Moving Stories: A Journey to Chile
As part of the Moving Stories budget, funds were set aside for the Chairs of District and Project Worker to visit different places throughout the world that are doing similar work in Migration.
In January 2018, Revd Nigel Cowgill and Becky Cutcliffe were given the opportunity to join President of the Irish Conference, Revd Laurence Graham, on his World Church visit to Chile.
In 2017, almost 100,000 Haitians left their homeland to migrate to Chile, according to Chile’s border police, following the numerous natural disasters that have devastated Haiti in recent years. This wave of Haitians arriving in Chile has grown steadily over the past three years. Current immigration laws in Chile allow Haitians to enter the country under a three-month visitor’s visa, during which they must find contracted employment and thus be eligible to renew their stay in the country. However, finding work is difficult and many Haitians are ending up destitute, homeless and rejected by parts of Chilean society who have had little contact with black and minority ethnic groups (other than Chilean indigenous ones).
During the eight days spent in Chile (specifically, Santiago, Chillan and Curico), Nigel and Becky were given the opportunity to meet with several churches, and see and hear about the work they are doing to help Haitians settle into their new lives. While the Methodist Church in Chile has only been actively helping the Haitian migrants for the past eighteen months, it was incredible to see how much they’ve already taken on.
Here are several initiatives begun by the Methodist Church in Chile:
Language classes to address the language barrier between the Chileans (Spanish) and the Haitians (French-based Creole).
Accompanying Haitians to their various meetings with doctors, landlords, and border security, to avoid them being taken advantage of due to the barrier in communication.
Finding work is the primary concern for most Haitians, who are currently primarily relying on seasonal work in the summer months. The Church in Chillan have contacted businesses in their city and asked to be told of employment opportunities. Businesses are now trusting the Church to send them reliable and trustworthy workers.
The churches run an open-kitchen policy, where Haitians can use church facilities to cook food (many are living in small houses with 20+ other people).
Church members teaching new skills to Haitians (e.g. driving, welding, carpentry, cooking, etc.) has helped employment rates among the Haitians.
The Methodist Church in Chile is offering scholarships of up to 50% of college fees to a certain number of Haitians each year who desire to complete additional education.
So much more!
Nigel and Becky were most humbled by the attitudes of the church leadership in Chile. They were very upfront and honest about the prejudices and resistance they were still facing from members within their congregations, and their need to address these attitudes at their root. Nigel and Becky left Chile with this question at the forefront of their reflections:
How can we in London attack prejudice, ignorance and hostility toward migrants in a proactive way, instead of being reactive?