Selecting a Location for Focus in Chile

Selection Criteria

Monica and I want to work in an area that 1. was substantially impacted by the earthquake and tsunami, 2. is lower in visibility and may have received less post-earthquake aid, 3. is less developed, offering opportunities to improve socioeconomic conditions, yet 4. is significant enough to have universities with which we might develop academic contacts. We feel that the region of Maule best fits the criteria.

The Case for Maule

The two most affected regions in terms of lives lost and displaced people were Maule and Biobío. Biobío is larger with a population of 1.9 million, denser with 50 people per square kilometer, has a higher per capita annual income at US$11,600, and a higher index of human development at 0.808, placing it marginally in the “high development” category. In contrast, Maule has a population of 0.9 million, with 30 people per square kilometer, a US$9,400 per capita annual income, and a “medium development” score of 0.798 on the index of human development. The city of Concepción (second largest in Chile) is in the Biobío region, making it a major target of aid. Therefore, we feel there is a more opportunity in the Maule region.

Maule’s economy is primarily based on agriculture. It produces 50% of Chile’s fine wine exports. The earthquake and tsunami probably had a profound effect on the already weak local economy since it takes years to agriculturally recover from such a disaster. Further, any tourism industry that the region was working to develop has been set back at least a year. Maule’s annual regional budget for civic improvements is about US$7.8 million which is less than US$9 per capita. The situation provides an opportunity to design ways of extending the reach/usefulness of Maule’s limited resources.

Points of Contact

Maule has two major universities (Universidad Católica del Maule and Universidad de Talca) and a number of smaller universities. We might also find points of contact with consultarios or CESFAMs, which are family health centers that would be in the US analogous to a combination of primary care, preventative care, mental health care, and community services under one roof. If we are working with a small municipality, we may be able to contact the local government directly. Whichever avenue we pursue, we need to have a clear story of our intent, the benefit to them, and the risks of the project.

Sidebar: These contacts, especially the CESFAMs and radio stations, might be good launching points for a community-based “Insert [blank] here” art project. The idea is to poll the community on what its local needs are by soliciting photographs, drawings and other media that identify design opportunities for us. Perhaps we could make it a contest and post the entries to encourage further discussion.

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