Social Impact Study: Los Coipos, Chile
The present study results is a qualitative research on of one of the projects conducted by Voluntary Horizons (VH) in Chile after the 2010 earthquake in the sector of Los Coipos throughout 2010-2011. The person in charge of the study was Ameriga Giannone, MSc in Anthropology and Development from the London School of Economics. Voluntary Horizons brought four different groups of volunteers to this community to help reconstruct the Community Center which was severely damage during the earthquake. The objective of the study was to know if the VH project had had a positive or negative impact on the community. Furthermore, it contains a needs evaluation; and recommendations for future development projects as deemed beneficial by the habitants of Los Coipos and the neighboring village of Barba Rubia.
The data used for this research was collected in the field using the following tools:
- Individual and Focus Group Interviews with Key Informants.
- Casual Interviewing during two field trips that took place on the 5-6th and 12-13th of November 2011.
- Collection of data from the paper “PROYECTO DE TELECOMUNICACIÓN PARA ZONAS RURALES DE LOS TERRITORIOS CUENCA DEL MATAQUITO, TALCA PONIENTE Y EMBALSE ANCOA” provided by the Municipality of Hualañe as the only documentation in their possession with demographical data on the sectors of interest.
The residents of Los Coipos/Barba Rubia interviewed were:
- Concepcion de la Mercedes Gonzales (Catita)
- Antonio Valenzuela
- Georgina Valenzuela (Leader of the Grupo de las Mujeres and Antonio Valenzuela’s daughter)
- Adan Muñoz
- Eva Vasquez Guerrera (Adan’s wife)
- Maria Ines Castro Aliago,
- Eufemia Machuca Valenzuela (Chimita)
- Saul Hernan Palanco Manca (Chimita’s husband)
- Texia Nicole Valenzuela Mora
- Patricia de la Mercedez Mora (Texia’s mother)
- Juan Victor Iturriaga (President of Junta de Vecinos)
- Wilson Felipe Silva Iturriaga (Juan’s brother)
- Marciel del Carmen (Catalina’s husband)
- Catalina Cadamaño
- Juan Carlos Zenteno
The representatives of local institutions interviewed were:
1) Ricardo Badilla Bustamante, Agronomist (INDAP Consultant)
2) Maria Eugenia Ormazabal Guerrero (Teacher school Barba Rubia)
3) Maria Julia Villalobos, Accountant (Director Oficina de la Mujer Hualañe )
4) Claudio Pucher, Construction engineer, (Alcalde Hualañe since 2009)
5) Lilian Priscila Fuenzalida Debia (Teacher School of Los Coipos)
The study concluded that the decision to intervene in La Sede (Community Center) by VH was rated positively as it is a place that is used by virtually every inhabitant of Los Coipos to engage in various activities. It is in the Sede where they develop the projects they which are run by the local municipality. The biggest improvement that was made was to add two bathrooms, since in the old building there was none. People mentioned small details that could be improved, or that were currently being executed: putting ceramic tiling on the floor and fixing the ceiling that is made of polystyrene and is currently being broken by cats sneaking in.
The experience of receiving the voluntaries was rated positively: Most of the people interviewed had had a close relationship with the volunteers, for example, they hosted them in their houses or were cooking for them. Those who hosted volunteers at their house described the experience as amazing (maravilloso) and especially valued the opportunity of meeting someone from a very far away country that would have never got there otherwise.
When asked about possible problems (molestias) due to having these guests in their houses, respondents said that they never had any reason to complain. All of the people interviewed said that they would love to host new volunteers in their houses. Even people who had their houses damaged, and thus who couldn’t host the volunteers, said that in the future they would be happy to do so.
Respondents were very enthusiastic about the Cultural Exchange generated by having the volunteers in their communities and by the activities organized by VH. They stated that they had the opportunity of being in contact with people from different countries, and they especially enjoyed learning about their different culture. People enjoyed also participating in the asados (barbeques) at the end of each groups stay.
Language and Communication: The volunteers could generally not speak Spanish and often gestures were the only way they could communicate with the locals. However, respondents found it entertaining to talk about the fact that they could not understand a single word of English. Another common opinion was that it was very helpful to have translators in the group to help out with more complex communication.
