Things have been improving greatly in Antofagasta over the last decade: the lowest poverty rates in the country; low unemployment; high per capita income and purchasing power; 99 per cent literacy. Nonetheless, thousands of families are still waiting for these improvements to reach them.
Not everyone has profited from the treasures of the soil
Children from the SOS village playing in a traditional band (photo: SOS archives)
The city of Antofagasta, capital of the province of the same name, has a population of over 300,000 and is located in middle of the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, bordered by the Pacific Ocean on the west. The region owes its wealth mainly to copper mining, but other industries, such as construction and commerce, have been expanding in recent years. The cost of living here is the second highest in the country after Santiago, but per capita income and purchasing power, too, are higher than elsewhere in Chile.
Although parts of the city are very modern, with big supermarkets and malls, condominiums and apartment buildings, Antofagasta is divided, with very poor neighbourhoods on the fringes of the city. Antofagasta has the lowest rates of poverty in all of Chile; in fact, the number of people living in destitution in the area has been reduced by around 70 per cent over the last decades. Nevertheless, this still leaves thousands of families in the shantytowns surrounding the city who have not yet benefited from recent improvements.
Single mothers, children and young people most at risk
Youth unemployment, in particular, remains at high levels, and children and young people are the most vulnerable sector of society, with almost twelve per cent living in poverty, as compared to e.g. the 4.3 per cent in the age group 45-59.
For women who are heads of household, the rates of poverty have even been on the increase. This means that a single mother’s income is often not enough to provide for her family, putting them especially at-risk of falling into poverty. A great number of children therefore begin life at a disadvantage, making success as an adult harder to achieve. Child labour, as well as child prostitution, are far from eradicated in the region, despite efforts to combat them.
When families break apart, children are sometimes abandoned and have to fend for themselves, living on the streets, begging or shining shoes. SOS Children’s Villages aims to support families in difficult situations before it comes to this crisis point, so that children can stay with their parents. If this is not possible, we provide a safe and nurturing home for these children.
What we do in Antofagasta
An SOS family celebrates a birthday (photo: SOS archives)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Antofagasta in 1987. Today, our social centres here offer a family strengthening programme, which aims to alleviate hardship in the community in a holistic and sustainable manner.
Our services include day care, a kindergarten, and a childminding programme, which allow working parents or single mothers to leave their children in safe hands while they are out making a living.
For children in Antofagasta who are no longer able to live with their parents, 14 SOS families can provide a loving home for up to 126 children. In each family, they live with their brothers and sisters and are affectionately cared for by their SOS mother. The children attend local schools and are therefore very much integrated into the local community.
When young people from the children’s village are ready to leave their family in order to pursue further education or vocational training, the SOS Youth Programme provides shared accommodation. With the support of qualified counsellors, the young people can learn to take responsibility, plan their future and prepare for independent adult life.