On Solidarity Day in Chile, we want to highlight our pro bono client, Miradas Compartidas (Shared Views), for its enormous contribution to the social and labor inclusion of people with disabilities through a variety of experiences and programs, generating a true social transformation. We congratulate them for their work and invite you to learn more about them. Here’s to more shared views in Chile and the world!
MEDICAL SPECIALTIES IN EXTREME ZONES:
“We have changed the lives of 147,000 families”
Fundación Acrux conducted its first operation in 2003, to have the waiting lists for medical attention shorten throughout the country’s hospitals. The foundation comprises nearly 3,000 medical volunteers willing and ready to travel to the remotest places in Chile, to render their medical services to patients in need of them there.
How did the idea of creating Fundación Acrux come about?
I have always worked in health, but always in the private sector. I had never done it from the public sector. Nearly 20 years ago, we made a presentation for some doctors in order to assist poorer individuals. That is when we were born, and began realizing how huge the problem of waiting lists was. In the private sector, anyone makes a phone call and secures an appointment, and the greatest issue might be, for instance, having to settle for an appointment with your dermatologist for a month and half later. Instead, in the public sector, on average, the wait is of 1.5 to 2 years, because there are no specialists to cover the demand.
In seeing this reality, I decided to gather a group of doctors, and we went ahead with our first field operation. It took place during a winter morning in the borough of Pudahuel, at Noviciado, a completely rural area. There were three doctors, a gynaecologist, an echography technician, and a paediatrician, calling on people through a loudspeaker from a lorry. People reacted and responded to the call to be able to get medical attention. During that field operation we managed to have a TV channel cover it, specifically the morning show “Buenos días a Todos” [Good morning, everyone], and so we did all of this while being broadcast live. I recall this lady, 52 years old, who had never seen a gynaecologist.
After that, a woman called the TV channel, saying she had cancer, and that she had been told she needed a hysterectomy, but that she had been waiting three years for an ultrasound. They contacted us once again, and we immediately saw her. In the end, what she believed to be a tumour was, in fact, a cyst, nothing malignant. And so, being able to solve that waiting, and having us see her and prescribe treatment in 5 minutes… that motivated me to go on. That is when I thought that everything was possible.
We then organised another field operation for Recoleta and Santiago, but smaller, from 8 a.m. till noon, and we continued thus until the Navy contacted me and asked whether we could do a field operation for Puerto Natales. We were twenty doctors, and we realised the need for specialists was unbelievable. Pregnant women had to leave for Punta Arenas three months before labour, because the road freezes and they could not risk not making it on time. Plus, there is no maternity ward in Natales. That is how I detected a series of cases such as those, and decided I wanted to formalise the foundation. We were incorporated in 2013. We began going to various places, made an alliance with the Navy, the Ministry of Health, and other institutions.
How are requests filed?
We see it directly with the Ministry of Health and the Health Services. We present them with our planning and scheduling and they let us know where to go. Once the place has been defined, I contact the Ministry of Health and let them know the dates; we take the specialists needed. In April this year we had a field operation for Arica. We took 42 doctors, vascular surgeons, endoscopy technicians, general practitioners, everything. Last year we realised that the waiting lists in Arica were the same as in 2020. We managed to shorten those lists by 25%, leaving them in just one year. That same weekend, with 68 doctors, we visited Punta Arenas, Puerto Edén, Cerro Castillo, Porvenir, and Puerto Natales. In other words, we had two simultaneous field operations in the northernmost and southernmost regions of Chile.
The biggest operation we have conducted took place in Arica, as well. We took 147 doctors and saw nearly 16,000 patients over the course of four days.
And, at the beginning, were you visiting the same places?
Yes. Whenever we went back, after a year, we encountered those people again waiting to get a medical appointment, because of the lack of equipment. That was another issue. So we approached companies such as Phillips and Siemens, and got endoscopic and other types of equipment, and that is how we started growing.
What is the scope of the Foundation nowadays?
We currently have 998 doctors available in our network and, what is more important, they all do this as volunteer work. We have an alliance with Empresas Banmédica, which has health centres that overall have another 2,000 doctors, so I can safely say we now have 2,998 medical volunteers available. Some of them travel with us twice or thrice a year, others feel motivated when they learn about us. In short, this is a union of wills.
There are several players with a role throughout this network: the Government with the Health Services, governors in each region, companies, labs, and doctors, who all come together for this cause. The doctors, many of whom studied for free, tell us that this is a way of giving back. That is the underlying philosophy of Acrux, it is a way of repaying, of giving back.