Awareness of Voluntary Horizons With the exception of Eva, none of the respondents knew that Julie’s organization is called “Voluntary Horizons”. Respondents identified Julie as the person in charge of all the volunteers’ trips.
The Impact Evaluation showed:
- The choice to rebuild the Community Center was deemed appropriate by the target population.
- The amount of people directly and indirectly affected by VH’s project can be quantified as the whole population of Los Coipos (around 200 persons), since the Community Center is used by the entire town.
- The impact of VH’s project was considered positive by all the people interviewed with no exception.
- Volunteer tourism was considered as a sustainable activity. Interviewees are eager to receive more volunteers in the future and host them in their own houses.
- This project is coherent with others that have been carried out in the town. For example, without the reconstruction of the Community Center, the projects by the Mesa de la Mujer (Women’s Office) would not have had a place to undertake their activities.
- Most beneficiaries are not aware of the name of Voluntary Horizons, but they identify Julie, Managing Director of VH, as its leader.
- Respondents showed a very high degree of appreciation of VH’s project.
- People in the towns would be eager to host new volunteers in their homes for future projects.
- According to the interviewees, the impact was completely positive in respect to the reconstruction of the Community Center, which today is in better conditions than it was before the earthquake.
- Voluntary Tourism is considered greatly positive as a means of cultural exchange.
In order to identify Future Projects, during the interviews respondents were asked their personal opinion on what was most urgent to improve the condition of the town according to them. Five regional experts were also interviewed and gave their insights. Although not all of these areas would be suitable for Voluntary Horizons projects, the following areas were identified for future intervention:
Tourism was deemed very important by some of the people interviewed. The experience of receiving the volunteers had been so beneficial according to them that they were really looking forward to receiving more foreign people in the community. It seemed that respondents made no difference between foreign “tourists” and “volunteers”; associating both titles to the volunteers they had received in the community. According to the Mayor, tourism is extremely important to the area, because its development will make the inhabitants more aware of the value of the land they inhabit, of their natural and cultural heritage and improve their self-esteem and respect for their environment.
Before any project for new infrastructure is undertaken, it is critical to define the status of the only available piece of land in Los Coipos. The following were identified as the most urgent infrastructures:
- A village square
- Children’s Playground
- Close in the football field with fencing to protect it from animals
- Complete the Community Center
- Replace ceiling (a donation for the cost of this has already been presented to the community managed by Voluntary Horizons);
- Replace floor (to make it more attractive)
- Complete the kitchen the community
- Complete the church.
- Construction of a new school
- Build greater connection between the farmers and the markets
- Practical vocational training for farmers
4. Environmental conservation
- Garbage collection: Currently each habitant of Los Coipos is responsible for its own garbage, since there is no public system of collection. In order to improve the disposal of garbage:
- Programs could be offered to adults in order to educate them on recycling and garbage disposal.
- A possible temporary solution could be to create a public local dump, but this option would need to be investigated further (one issue would be the lack of public space to create it).
- Placement of Informative signs of “Los Coipos”.
- Education of environment-friendly use of fire places and chimneys.
- Creation of Schemes for the collection of rain-water.
- Further training on the transformation of wool, especially on “commercialization of products”.
- Computer training.
- Accounting training.
- Alphabetization (Reading & Writing) for older people.
- First aid training.
- Child Obesity: this issue would be addressed with the creation of a children park with exercise equipment that the younger generation could visit with their peers as a dynamic form of entertainment as opposed to watching TV. Parents could also receive education on the nutritional characteristics of the food they buy.
- Improvement of Women’s Self-Esteem: Teach women how to be able to perform a makeover on themselves, to make them feel better about their appearance. It could be done with the support of a make-up brand willing to donate its product in exchange for publicity or as Corporate Social Responsibility.
- Sexual Education: From what the interviewees said, students receive sexual education in school, but given the prevalence of teenage pregnancy, it seems relevant that greater emphasis should be placed on this topic.
This post is also available in: Spanish