Lisa Delao is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University and was a participant on an ISA Service-Learning program in Valparaíso, Chile in the Summer of 2015. Lisa was an ISA Pay It Forward correspondent.
Patio Volantín and another community collective, Sitio Eriazo, have been taking steps toward building a new image for a vacant lot in the neighborhood of Cerro Panteón of Valparaíso. Their goal is to create a community garden to revitalize this space.
Dalton, a service-learning participant working with Patio Volantín, believes that this community garden project has to be executed by an organization like Patio Volantín. Dalton explains that this way, the project spawns revitalization, not gentrification. For example, the Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción neighborhoods were renovated and remodeled in order to forge a popular tourist location. Many external forces came into these neighborhoods to create an artisanal hub where hand-craft boutiques and high-class hotels can now be found. While there was an incredible economic stimulation for businesses and local artisans, this change also created repercussions that hurt people who had lived in these communities for many years. Once the face of these neighborhoods changed, real estate prices increased exponentially. Soon elderly inhabitants could no longer afford their homes and were forced out.
In a past life, this lot served as a venue for social gatherings. Benja, the Director of Patio Volantín, explained that this space used to be the social sports club for the Torino soccer team. Social sports clubs were very popular in Chile during the early 20th century. Don Francisco, the owner of the market located next to Patio Volantín, lived in the Cerro Panteón neighborhood when the soccer club was opened. He recalled that the club used to host elegant parties that attracted many. The music from bands and conversations would fill the air long into the night. Don Francisco mentioned that while there were many social sports clubs in the surrounding cerros, Torino’s four level building was extraordinary. At the core of the building was an outdoor patio with a sublimely adorned fountain, the epicenter of their social events.
Then, in 1973, a terrible blow hit Chile. Augusto Pinochet removed President Salvador Allende from office and assumed power. Don Francisco reiterated what many Chileans have illustrated to me throughout my time in their country: chaos ensued, many fled the country, and others were disappearing in horrifying quantities.
Don Francisco explained that many of the members of the Torino soccer club left. For a while many of them hid at other clubs around the area, and ultimately fled the country. Torino remained under the control of the Pinochet government until his reign finally ended in 1990. The social sports club never reopened; the building stood abandoned until a catastrophic earthquake tore through significant regions of Chile in 2010. After the earthquake, the building’s interior was described as crumbling apart.
Now, all that stands from the Torino social sports club are the bricks of the original front wall. Beyond the wall, the centerpiece is no longer an elegant fountain. Instead it is the final product of recycled materials and an artistic vision. Local artists involved with Sitio Eriazo work on their art installation, a musical instrument. Soon, community gardens will accompany this musical art installation.
Dalton and I reflected on how even after our program ends and we take part of Chile, part of Valparaíso, back home with us we will also be leaving a part of our work, a mark of our time in this country through these community gardens. We interacted with our surroundings and truly made it our community.
Patio Volantín was awarded an ISA Pay It Forward grant in the summer of 2015. ISA Pay It Forward is a grant fund that supports ongoing sustainable development projects to serve under-resourced communities around the world. All ISA students have the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ by contributing a $5 donation when applying for an ISA program online. 100% of ISA Pay It Forward donations go toward funding sustainable projects identified by our ISA Service-Learning community partners in 12 cities around the world.
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