It has been exactly five months since the earthquake and tsunami, and this winter has been the coldest and wettest in many years.

It has been exactly five months since the earthquake and tsunami, and this winter has been the coldest and wettest in many years.  Every day we are grateful that many people who lost their houses now have a Blessing Cabin, a decent dry place to call home.  The cold, however, penetrates even the best built homes, and on those days where I am not out at workshops or running errands, I try to keep warm when I am working on the computer by lying in bed under at least five covers and with a hot water bottle tucked under my feet.

Since April, the Shalom Centre has been coordinating Doors of Hope, a trauma awareness and resilience project of the Pentecostal Church of Chile.  In the first phase of the project, the Shalom Centre trained church and community leaders in basic “emotional first aid” and provided them with all of the necessary materials and supplies to lead healing and awareness workshops in their churches or organizations.  Now that of the newly trained leaders are back in their communities, we are receiving reports on the workshops that they have organized and led for children, youth, and adults.

In the second phase of the project, leaders from many different areas of Chile will be given the opportunity to participate in a five day course on emotional trauma.  This intensive training course will take place in September followed by a retreat for ministers, two retreats on compassion fatigue for firemen, policemen, nurses, social workers, and others who were a part of the rescue efforts or who are still dealing with the aftermath of the catastrophe.  In addition, Shalom Centre staff will be working closely with the youth from two different parts of the seventh region, one devastated by the tsunami and the other a rural area where there was widespread destruction of homes and little aid.  The activities with the youth will focus on conflict transformation skills, violence prevention, mediation, team work and cooperation, personal growth, trauma healing and resilience development.

Since each of the thirty volunteers on the Shalom Centre staff were also trained to lead workshops in basic trauma and resilience, they have been coordinating and organizing workshop in churches and local organizations throughout the sixth, seventh, and eighth regions.  Last Thursday, I had the privilege of assisting two of the Shalom Centre motivators in a workshop organized at a foundation that provides a safe home and loving care for children whose parents are incarcerated.   While Acsa and Carolina worked with the teenagers and children, I engaged the foundation staff in a small workshop on trauma with ample opportunity to reflect on their experiences during and after the earthquake.  One of the women told about escaping with her small son from her adobe home as the roof and walls caved in.  She also spoke about how difficult it has been to adjust to a new community and different neighbours even though she is grateful for the blessing of a decent home and a place to care for her child.  Another recalled the first time she went downtown to shop for the essential items that became so scarce after the quake, and how painful it was to discover the shops, stores, homes, and businesses in ruins.  Just this week, I heard on the news that an estimated 2500 homes will have to be torn down in Talca, the city where I live.  Five months after the earthquake not even 20% of those houses has been torn down yet much less has there been any headway in building permanent replacement homes. 

It has been five months after the earthquake and hardly a conversation goes by where we don’t mention some loss, some change, some fear, or some question that hasn’t yet been answered. 

Elena Huegel

Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC).  She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.