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Chile earthquake relief: How one priest provides shelter for masses

Rev. Felipe Berrios's award-winning organization has in less than 15 years nearly gotten all Chilean families into permanent housing. His group is now joining the effort to help those made homeless by the Chile earthquake.

Chile earthquake relief: Rev. Felipe Berrios stands in front of a model of the emergency wooden homes built by 'A Roof for Chile', a nonprofit that builds houses for the poor with the help of college students.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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If anyone will play a crucial reconstruction role after the 8.8 Chile earthquake it is the Rev. Felipe Berrios, a Jesuit priest whose award-winning organization has in less than 15 years nearly gotten all Chilean families into permanent housing and expanded its work to 16 countries across Latin America.

Father Berrios, who set out to build emergency housing in Chile’s shantytowns in the late 1990s, had an ambitious goal when he founded a “Roof for Chile” in 1997: By the year 2000, he sought to construct 2,000 new homes throughout the country.

He reached the goal and kept going, expanding his organization regionally. The newer project, called “A Roof for My Country,” now aims to replace every shantytown in Chile by the end of 2010 – a goal the group still maintains is possible even after the 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country Feb. 27, killing more than 700, destroying more than 500,000 homes, and affecting an estimated 2 million residents.

IN PICTURES: Images from the magnitude-8.8 earthquake in Chile

“To get out of poverty you need a job, you need education and health services, but if you do not have a physical space to live in, the rest of it does not matter,” Father Berrios said in a December interview at his office on the outskirts of Santiago, which was bustling with college-age volunteers. “You need a place to be able to get a letter; you need to be able to say, ‘this is my home.’”

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