WASHINGTON, 19 April 2017--It was the 1960’s and a small but impassioned group of expats had immigrated from Chile to Washington, D.C. The people felt a call to help back home, and a desire to maintain a connection with their home country, and so rose Organización Chile. Living completely by the goodwill of its volunteers, the organization strived to enhance education in Chile, aid teen mothers, and send help to the sick. For a period,Organización Chile ceased action, while Chile fought to regain their democracy until the 1990’s. Today its members, consisting of roughly 30 Chileans, North and South Americans, use fundraisers and private donations that fund children-centered projects in Valparaiso and surrounding areas in Chile.
Ana Maria Viveros- Long has been with the organization since the reformation in 1990, today she serves as the Director of Projects in Washington, D.C. for The Chilean American Foundation, as it is now named. Viveros-Long has seen the nonprofit through years of its primary mission, to improve the education of underprivileged and vulnerable Chilean youth in the realms of science, literature, and resilience. In 2010, Chile saw one of its worst wildfires on record, Viveros-Long said she remembers how the Foundation used devastating circumstances as an opportunity to treat child trauma through literature. She said , “Until that moment, it never hit us like in 2010. From that moment on we became much more alert, and there have been many projects that children did with theatre companies and writing where they could reflect on what they just lived through.” Through a partnership with LibroAlegre, a nonprofit library for youth in Chile,
The Chilean American Foundation has funded children’s practice in reading and writing as a manner of coping with memories of disaster. The foundation has maintained focus in literature, and through this has been able to tackle social and psychological issues. UNICEF reports that Chile has a 97 percent literacy rate, but president of the Foundation Elias Tefarikis cautions the numbers are deceiving. Tefarikis said, “There is a problem in Chile with reading and writing. You’re comparing it to overall bad education in South American, so among those other countries it’s the best, but it’s like saying you’re all playing in a B league.” Before LibroAlegre began a program in 2001 titled Leer Para Escibir, Viveros-Long said it was unheard of for children in Valparaiso to read outloud in class, discuss what they had read, or write comprehensive summaries.
But when the program launched as a test in 2001, the children would be tasked with doing just this, with the caveat of getting to choose the topics they would read and write about. Viveros-Long said since the the program received sponsorship from The Chilean American Foundation, the students have chosen to make magazines dedicated to themes like friendship, soccer, and their experience with wildfires. Then and now, the children have created their own work in their publication “Calcetín con Papa,” and take delight in seeing their names printed alongside their work. Representative of the Foundation in Chile, Maria Theresa Traverso said, “Not only is this initiative valuable because it increases the opportunity for kids to insert themselves in society when they come from grand social inequality, but also because through this project they are able to increase a low self esteem that often affects children in public education in this country.”
When disaster strikes, the Chilean American Foundation launches special campaigns to fund the physical rebuilding and reconstruction of cities destroyed and lives torn apart. Recently the volunteers organized a campaign through Facebook that raked in more than $4,000 allocated to child victims of wildfires in Valparaiso. The most recent blaze has lasted for months, destroying land and homes of some of the country's poorest people. Money raised through the campaign is meant for reconstruction of schools with which the organization has partnered. Some of the projects include new school buildings, teaching students how to build greenhouses, and student physical and psychological rehabilitation. Campaign efforts in the past have been aimed at social support for families victim to earthquakes, and anti bullying, all through different forms of education.
The foundation is currently working with Ciencia Al Tiro to promote the study of sciences through better integration of laboratories and real experimentation for students. Tefarikis said most schools don’t have laboratories, so the partnership with Ciencia Al Tiro provides schools with spaces to conduct science experiments and learn about the world around them. Members of the Chilean American Foundation started by focusing on children, but are looking to see these recipients of aid all the way through higher education. In the last four years they have partnered with La Escuela de Desarrollo de Talento to identify educationally exceptional middle and high school students in Santiago for intensive reinforcement before entering college. The students meet twice a week with an adviser to ensure they maintain competitive grades to be accepted into college.
Viveros-Long said it's not just about getting in, but being selective. She said, “The idea is to get into a reputable university. In the last few years in Chile everyone has wanted to go to college, so there has been a proliferation of universities, but of very low caliber.” Looking to the future, volunteers at the organization hope only to expand the ground they cover and lives they touch in Chile. Most aid is currently going to Valparaiso, but the hopes are that with more volunteers, the number of cities receiving help can grow. Outside of the 30 regular volunteers, generous donations come from all around the U.S. and parts of Chile, though over half of all donations are from the D.C. area. And though most of the giving is coming from Chileans, between 10 and 15 percent is coming from Americans.
Viveros-Long said these are typically people who have some sort of love for or connection to the country, and the hope is that this platform continues to pour in gifts from anyone willing and able. “We’d like to have more connections with Chileans but also Latin Americans and Americans in general,” said Tefarikis. “We believe we are an institution that can help understand Latin America and specifically Chile.”