For many desperately poor Chileans, the basic elements of good living an education, health care, jobs and family stability can seem distant and unattainable. That gap between despair and hope can't be crossed without a bridge.
The Church is helping with the bridge building, partnering with the Chilean government and other agencies involved in Puente Projecto (Project Bridge), an effort designed to assist disadvantaged Chilean families. Through its participation, the Church is making new friends while demonstrating its commitment to improving lives in the South American nation.
Puente Projecto focuses on the poorest of Chile's poor. Government leaders such as Chile President Ricardo Lagos hope the program can lift impoverished families via educational, medical and employment opportunities.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, concluding his service as Chile Area president, said Puente Projecto strives "not only to provide the basic things of life, but also to ensure a brighter future for impoverished Chilean parents and their children."
The project starts by improving temporal lives within the walls of homes often constructed from cardboard and other discarded materials. Many poor Chilean families targeted by Puente Projecto share a common bed, a less than ideal sleeping arrangement. So partners in the project have donated different bedding items and building materials that will allow each family member to have individual beds.
As part of this effort, the Church has agreed to donate 250,000 blankets made by Chilean manufacturers to the bed-for-each-family-member effort, said Elder Von Sorensen, a Church welfare agent in Chile. Some 100,000 blankets were placed in disadvantaged homes last year, with the same number to be distributed this year. The remaining 50,000 will be placed in 2005.
Local members donated money needed to buy the blankets. Each blanket costs 3,500 Chilean pesos, or about $5 U.S. dollars. But the Puente Projecto mission stretches beyond beds. As a condition of participation, Puente recipients agree to hold weekly family councils and keep their homes and living areas clean. The Church also provides some participants with a family improvement booklet with instructions on holding family councils, managing household chores and other domestic principles familiar to LDS families.
Many Church members in the United States learned about Puente Projecto. They made and donated thousands of quilts that brightened the lives of indigent Chilean families. After being made by Relief Societies and individuals, the finely made quilts were collected and donated to the LDS Humanitarian Center, where they were transported to South America. These quilts have been distributed and are now gratefully used in families which previously had to do without.
"I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the many stakes especially the Relief Society sisters in these stakes who have contributed these beautiful quilts to the needy of Chile," said Elder Holland. "I have received testimonials, photos, beautiful expressions of all kinds from the sisters and priesthood leaders of stakes all over the Mountainwest who have said how much this service project has meant to them.
"I want all of these wonderful, generous Latter-day Saints, particularly our faithful sisters, to know how much their service and devotion means to me personally and to these needy recipients here in Chile."
The program is also allowing many poor Chileans to receive, for the first time, the identification documents needed to obtain life-improving services, such as basic medical care and access to educational and employment opportunities.
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