on Feb. 27.

“People are going through an extremely difficult time,” said Jorge Brito, the director in the city of Talca of Caritas Chile, a Catholic humanitarian organisation that has helped to head up the delivery of emergency aid to the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the massive earthquake, which measured 8.8 on the Richter scale.

Talca, the capital of the region of El Maule, located 250 kilometres south of Santiago, was one of the cities hardest hit by the earthquake, considered the most devastating natural disaster in the country’s history in terms of the area encompassed by the damage. The quake claimed 486 lives, while some 80 people are still missing.

Although emergency aid has been gradually trickling in, this is only a “transitional period,” Brito commented to IPS, because a great many families must now “start over from zero” after their homes were destroyed. For people facing this situation, living in makeshift housing in cold, rainy weather as the southern hemisphere winter approaches, the emotional anguish can be overwhelming, he said.

This is why Caritas helped sponsor the “Caravan of Comedy” that set out in late March, taking a group of 30 Chilean comedians, including Juan Carlos “Palta” Meléndez, Natalia Cuevas and Ronco Retes, to towns and cities in El Maule such as Curepto, Curicó, Licantén and Talca, bringing sorely needed comic relief to hundreds of people.

“It was a way to relieve tension. People laughed out loud,” Brito recounted. Caritas is now working on a major sports event it plans to hold in the same area in June.

The numerous cultural initiatives that have sprung up in the aftermath of the earthquake involve a wide range of sectors, including the government, the armed forces, non-governmental organisations, religious institutions, the business sector, universities, artists, students, athletes, public figures and anonymous volunteers.

The Ministry of Education and CorpArtes Foundation have joined forces for the “Chile Anima a Chile” (Chile Cheers Up Chile) initiative, which will entertain 24,000 people with a travelling exhibition of 3-D animated films between Apr. 10 and May 9.

A modern semi-trailer truck transformed into a mobile movie theatre with 40 seats and its own power generator will travel to 30 cities from Curicó, 200 kilometres south of Santiago, to Los Ángeles, located in the Bío-Bío region, 513 kilometres south of Santiago.

Circus performers have also brought back smiles to thousands in the midst of the national catastrophe, which will cost the country upwards of 30 billion dollars, according to the Finance Ministry.

Free performances have been offered by the international organisation Clowns Without Borders, as well as Chilean circus troupes like El Circo del Mundo, La Bandita Alegre and the Puppet and Clown Museum theatre group.

The Chilean Forum for Children’s Rights, made up of six non-governmental organisations including the Chilean chapter of SOS Children’s Villages, has also organised free puppet shows for kids. Around 120,000 school-aged children in Chile are still unable to attend classes because their schools were damaged or destroyed.

Four cable and satellite television companies have teamed up with the government to help entertain 30,000 children and teenagers in cities like Constitución, Dichato, Iloca, Navidad, Pichilemu, Talcahuano, Tomé and Vichuquén, in the regions of O’Higgins, El Maule and Bío-Bío.

The Telmex, Movistar, DirecTV and VTR companies are financing the “Smile Chile: The Road of Happiness” programme, a travelling show in which tents are set up to screen children’s movies and hold contests and games hosted by popular TV performers.

For their part, the bands of the Chilean Army and the Carabineros militarised police have spread out through the country to bring music to families surviving on government aid and the solidarity of neighbours.

Nationally renowned artists such as singer Fernando Ubiergo and the Folkloric Ballet of Chile have also toured the country’s disaster areas to give free performances, while 15 popular Chilean singers and bands including Nicole, Sinergia and Kudai joined together to record the single “Yo voy contigo” (I Will Go With You), donating their royalties to the earthquake relief effort.

The Pablo Neruda Cultural Centre and Student Federation of the Universidad Austral de Chile (Southern University of Chile), based in the city of Valdivia, jointly organised the “Happiness Bus” initiative to bring musical performances and toys to the children of Coliumo and Dichato, coastal towns that were devastated by the tsunami triggered by the quake.

On Apr. 9, the administration of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera, who took office Mar. 11, issued a report on the government aid provided to earthquake and tsunami victims.

The authorities reported that 11,000 emergency housing units had been set up, with the goal of reaching a total of 40,000 by Jun. 11, while 14,000 tents have been distributed.

The government has also launched a programme called “Manos a la Obra” (Let’s Get to Work), providing eight billion Chilean pesos (around 15.5 million dollars) for the purchase of reconstruction materials for the residents of the 239 towns hit by the disaster.

“We need to lift people’s spirits. They have to know that they are not alone, that someone is listening to them, because the magnitude of the problem surpasses any effort to overcome it,” said Brito, who also stressed the need to continue bringing cultural events and entertainment to the devastated towns and cities.

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