Dozens of families live on the outskirts of Santiago, Chile, crammed into “Camp Giappone” -- a filthy shantytown built with materials scavenged from a nearby landfill. “You can breathe the segregation and inequality here; it’s as acrid as burning garbage,” observe our Salesian missionaries serving in Santiago. Along with volunteers from the Silva Henríquez Catholic University (named after the late Salesian Cardinal of Santiago), these missionaries have been ministering to the camp’s 120 residents since 2015.
Women are at the head of the 40 families of the camp. The women and children struggle to stay healthy amid the squalor that surrounds them: raw sewage, contaminated drinking water, a lack of heat or electricity and many more dangers. Many are also chronically malnourished.
“It is a precarious and unworthy way of life,” says Father Mark Hyde, director of Salesian Missions. “They don’t choose it, but they don’t have a choice either. They are desperately poor, with no education and have no way to earn a living. Worse, the government offers no assistance.”
According to the World Bank, while Chile’s economy is among the most stable in Latin America, five percent of the country’s population lives on just $2 per day. A worsening divide between those who have the means and access to go to school, and those who do not, has contributed to an alarming rise in economic inequality and injustice. As a result, nearly 40,000 families are forced to live in more than 600 makeshift camps like Giappone throughout the country.
The intervention provided by Salesian missionaries in Camp Giappone offers dignity and hope to those who have lost both. In addition to building water and sanitation infrastructure for the community, missionaries and volunteers go into the community to educate the children. This includes teaching younger children basic subjects and offering literacy courses for adults. They also provide legal and other social services to residents to help them navigate complex systems that often keep them in poverty.
“These efforts may seem modest, but they are the first critical steps toward helping the women and children of Camp Giappone envision, and acquire the skills to work toward, a more sustainable future outside the slums,” concludes Fr. Mark.
Our mission helps the poorest of the poor gain dignity and the chance for a better life. What’s your mission?