Up to date, we have conducted nearly 153 field operations. We organise them for the weekend, Friday afternoon, Saturday, and Sunday morning, so that the health system does not resent it, since we see patients in the same hospitals. For example, we arrive in Antofagasta with 50 doctors, and they settle themselves at the clinic, without saturating the system. We have catered to the needs of 147,000 patients, and we believe that translates into having contributed to a life change for 147,000 families. We even offer surgeries nowadays.
How has Carey counselled you?
At some point we had to sign an international agreement, so we had to do a due diligence, and that is when we required lawyers. My daughter, who used to work at Carey, got me in touch with the firm and we began working with you as pro bono clients. I have to say, I have always received the greatest of services, you always come back with an answer within the same day, I really feel supported, as though I was one of the firm’s huge clients. -Roberto, I’ll call you at 6-. And by 6 they already have the issue solved. It’s just great!
Where in Chile have you detected more need?
All over Chile, but normally our mission revolves around the northernmost and southernmost areas, where there are no specialists. The biggest needs I have come across are in Chiloé. There are many islands, and people cannot travel. Other complex areas include Porvenir, Aysén, Chile Chico, Puerto Cisnes, and Cochrane. We have lately visited Perquenco, Galvarino, and Ercilla. Regardless of the many issues there are in the area, we have gone there, and have faced no trouble. I do not know whether that is owed to the good we are doing, or because people understand there are health needs.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of having created this foundation?
I am giving back what I have been given. I believe am blessed, favoured by God. Each field operation entails great physical exhaustion, but also joy and satisfaction for the soul, something wonderful. Each time we end up feeling as though we have a chubby soul, and ready for the next field trip. In the chat we have with the participating doctors they write: So, when do we see each other again?, or hey! You haven’t called me! Why? There are always volunteers.
What are your projects for the future?
The problem of waiting lists is a dynamic one. In four more years you will again hear about some issue that is not easily solved, and which grows in numbers and waiting time every so often. For the future, our project is to continue to be an institution that can contribute to shorten those waiting lists, increasing the number of patients seen, the medical services rendered, the number of medical field operations we conduct in a year, and the number of doctors and members that partner with us. Our main project for the future is to be acknowledged as one of the most relevant institutions in the performance of medical field operations to solve the country’s waiting lists. Our daily work focuses on that paramount goal.
The other thing is that Chile is a maritime country, a country with a vast coastline, and the ideal situation would be to have a hospital ship, something other countries do have, for it to go all over the country. That would be a huge help. I am thinking of Arica, Iquique, Antofagasta. With that we would be able to expand the offer of health services. Spain and the U.S. have that sort of ship. But the obstacle is the budget. A hospital ship like the one we want costs about USD$80 million. We are lacking that green light. It is a target we want to achieve, though it does go far beyond our daily tasks.
To learn more about Fundación Acrux, check this video: https://youtu.be/sLK2-b246jA
JUAN CRISTÓBAL BEYTÍA, TECHO’S CHAPLAIN
“WE MADE POSSIBLE FOR ALMOST 7 THOUSAND FAMILIES TO HAVE THEIR PERMANENT HOUSING”
TECHO’s chaplain, an engineer with a casual style, charismatic and opinionated, is currently leading a process of internal order of the institution due to the explosive growth it has experienced. Just in Chile, there are 157 people currently working for it.
As the successor of Felipe Berríos, Juan Cristóbal has continued his legacy immersed in a social reality where data speaks for itself. Today, there are 36,000 families living in camps, which equals the complete region of Aysén. In Chile there are 693 camps from which 76% are not connected to the drinking water network, i.e., they don’t have water to cook or to shower. 91% don’t have a regular connection to the sewage system, which brings serious health problems; 48% are not connected to the electrical network. The rate of illiterate people at camps rises up to 12.5%, five times the national rate. 66% of adults have not completed mid-level education and a fourth has not even completed basic education. The percentage of unemployed people rises up to 11%. Furthermore, the jobs they have are informal and, therefore, they are not protected in case of losing them. This is the reality of camps in Chile.
Reviewing this numbers, how has TECHO developed since its beginning until today?
