Friday, 18 September 2009

Welcome to Chile

The Methodist Church in Chile is hosting the World Methodist Council Executive meeting in Santiago. Anne is Secretary of the group that represents the Methodist Church in Britain at the meeting and so we have for a change reversed roles and I’ve taken the opportunity to accompany her. We had both been invited to see something of the work of the Methodist Church in Chile outside the capital, and so before the Executive meeting started we travelled to Tamuco in southern Chile. Tamuco is a growing provincial city 300 miles south of the capital Santiago.

We were greeted at the airport by Revd Pedro Grandon, co-ordinator of the Methodist rural work in the area. He was accompanied by Revd Omar Sepulveda and his wife Ester, a minister from further south in the district and who was to act as our translator.

After a quick wash and brush up at the hotel we were taken for a welcome lunch at a fish restaurant in Tamuco market. There we also met Elizabeth Cuevas, a Methodist visiting from Alabama, and who moved there from Chile over 30 years ago. She now regularly returns with Volunteer in Mission groups from her home church to support Methodist work in Chile.

The Methodist Church in Chile is 130 years old and currently has around 70 ministers and a membership of 7000. In this area they were once a major provider of primary education but over the years schools have been handed over to the state. Now they run just one High School and a further rural school that we will see tomorrow.

La Granja” Secondary School is some 70 years old and now focuses on 3 areas, child care work, agriculture and metalwork. They have 250 students who live in dormitories on a weekly basis. 90% of the students come from the indigenous Mapuche people and if they didn’t attend this school would in all likelihood get no secondary education at all. A small number of students go on to university, but most leave with good qualifications that lead to jobs in their communities.

Across the road from the school are the offices for the rural work the Church here is involved with. It works with many local communities around the area providing a great range of support and advice, from encouraging collaborative work and co-operatives, to basic housing advice to providing plastic sheeting for poly-tunnels and greenhouses.

We were taken to visit 2 of the co-operative projects they support. The first was a small group of women who use herbs they grow themselves to make hand creams, soaps and natural herbal oils, some of which are said to have therapeutic properties. The second was the marmalade group in Furgon who were encouraging the use of preserving fruit in order to store (and sell) more of the annual harvest. Both groups were clearly empowering local women in a very positive way.

We met them in a building modelled on the traditional single roomed house or “rucca” which now serves as a meeting place for the group and community. Not only were we well fed but were also treated to some traditional folk dancing from 2 of their children who were dressed ready to celebrate National Independence Day which is tomorrow.

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