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.