The Anglican Diocese of Chile is developing a plan for short- and long-term relief to serve isolated communities most affected by the magnitude-8.8 earthquake that shook the central part of Chile on Feb. 27, leaving almost 400 people dead and damaging some 1.5 million homes.
"We are going where no media has gone and sending trucks full of water, milk and food, because they have nothing," said Bishop Hector Zavala, in a March 22 telephone interview from his home in Santiago.
One of the most affected areas is the city of Concepción, where many of the 500,000 residents are still without electricity and continue to be hit by powerful aftershocks.
Two days after the earthquake, Zavala and other Anglican clergy traveled to Concepción, where the diocese has three churches, to assess the situation and to provide assistance. The diocese has since sent 10 trucks to deliver much-needed supplies.
But Zavala said that the diocese has decided also to focus on the coastal community in Bajos de Putú that has fallen below the media's radar.
The diocese has sent about 100 young people to Bajos de Putú to clean houses and to offer support to its people, said Zavala. "They start working in the morning and stop with the sunset as they have no electricity. In the night they stay with the people. One of the ways to deal with the emotions and psychological issues is to talk with the people and help them in terms of rebuilding their houses and their lives."
Zavala acknowledged that Chile may be considerably more prepared for earthquakes than other countries in seismic zones, but "this is the fourth earthquake in my life and this has been the worst," he said. "The earth moved so strongly. Many museums and heritage buildings suffered."
The earthquake was the strongest to hit Chile in 50 years. Its epicenter was approximately 60 miles northwest of Chillan, and 220 miles southeast of Chile's capital, Santiago. The earthquake moved Concepción at least 10 feet to the west, geophysicists have said.
Due to serious communications issues following the earthquake, it was two days before Zavala learned that a tsunami had hit the southern part of the country. But the part that Zavala and his fellow Anglicans found the hardest to comprehend was the looting that followed, particularly in Concepción. "I am still shocked because of that," he said. "People spoke more about the social impact of the looting than the earthquake, because they felt that something very unethical had happened in our society."
The next priority for the diocese, Zavala said, is to provide the affected communities with the ability to rebuild their own lives and livelihoods. "Many of them have lost their boats and farms," he said. "We are now saving money in order to help them resume working, fishing and farming."
Three of the diocese's church buildings were damaged in the earthquake: San Juan in Concepción; San Pedro in Viña del Mar; and Emmanuel in Conchali. A commission is working with engineers and architects to assess how much it will cost to rebuild or repair the churches.
But Zavala underscored that the main priority is to help the people and their families and that rebuilding the physical structures will come later.
The Anglican Church in Chile (Iglesia Anglicana de Chile) is located in the Province of the Southern Cone of America, which also includes dioceses in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. The diocese includes 98 churches and about 10,000 Anglicans, with the indigenous Mapuche people accounting for about half of that number. Zavala has served the diocese as bishop since 2000.
Zavala said the diocese has been overwhelmed by the messages of support and financial assistance received from individuals and organizations throughout the world. In particular, he expressed gratitude to the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Church Mission Society, South American Mission Society, Episcopal Relief & Development and Anglican Relief and Development.
Episcopal Relief & Development has said it is disbursing emergency funds to the diocese "to help purchase critical supplies such as food, water and shelter that will be distributed to families in areas hit hardest by the quake." The agency said it will continue to communicate with the diocese as the situation unfolds and additional needs are assessed.
"I knew from the beginning that I belonged to a big family and I can see now the wider Anglican family is united," Zavala said. "It is very encouraging. Now is the time to help people for humanitarian reasons. It is good that our theological differences can be put aside when we are concerned with helping people."
Zavala said that SAMS Canada is planning to send a working team to Chile. He said the diocese would welcome anyone wishing to travel to Chile to assist with the relief efforts, but asked that they wait a few weeks until the church has a clear understanding of how to deploy such support.
The Diocese of Chile's mission statement "talks about serving our society," Zavala said. "We are growing in this aspect of social help to the people. Not just to the church, but also to those outside the church. We are praying in order that we might be more generous."
Article from ENS by Matthew Davies