Aid in the Wake of Globalization
by Cassandra Heller
At the place where Uruguay touches the corners of Brazil and Argentina lies a muddy, waterlogged village called Bella Union. Scraps of corrugated metal, plastic, and wood shelter families of five or six. Old cars sit lifeless on dirt roads, reminding the villagers of past promises. This productive agricultural region now suffers the effects of globalization.
Twenty years ago, Bella Union and other northern Uruguayan towns knew modest agricultural prosperity, producing sugarcane, rice, beef, leather, citrus, and other products for domestic use and export. Bella Union produced 60,000 tons of sugarcane in 1989, 60 percent of Uruguay’s sugar consumption. Many villagers moved to northern Uruguay, expecting to find jobs. But 14 years ago, the Uruguayan government failed to protect workers in northern villages. Since the creation of Mercosur, the Southern Common Market that allows free trade among Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, local producers have found it impossible to compete with cheaper imports.
Between 1996 and 2002, 100,000 people (3 percent of the population) left Uruguay. The poorest villagers, with no work and little money to move, remain gridlocked. Forty percent of the people live in slums without electricity or plumbing. Some parents rely on their children to beg in the streets, exposing them to prostitution and drug trafficking.
Methodist churches are a source of hope throughout Uruguay, stocking medical clinics with medicines and providing cows for milk and beef. “The churches have addressed this dire poverty,” said the Rev. Araceli Ezzatti, a pastor of the Methodist Church in Montevideo.
Pastor Villagran said that 35 percent of the population in Bella Union lives in similar conditions. Sixty-five percent live beneath the poverty line. Only 4 percent hold steady jobs. “In Montevideo the poor can look through rich peoples’ trash, but here they don’t even have rubbish to find food in,” said Pastor Villagran.
Some villagers sell stoves constructed from scrap. Most of the villagers, however, are waiting to see what changes the newly elected government will make when the Emergency Plan issued last year comes into effect. The plan will seek to solve some social, educational, and financial problems plaguing families whose average income is 1680 pesos per month (US $70).
Sara Sosa has been waiting to feel the impact of the Emergency Plan. With two nursing jobs, one in a private clinic and one in a public clinic, she brings in about US $300 a month—working 12- to 14-hour days. Since the government clinics cannot afford to pay specialists, she does everything from treating patients to mopping floors. Holding her baby, Carolina, on her hip, Sosa said there was no heat, blankets, fans, or ordinary hospital equipment in either clinic. “We need sponsors for the private clinic because the government does not fund it,” she added. The private clinic, supported by the Methodist Church, has no dentists, since it lacks funds to fix equipment and buy medicine. Last month, the local private clinic went a week without electricity because it could not afford to pay its bill. “We are really a third-world country,” said Sosa.
The private clinic’s only source of aid comes from local Catholic and Methodist churches, which in turn rely on outside donations. “The Methodist Church recently bought a changing table for the clinic,” said Sosa. “United Methodist churches in the United States provide all the medicine to keep the clinic functioning.” Two shelves, among rows of empty ones, contain medicines provided by the Methodist Church. Later that day, Pastor Villagran delivered donated food packages to flood victims.
The Methodist Church in Yacare, headed by the Rev. Lair Ferreira, has 36 members in a town of 1,020, and 25 to 30 children attend Sunday school each week. With no medicine available at the local clinic and no pharmacy for miles, the church, with outside aid, has become the town drugstore. Since the town’s only doctor was away studying in Montevideo, the clinic’s only nurse allowed Pastor Ferreira and me to tour the small facility. The leaky building was damp in the cold winter air. Green mold formed on the walls and ceiling behind a steel table used to examine patients. Outside the building, a woman complained to Pastor Ferreira that she had pneumonia. “If there are any emergencies,” the pastor said, “they will have to ride in the ambulance to the next town, an hour away.”
Milk for the Children of Yacare Project, started by missionaries from a United Methodist church in Pennsylvania, bought three cows for the town to provide milk to the children daily. Future projects include a greenhouse and purchasing more animals for the townspeople. “I pray and give thanks for the congregation,” said Ferreira, “because I am learning a lot from them. They fill my life.”
“You see how important it is for Uruguayans to have a cell phone and good stereo equipment,” said Miguel Arenas Herrera from Chile, assigned to Salto as a missionary by the General Board of Global Ministries. “Meanwhile, 30 percent of the city is under the poverty line and children are seen working in the streets of Salto.”
The Rev. Gustavo Garello, pastor of La Cruz Evangelical Methodist Church in Salto, added that one of the church’s main goals is aiding the children of Salto. Each day, the church serves children warm milk and bread before they go to school or work. As the economic crisis continues, about half the children work on the streets instead of going to school. “This is something new for us in the past two years,” said Pastor Garello, who plans to reconstruct the food program to encourage children to stay in school.
Local Methodist churches will continue to mend the lives of those subject to economic tides and political ambitions. With only promises of government help, how long can the churches continue to provide aid to an ever-increasing population whose livelihood has been undermined by a global interest in keeping prices down at the cost of local jobs and dignity?
Cassandra Heller served as an intern with New World Outlook in 2005. She is a student at Boston University studying English and philosophy.
Miguel Arenas Herrera can be supported as a covenant missionary through the Advance, Missionary Code: #14286Z.
Date posted: Mar 07, 2006