Puerto Varas is a small town of about 30,000 inhabitants on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, in southern Chile. The lush forests and towering volcanoes make it a beautiful location, and it is an extremely popular tourist destination.
Other than tourism the economy is focused primarily on fishing in the large lakes and farming the fertile soil. Most people in the area are self employed in these main livelihood activities but many remain very poor.
High levels of self employment have meant very low levels of official unemployment, however this has masked relatively high rates of poverty. Most people here are self employed out of necessity rather than choice and over 21% live below the poverty line.
The work they do is often long and hard, but provides them with only a very precarious source of income, limiting their ability to provide a steady income for their families. Long hours also mean that children are neglected during the day and parents are often too exhausted to fulfil their emotional needs when they return home in the evening.
The poverty cycle
The population in Puerto Varas is very young, with under 20s making up 36% of the total. Unfortunately many of these young people have received little formal education, since 23% of 14-18 year olds having permanently dropped out of school. This severely limits the opportunities they will have in the future.
The reason behind this is the pressing need that many families have for the income that even very young members can provide. Though this extra money can sometimes help to alleviate short term difficulties, it creates long term problems when it prevents people from breaking out of poverty.
How do we help children in Puerto Varas?
We began working in Puerto Varas in 1984. Since then we have continuously engaged with local communities to ensure that every child gets the support they need to achieve their full potential.
SOS families are home to up to 108 children who can no longer live with their parents. They are cared for by their SOS mother, and live together with their siblings all under one roof.
These children all attend local schools, which helps them to integrate with wider society and build friendships with other children. The care they receive at these early stages and the attitudes they learn will form the basis for happy and prosperous futures.
When they are old enough, many children from SOS families pursue further education and training away from home. For these young people we provide accommodation where they can live together with young people from SOS families in other areas.
Through our qualified staff we also offer them support and advice that helps them shoulder increasing responsibility and take their next independent steps into adulthood. We have been with them since they were young children, and many will maintain strong ties with their SOS mother for the rest of their lives.
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