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December 2002

Christmas:
A day for no exclusion

Even though solidarity culture is still a pending class in Chile, there are more and more people wanting to connect with the poor and the excluded. Especially during Christmas, when a lot feel the call to share, even if it is for just one day.

By Rosario Mena

 

Each year, the "Hogar de Cristo" ("Christ's home", Chile's biggest benefit institution) holds a huge Christmas celebration that spreads through towns, cities and villages with the help of hundreds of volunteers. To the main activity, that this year will start on the 25th at Padre Hurtado's Sanctuary, there are added the initiatives of people that come to celebrate with the poorest, be it in the House Centers or at the streets.

"It has become a tradition that on Christmas Eve there comes people with guitars and presents, to our center and the terminal patients hall. All of the children and old people here have godfathers", explains Monica Esposito, Chief of Hogar de Cristo's Development Department. The "godfathers" are companies, institutions and people that help in a very committed way in different works and that organize Christmas parties at different places.

The interest that Chileans show for activities such as "Christmas at the street" has grown so much that this December 24th the Program will not go out. "There is just too much people going out to the streets", says Luis Ossa, the Program's Coordinator. "A lot of people want to go out. There are a lot of organized groups, schools, and parishes. Some go out during the whole year. Some do it occasionally and they ask us where to go". According to Ossa, Christmas is not the best of times to visit poor people. "It is a day with a lot of pain, frustration, memories. Some of the people we visit have drunk too much alcohol".

The Street program also includes daylight work. It helps people that arrive to Hogar de Cristo looking for a transient place to live. It works with 200 volunteers. Fifty of them are part of the Street Program. Among them there are people from all ages and classes.

What they want is to draw bridges. But professionals rarely work on this issue. "Un techo para Chile" (A roof for Chile) and "Servicio País" (Country Service) usually get all the college students. "Our view may be a little discriminatory. We look at the poor from above, from fear, in a paternalistic way. These are people that have broken lives, because of a number of reasons: family problems, unemployment, crisis that were never solved, a lot of illegal immigrants, former prisoners. There is a mixture of indigence and social exclusion".

"What we look for is social integration. People that have lived for too many years in the streets don't even come; we have to visit them. So it is a transitory place, while they get a better solution. We also have indigents with psychiatric problems. Cultural centers should give them tools to live better, but also respecting people's choices. Sometimes, people call us because they don't want to see a bum in their streets. But it is not our mission to make their street look better. There is a lack of commitment within society".

According to official statistics Santiago has 20,000 people living in the streets.

 
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