TECHO started in 1997 with a campaign called “Two thousand emergency houses for 2000”, a limited subject related to taking people out of the dirt floor. After a short time, after meeting the prior goal, it was decided to build two thousand emergency houses more. Afterwards, incidentally and unfortunately, an earthquake stroke El Salvador in 2001 and another one took place in Peru. People from TECHO wanted to be present by building emergency houses wherever they could in order to help people at least providing them with a place to live. This is how TECHO started being an international organization. We are currently present in 19 Latin American countries, all except for Cuba, Jamaica, Belize and the Guyanas. We want to establish our parent company in Chile and Carey is helping us in this matter, among others. The firm is also helping us to incorporate a second foundation which will be a sort of international holding. By doing this, we will provide legal structure to something that already exists but will allow us to operate better.
How has TECHO addressed the issue of poverty in Chile?
From the beginning, we understood that emergency houses are not all one needs to stop being poor, since there are deficiencies in other areas of life, not just in relation to housing. Poverty has many dimensions and this is why we have implemented programs based on education, development of work skills, legal clinics and health programs, among others. This is why the need to tackle permanent house rises, as well as to accompany these families in the process. We wondered, why do people go to live at camps? It is like when water flows into a boat. If you have a pump that takes water out the outflow speed must be equal to the inflow speed, otherwise you sink.
“We are currently in a critical situation”
We are currently in a critical situation. We are in urgent need of two solutions: how to make the outflow system faster and in connection to that we have a proposal we can present to the Government, to the Ministry of Housing. The other issue is how we avoid people from entering the camp, because we realize that there are social situations underway that are pushing them towards the latter.
Which are those situations?
There are vulnerabilities to which families are permanently exposed. Some of them relate to low social capital, lack of networks, low schooling, poor work training. All that make a family more vulnerable. When a family is single-parent, it depends strongly on one wage. If the head of the household is fired, this becomes a problem. What we call financial resilience, this is, if the monthly margin between income and expenses is very narrow, or negative, then you are always owing money. Sometimes for those families only one event is enough to end up living in a camp.
When a family settles in a camp, are the urban and social effects of relocating them too complicated?
Exactly, we must be very careful because moving them out means all their support networks change. Chile made serious mistakes, such as in the case of Bajos de Mena, where a great number of families were placed in the same area, far from the city, far from their work, without hospitals, schools, police and firefighters stations. It became a “ghetto” where other kind of social problems arise. We understand that relocation from camps take time, with all the paperwork and formalities recuired. We have witnessed how it takes families over five or six years to get their permanent houses. Its too long!.
What have your achievements been in these twenty years?
We made it possible for 6,925 families to have permanent housing. This is a reason to celebrate. Such amount represents 11% of permanent housing built in Chile since 2007, year in which we started working on this. For a foundation to represent 11% of what is being done in Chile is almost embarrassing.
Is the focus now aimed at developing permanent housing?
Yes. When you provide an emergency house in a camp, it continues being a camp and the emergency house is still temporary.
Who else should provide solutions to approach this reality? How has the government been involved?
I don’t want to tie myself down to a specific political preference, but the policy of the former government was quite evil because it delivered subsidy vouchers directly to people for them to choose their housing projects. This was based on the idea that many projects would be completed, but in reality this was a mistake since finally those projects were never built. The government considered the situation of the families with vouchers overcome, but in reality the vouchers represented just a paper that left the people that received them in the same usual conditions.
Another topic that’s worth noticing is that in the recent recount on May 21st, President Bachelet did not mention camps. I have two hypothesis on this: social housing was not mentioned because the government was not advancing as they expected, or this subject was not a priority, or maybe both. We are currently going through a political moment that seeks the universality of rights. The quality of life for Chileans should have improved. But this shouldn’t mean that we stop focusing on some families that have not even reached a minimum living standard. When you propose tuition free undergraduate studies but realize that two thirds of adults have not completed mid-level education, truth is that it is a nice policy, but there are people that have not achieved the prior stage. We need to make policies or strengthen them focused on people that remain left behind.
What role shout companies have to contribute to social justice through Pro Bono work?
We believe that pro bono work and corporate social responsibility are key. It strikes me that this is just being approached. Companies have social responsibility just for being companies. It is a contribution to the social transformation. Companies are starting to set goals not only in respect of their profits, but they are also becoming aware that they must be responsible towards their employees, community and the environment. This relates to a long-term vision.
On pro bono work, here at TECHO we are being supported by Carey, which has been of invaluable help. We are a foundation whose principle is to work with young people, enabling them to make a change. Therefore, we need experienced people that can provide support with their knowledge. For many who are here, this is their first job; they come to learn and, in this sense, contact with specialists is important. We are now organizing the international foundation and it has been key to enjoy the support of a large firm, where different perspectives are put together and all points of views analyzed, at an employment, tax level, etc. Not anyone can provide those services and, in that sense, Carey has been a great ally.