GIRLS MAY CHANGE CHILEAN VILLAGE LIFE
By DOUGLAS HYDE IN a farm institute in the countryside near Santiago, Chile, I met the other day a group of colourful, dedicated girls who are preparing to change the life of the villages from which they come.
They are members of Chile's J.A.C., the Young Agricultural Workers' movement, country cousin to the Young Christian Workers which we know in Britain.
The majority come from tiny one-roomed dwellings on the great haciendas which are a feature of most Latin American countries. Their parents — part Spanish, part Indian — are tied in working on the estate of some big landowner who permits them, when they are not working for him, to cultivate a tiny plot for their own purposes. In short, in many cases they are little better than serfs.
Life h. the hacienda villages is often squalid and degraded. Reduced to existing at a minimum economic and social level. illhoused and illiterate, the men take to alcoholism. the women lose hope. and family life degenerates.
Ignorant and demoralised, the women fail to make the most of even what little resources they may have at their disposal. Now. at the Institute of Rural
Education. specially selected young girls are being trained in a new way of life. Some 50 carefully prepared directors, have gone out to every part of the country and are sending back a steady stream of youngsters to undergo a two months course.
There arc obvious limits to what can he taught them in so short a time. Most have had no more than three to five tears at school, (non,: have remained after the age of II) and come from a background which has done little to develop them either intellectually or spiritually.
But in those Iwo short months a revolution is nonetheless achieved in their lives.
They are taught personal hygiene, dietetics cooking, sewing, even a little carpentry. They absorb new standards which they take back with them to their homes. They discover a new self respect. And they arc given a spiritual formation which, brief
though . the initial process is, usually continues after their return as village leaders.
We have heard much of what the Theists have achieved among the workers in the urban areas of Europe and elsewhere. But I think it true to say that J.A.C. is able to work an even more spectacular revolution in the lives of Latin America's rural woi kers. The boss' organisation. which has its own farm institute, is getting results equally as impressive as the girls'.
I visited thy two institutes whilst I was attending the Fourth International Catholic Life Congress at Santiago last week. There, the problems which are the natural background to such work as this were examined in detail.
Delegates from almost every Latin American country discussed for a week how best to bring a new life to such people. They urged that land reforms, education, co-operative activity should all he used to create conditions in which a Christian life can he made to flourish in these predominantly
agricultural and traditionally Christian lands.
As the congress decisions and recommendations seep through to the ordinary people so new hope w ill come to men and women who for centuries have had little to hope for. And right in the front ranks of those who will take the message to the ordinary "little" people will be the eager young men and women who, in 1.0.C.'s new institutes, have been given a vision of rural life as it might be.
(See. DOUGLAS HYDE'S Column: Page 4)