Chilean Women Rebuild Lives Smashed by Tsunami

Monday, July 4, 2011

Some give up traditional livelihoods and do something new. Others stay put and rebuild from within devastated towns. Throughout the shoreline communities of southern Chile hardest hit by the 2010 tsunami, women are driving a long, hard recovery.

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Health Surveys

With the onset of winter, the health teams have been conducting surveys of their camps. Residents identified garbage, fire hazards and preventing respiratory illness, especially among children and seniors, as their top concerns.

Pamela Monsalve is one of the health representatives. After the tsunami, she says she lived in a tent for three months with her two infant children, waiting for emergency shelter. She has a high school diploma, but says that hasn't protected her from poverty.

Earlier this year, a seminar organized by the SUR Corporation for Social Studies and Education, another nongovernmental group, studied women's "resilience and participation" in rebuilding the Bio Bio region of southern Chile.

Participants discussed various activities and strategies, including the construction of community clay ovens and the purchase of a megaphone and banners for women to lead marches.

In some places, women are putting their ravaged communities back together.

Elizabeth Ramirez, 38, and her neighbors earn a meager living gathering and harvesting seaweed in Gente de Mar, or "People of the Sea," an enclave of 30 fishing families in Penco, a city in southern Chile. Families here have refused to leave their homes and livelihoods despite the damages from last year's earthquake and tsunami.

Along the shoreline, partially repaired houses share the beach with a few wooden dinghies and a carpet of soggy seaweed. Ramirez says that frequent rain has caused the seaweed she recently harvested to rot.

Demand Hurt by Japan's Earthquake

Ramirez and her neighbors sell their seaweed crops to a local agent who ships them to Japan. But after the March earthquake in Japan, demand has withered.

"The police came to tell us that the ola japonesa [Japanese wave] was on its way and to leave our homes," she says.

She says the waters washed across the beach and up to her door. But the sea pulled back, and, undeterred, women ventured out to the rocks to hunt for shellfish.

"I wasn't buying the hype about another tsunami," says Bellamira, who declined to give her last name, one of Ramirez's neighbors. "I have a family to feed. I went straight to work."

Few, if any, families here hold titles to their plots, and residents say that the city wants to take possession of this beachfront property for real estate development and tourism. But residents say they have lived and worked here for two and three generations and see no reason to abandon their boats, nets and expertise.

"There's still pelillo and luga along the coast here," Ramirez says, referring to two types of edible seaweed. "We don't need handouts--we need wetsuits, wheelbarrows. And we need to work together with other communities in the same situation."

Fundacion EPES has held workshops in Gente de Mar to help Ramirez and her neighbors develop skills in community organization and conflict mediation.

In May it conducted a Mother's Day fundraising drive, collecting enough to provide the women with what they said they wanted most: 12 wheelbarrows and 12 pairs of rubber boots.

The organization is planning to provide workshops with the women in Gente de Mar on protecting their health while collecting seaweed, including how to prevent back pains and arthritis.

"The sea took everything from us," Ramirez says. "But it will also return to us everything we need, as soon as we have the means to return to our work."


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ATTRIBUTION: Adapted from original content published by the Global Press Institute. Read the original article here. [http://globalpressinstitute.org/global-news/americas/chile/entrepreneurial-women-seaside-villages-reclaim-lives-rebuild-livelihoods-]All shared content has been copyrighted by Global Press Institute.

Lezak Shallat reports for Global Press Institute's Chile News Desk. She has lived in Chile since the mid-1980s.

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