The transition from emergency relief to sustainable community programmes

SOS sisters growing up together (photo: F. Espinoza) 

Concepción is a city of 370,000 located in southern Chile in the Biobío region. It is Chile’s second most populous city. It has always had a very strong manufacturing industry, which to this day forms the basis of its economy.

In 2010, a massive earthquake measuring 8.8 on the moment magnitude scale hit Chile. Its epicentre was only 60 km north of Concepción and, according to Chile’s Seismological Service, Concepción felt the violent effects of the quake most severely – the city was moved three metres to the west. An estimated nine per cent of the Chilean population, and over 17 per cent of the population in the Biobío region, lost their homes due to the earthquake and the ensuing tsunami.

In the aftermath, Concepción was something of a lawless city, with looting and rioting despite the heavy military presence. SOS Children’s Villages provided emergency relief, such as food, clothing, and basic hygiene products, to around 280 families, as well as offering emotional support. These emergency programmes were then gradually turned into self-sustainable development programmes run by the community itself.

Rebuilding does not just refer to infrastructure

The earthquake did great damage to the region’s infrastructure and the effects are far-reaching. The destruction of innumerable shops and companies meant that many employees were laid off – and some no longer had a home to return to. It is sometimes referred to as the “social earthquake”.

Unemployment, contrary to the overall trend in Chile in recent years, was on the rise in Concepción in the year following the earthquake, with unemployment amongst women under the age of 34 almost double that of men. In early 2012, an estimated 67,000 people were unemployed in the city. Between 2010 and 2011 over 3,000 people left Concepción, migrating to other parts of the country in search of work.

SOS Children’s Villages supports families in the process of rebuilding their livelihoods in the area so that they do not have to leave their homes behind and their children can grow up in a stable family.

What we do in Concepción-Chaimávida

Local women developing their cooking skills so that they can set up small businesses to support their families (photo: F. Espinoza) 

SOS Children’s Villages Chaimávida in Concepción began its work in 1971. In Chaimávida, there are eleven holiday cabins which can be used by children from all SOS Children’s Villages in Chile, allowing them to experience the excitement of going on holiday at least once in their childhood. There is also a community centre and a library, both of which are open to the local population.

For children in Chaimávida who are no longer able to live with their parents, six SOS families can provide a loving home. In each family, they live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. The children attend local schools and are therefore very much integrated into the community.

When young people from the children’s village are ready to leave their family in order to pursue further education or vocational training, the SOS Youth Programme provides shared accommodation for over 60 young people from the Children's Villages Bulnes, Concepción, Chaimávida and Puerto Varas. The young people come and live together here and, with the support of qualified counsellors, they can learn to take responsibility, plan their future and prepare for independent adult life.