Three Years Ago Today, 8.8 Earthquake Hit Chile

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By María de los Ángeles Lara, CRS Bolivia

Elizabeth Vidal lives in Rinconada de Doñihue with her husband, a farmer, and their six children, in a house built with the support of Catholic Relief Services.

Rinconada de Doñihue is a farming community of about 570 people, in the Dioceses of Rancagua. It was one of the communities hit the hardest by the earthquake on February 27, 2010. The homes in this community were mostly built out of adobe and 75 percent of its residents were affected.

Before the earthquake, Elizabeth and her family had built a house on her mother’s land, which she had inherited from Elizabeth’s grandparents. The house was destroyed in the earthquake but because the deeds to the house were in her grandfather’s name, Elizabeth couldn’t receive the housing subsidy offered by the Chilean government.

With the support of CRS, the local Caritas carried out an assessment which resulted in the reconstruction of ten homes in Rinconada de Doñihue. Elizabeth’s family was one of the families who benefitted from this support, and they now have a home which provides them both safety and dignity.

CRS also funded a project focused on the recuperation of the local economy after the quake. Through this initiative Elizabeth received the raw materials for the production of “chamantos”, ponchos woven on looms out of wool and silk. Ponchos are part of the traditional dress of Chilean peasants and its artisanal production is one of the eleven enterprises supported by CRS in Rinconada de Doñihue.

Elizabeth learned how to weave these ponchos from her mother, and she taught her two daughters, so that they would continue with the tradition of loom weaving. She is now employed by an intermediary who provides her with the yarn for weaving and pays her $625 for each poncho completed, which takes approximately 3 months to make.

Elizabeth is investing the profits in her future. She went to the capital city of Santiago with a Caritas employee to buy $125 in yarn. She plans on weaving a poncho with this yarn, which could cost up to $3,750 upon completion. Her goal is to invest the money earned from selling her poncho in family expenses and in purchasing more yarn to weave another poncho.

“I will be working for my boss until I can finish my own poncho,” says Elizabeth, who has formed a group with other poncho weavers in Rinconada de Doñihue. Together they dream of opening up their own business.