Posted by: thebluemusicblog | May 27, 2012

LATIN AMERICA 3 – CHILE

A visit to Pablo Neruda’s home in Valparaiso was another highlight during our visit to Chile. Neruda had three houses, one in Islas Negro, the main house in Santiago and then this beautiful house up in the hill overlooking the harbor and the sea. They said he loved to wave goodbye to the sailing ships. It is an adventure of a house, a fairy tale.

The famous poet and Nobel Prize laureate was also ambassador to France under Salvador Allende’s government in 1972-73. In September 1973 Allende was overthrown by the dictator Pinochet, President Allende died during the coup when the Presidential Palace was bombarded by heavy artillery from Pinochet. That was the beginning of a terrible regime where thousands and thousands of innocent people were killed, kidnapped, disappeared or forced to escape from Chile. Amazingly all these three characters were born and raised in Valparaiso, Allende, Neruda and Pinochet. I remember very well the feelings I had when I heard about the destabilizing of Chile from the outside during the beginning of President Allende’s rule. He was democratically elected by his people. And when I heard about his death and the overtaking by Pinochet, I remember still today the feeling of hopelessness. Another fascist in the long list of similar kinds both in Latin America and in Europe. I bought a video in the Neruda museum covering the last days of Salvador Allende. It was raining heavily outside Pablo Neruda’s house when we came out, and I looked over the beautiful city, the city of Poets, idealists and dictators.

Monday morning started with staff breakfast at the YMCA. All four German volunteers, excellent young representatives of their YMCAs, were there together with the staff of Valparaiso and the Federation of YMCAs in Chile. Again I made a presentation of NEW WAY and Youth Empowerment in Action, and we had  good hour of questions and comments and good conversation. I was also introduced to the different programmes of Valparaiso YMCA.

To illustrate this, we then took off for a tour of some of the most interesting programmes. First we visited the YMCA primary school combined with the secondary school, and had meetings with pupils and teachers and the leadership of the schools. It was amazing to see the good and modern equipment and to see the high standards of the schools and their teachers. The needs are huge, and an extension of the school is soon to be made.

As I mentioned already, the higher up in the hill we get, the poorer the conditions of the inhabitants, and at the top of the city is really slum. Up there the YMCA has established several centres for social programmes, and we visited two of them.

There we met people who were using the services of the YMCA. We sat at the tables together with poor people who every day came to have a big plate of lunch at the YMCA, all for free. This was making their lives bearable. But it is more than food.

Here the leader of one of the centres and his fiancee.

The centres are safe havens for numerous people who are not welcome elsewhere. Second hand cloth is available there, the centres are places for events and social gatherings, for education and training. In one of the centres I even found an ecological garden where waste was used for compost and you could follow the process until you found yourself eating the green salad or other vegetables. In the afternoon street children and drop outs from schools came to be at the YMCA, a safe place, a place with an open heart for young people so much in need for acceptance and recognition.

While I sat at the table with the hungry, I was invited to take photos, but I said no thank you, this is about dignity. As I observed the YMCA volunteers cooking and serving, and among them the young German volunteers together with an American one and several local volunteers, I found myself being thrown back two weeks, over an ocean and across a different continent to the slum in Freetown, Sierra Leone. I had exactly the same experience again. The local YMCA was a beating heart in the middle of the slum, and the people of the slum, being told that I belonged to the YMCA, raised their heads and smiled and some of them said: “The YMCA is good – we love the YMCA!”  YMCA putting smiles on faces in the slums of different cities on different continents. I felt proud to belong to this movement, even more than before.

Should not slums disappear? Yes. But only if the people is being pushed up and into better conditions. Slums disappear in some cities when prestigious international events are being organized. But then people disappear into darkness and even greater pain. A slum is also a tight network of people, fighting to survive together, as a collective. I learnt that in the slum of Freetown. When the authorities wanted to dissolve the slum there, the YMCA spoke against that and lobbied for the people of the slum. I heard them say thank you to the local YMCA. I felt proud again. I learnt that lesson in a YMCA community centre in the slum in  Freetown. Now I sat in a similar YMCA community centre in  Valparaiso.

I am absolutely willing to discuss YMCA and slums, YMCA and the poor.  But I would love to discuss with people who have been to the slums and who have served the poor and who have met people like the young woman I met who told her story of getting up from almost total poverty to be trained and becoming a room maid at a local hotel and making a living for herself and her family.

More people from the slums around the world need to be trained and given opportunities to go through the change process of the YMCA. More slums need advocacy and lobby and defense.

That is also why the Sleeping Giant needs to be woken up! A strong voice of a unified and collective YMCA is needed out there, to fight for the youth, the people of the slums. In Freetown, in Valparaiso, in so many places around the world.

Oscar showed me the house where he was born and lived as a child, not far from one of the centres. Oscar is for me like an incarnation of the YMCA values and ideals, as he operates around his city and waves to the people on their way to a free YMCA lunch, or when he greets high representatives of government who assists the YMCA with solid sums of dollars for their schools, their social work among young prisoners in the prisons, for the YMCA being a heart in the city, where a heart is badly in need.

This is also Valparaiso, or its close neighborhood – Vina del Mar


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