The forgotten poor are remembered by ORT Chile


4 March 2010 The forgotten poor are remembered by ORT Chile The forgotten poor of Chile have been remembered by ORT Chile, which is seeking ways to help the countrys most vulnerable communities gain access to the type of long-term assistance that can help them build a better future out of the devastation of last months earthquake and tsunami. For 20 years ORT Chile has been enhancing the education of non-Jewish communities throughout the country. With the financial backing of the Coca-Cola Foundation and Telefonica, Chiles leading telecommunications operator, ORT Chile has brought modern technology and know-how to scores of schools including 13 situated in the areas hardest hit by the latest natural disasters such as San Pedro de la Paz, Talcahuano, Tome, Lota and Constitucion on the coast and inland at Chillan and Talca. Our priority is to find out how exactly these schools have been affected, said ORT Chile National Director Marcelo Lewkow. But communication is very difficult: there are aftershocks daily, telephone links have yet to be fully restored and travelling there is all but impossible while the area is under military control with, in some places, an 18-hour curfew. I havent been able to speak to anyone at the schools yet. A map of Chile with towns of particular interest to ORT marked in red. Areas within the broken red line experienced very strong to severe shaking during the earthquake. Areas within the broken yellow line experienced moderate to strong shaking. Areas within the broken green line experienced light to mild shaking. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) The country’s 20,000 Jews are concentrated in the capital Santiago and are not known to have suffered any significant harm from the earthquake. However, in a sign of how difficult it is to dig information out of the worst-hit parts of the country it has only now emerged that the Masorti synagogue in Chiles second city, Concepcion, was destroyed during the 8.8 temblor, one of the most powerful ever recorded. Mr Lewkow has abandoned plans to spend the Passover holiday, at the end of the month, in Argentina and is pinning his hopes on the situation to have stabilised enough for him to visit the schools in the week between the first and last days of religious festivities. I would like to see first hand what their needs are. We will then provide whatever is necessary according to the money we have available, he said. In addition, ORT Chile has acceded to WIZOs request that two non-Jewish schools it supports be added to the list. World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer added: ORT Chile is ready to ensure that whatever funds become available to World ORT through fund-raising in the Jewish community can be immediately put to use. How much money will be available is, at this stage, anyone’s guess. Two-thirds of the funding for ORT Chiles widely acclaimed projects among the majority population comes from Coca-Cola and Telefonica and both companies are currently focused on restoring their operations to pre-quake capacity. I havent spoken to anyone at Coca-Cola or Telefonica. They have to look after their business before they can examine their social responsibility commitments so they are very busy. There’s no reason to think that the level of their support for our work is threatened in the short term. But the situation is so big an area the size of Ireland [more or less equivalent to South Carolina] has been affected that it is very difficult to forecast what could happen, Mr Lewkow said. With such a massive re-constructive effort needed at an estimated cost of $30 billion it may be that such leading corporations may actually increase their philanthropic commitments. But it remains to be seen whether any extra funding will be directed towards education. The only thing of which Mr Lewkow is certain is that should these multinationals choose to increase their investments in education they will do so through ORT, their proven and trustworthy partner. With some two million people displaced and at least 800 killed, Chiles tragedy is undeniable despite inevitable comparisons with Haitis experience of more than 200,000 victims. The death toll in Chile is less than one per cent of that suffered by Haiti, largely the result of superior building standards in a country with a vastly higher standard of living. However, Chiles economic strength belies the fact that the country continues to experience the challenge of socio-economic polarisation resulting from the economic policies of the Pinochet regime. The free market theories applied after the 1973 overthrow of the elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende exposed domestic industries to international competition. The ensuing de-industrialisation coupled with the introduction of multinational corporations to agricultural and mining production increased poverty in the provinces, the benefits of economic growth and liberalised financial markets proving particularly beneficial to the educated urban elite. Chiles overall economic success and the social programmes implemented by elected governments have reduced poverty rates by half since the 1980s but still one-fifth of the population lives below the poverty line. Although ORT Chile has fostered science and technology programmes in Jewish schools since the 1970s and has plans to found an affordable Jewish school in the capital Santiago, it is the underprivileged in Chiles wider population who have been the focus of its work since the restoration of democracy in 1990. It is these forgotten poor, those not connected to the advanced part of Chile, who have been hit hardest by the earthquake, Mr Lewkow said. Chile may have the strongest economy in Latin America but the communities we help are poor. ORT has gone where no-one else went to help and it is in doubt if and what kind of help they will receive in the future. Much of the rioting and looting which has been seen in recent days can be attributed to the frustration felt by people who believe that successive governments have ignored them and are likely to continue doing so. Chile has the resources to provide basic services like food and shelter for those affected by the earthquake, but to provide them with the level of education that they should have will be a real challenge. ORT Chiles first experience of helping these people was in San Pedro de la Paz, a suburb of Chiles second largest city, Concepcion, where now an estimated 4,000 troops have been deployed. There, armed with $1 million from the European Commission, ORT played a pivotal role in the establishment of a vocational school with partners in the Ministry of Education and local philanthropists and business. We had international experts living there for five years giving technical assistance, Mr Lewkow said. We chose the machinery, trained the teachers and advised on the design of the school. In 1994, with the support of the Coca-Cola Foundation, ORT Chile started an on-going project designing and installing state-of-the-art science and technology laboratories in public schools as well as teacher training programmes. Nearly 60 schools from Arica in the north to Easter Island in the west and Punta Arenas in the south have benefited so far. The Ministry of Education has hailed the project as important to national development because it helps to create new ways of teaching science and increases access to science for some of Chiles most deprived students. Since 2000, ORT Chile has partnered with the Ministry of Education in offering training programmes for students with special needs and providing management workshops for teachers and training in the teaching of Spanish and mathematics. And it secured the backing of Telefonica in 2003 to set up training for blind and physically disabled students in the use of Windows and the Internet. The success of these and other projects led Chiles equivalent to Americas Newsweek, Que Pasa , to report: Since 1977, ORT has realised projects in Chile that have had a great social impact, that have given thousands of people access to a better education After the publication of Que Pasas glowing report, ORT Chile started work on projects with the Ministry of the Interior for young people at risk. And since 2006, it has partnered again with Telefonica to provide technology training to prison inmates so that they have employable skills in time for their release back into the community.