By Marcelo Patroni Prado, journalist
It was an afternoon in May of this year, when a dense silence took over the auditorium in a house of higher education in the city.
Within the framework of a discussion on solidarity, Eduardo Correa, president of the “Changing Destinations” Foundation, and a graduate of the former Sename residence network, formulated the following question to the audience, made up mostly of students in their twenties, who still They lived under the roof of their parents:
“What would happen to you if, when you turned 18, your mother or father told you: since you are of legal age now you can fend for yourself, so starting tomorrow you leave the house.”
The question hit deep with the attendees, since it revealed the harsh reality experienced by adolescents who are users of the service now called “Better Childhood”, who must leave the system when they turn 18.
This is the story of the speaker who left a group of university students with a lump in their throats.
a traumatic childhood
Julio Eduardo Correa Vera, 42 years old, was born in Valdivia. His mother abandoned him when he was just six months old and left him in the care of a great-uncle, who suffered from schizophrenia.
In those years he arrived at the Lutheran Home, located in the Corvi sector of Valdivia.
The managers of the place realized that the little one was mistreated. “I lived my entire early childhood in that place, and the people from the home filed a complaint. A summons arrived at the house and in the Family Court they referred me to a COD (Observation and Diagnostic Center) in Puerto Montt ”, he comments.
Leaving Valdivia was traumatic for Eduardo, since despite living with a person who did not have the conditions to take care of him, at least he was with someone who was his relative and with whom he felt like family.
“I never understood why the judge sent me to that place. It was like a juvenile jail. Everything was fenced off, it wasn’t a home,” she says.
“I was six years old and I lost track of time regarding how many years I was there in conditions that no child would want to live: alone, without knowing anyone, with fear. I had a bad time in Puerto Montt,” he says.
When remembering, Eduardo is still moved and during the interview it is frequent that he breaks down, that his voice trembles and his eyes fill with tears. A clear sign that the wounds of the past are still alive in his memory and by bringing them to the present they reopen and cause pain.
He spent three years in Puerto Montt and then left for Chiloé, to the “Mi Casa” Foundation, in Castro.
When he was 12 years old, he ran away with a classmate and returned to Valdivia. “I ran away and returned to Valdivia, where my great-uncle lived. Maybe because I wanted to feel like a part of a family again,” he says.
“The problem is that he handed me over to the Carabineros because we had been stealing from Puerto Montt in order to eat. I was in the Isla Teja juvenile prison. It was a hard, traumatizing experience, I don’t give it to anyone,” he recalls.
Later, Eduardo enters the home of the “Mi Casa” Foundation, in Valdivia, where he stayed until he left the Sename network.
“I identify with the Valdivia residence, I feel that this is my home, the space where I felt protected, received affection, it is the sense of belonging that I have”, he indicates.
I didn’t want to turn 18
Asked about the moment in which he had to leave home when he reached the age of majority, he expressed that “it is a fear of turning 18 because you know that you have to leave.”
Remembering that moment, his eyes shine again. “I think it was one of the biggest tragedies of my life because I didn’t know what to do, where I was going to go. I didn’t have many alternatives, because it was the street or going to an aunt’s house, but I wasn’t close to her”.
Eduardo went to see his aunt, but since he was not used to living in a house and having a concept of family, he felt uncomfortable and quickly made the decision to leave that place.
He left for Santiago, with no baggage and a hill of illusions, to find his place in life and began to work. He joined a supermarket chain and a supervisor took a liking to him and helped him emerge.
“He explained to me how to work in a supermarket. First I started as a winemaker and little by little I began to improve my situation. When the Líder de Valdivia opened, I returned, but now I arrived as head of the room, ”she recounts.
His daughter Ignacia is born
Eduardo returned to Valdivia when he was 23 years old, at which time his daughter Ignacia Antonia was born, who is 19 years old today and is studying Law at the University of Chile.
When talking about his daughter, Eduardo’s face changes, he smiles, shows joy and feels proud of his achievements. “My daughter has been a tremendous change for me, she was an engine to continue fighting, to get out of the situation she was in, to see life in a more prosperous way,” he says.
“She lives in the house of her aunt that I abandoned. I am very happy with what she has achieved. I always thought that I could offer her something better than what I had,” he says.
When Ignacia was six years old, Eduardo left for Temuco to start working at a Sename Primary Internment Center. “I always wanted to work in the system to help, contribute to the boys, as a way of giving back.”
After a few years, he asked to transfer to Sename de Valdivia to be closer to his daughter. Today she continues to provide services in a residence in Valdivia, where she has been working for almost 15 years with vulnerable or imprisoned youth.
Asked about what he feels when he hears the word Sename, he indicates with a clear hint of annoyance: “There are 40 years in which nothing has been done for vulnerable children in this country. I feel that we have had an atrocious setback where the State lost the opportunity to provide protection and safeguard the dignity of the children and young people of Sename.”
“How many boys of my generation were lost. There are some prisoners, others dead, and one thinks that something more could have been done for them,” he comments.
Little Lissette Villa
An event that marked a before and after in Eduardo’s life was the death of 10-year-old Lissette Villa, who died in 2016 as a result of “mechanical suffocation combined with elements of suffocation.”
According to the records of the Prosecutor’s Office, the suffocation was caused by officials of the “Galvarino” Protection Center, of Estación Central, belonging to Sename, where the girl was hospitalized.
The case caused a great national uproar and, as a consequence, last year the National Service for the Specialized Protection of Children and Adolescents was created, which bears the name “Better Childhood”, and which replaces the National Service for Minors (Sename ) in terms of protection.
“When Lissette died, with a group of childhood friends we began to see how we, through our experience, could help our siblings who were still in residences. It was like this when we decided to create the Corporation “Changing destinations”, she explains.
organization to help
The organization “Changing destinations” was born on March 29, 2017 and has a board where Eduardo is its president.
The entity manages an austere budget, whose funds are contributed by the partners, mostly former users of Sename, and friends of the Corporation. They also receive public contributions through the Regional Government.
His most important work is the creation of the “School of trades and leadership”, where about 60 children participate, from 12 to 18 years old, who depend on “Better Childhood”.
Its members work from Tuesday to Saturday with Cooking, Comprehensive Aesthetics and Advanced Wood Manufacturing workshops, the latter thanks to an important donation from a private person.
The corporation operates in a facility located on Calle Venados Sur, Mahuiza sector, which belongs to the municipality and was delivered on loan.
Asked about what he would like for the children who attend his school, Eduardo expresses emotion: “I don’t want the children who are now in the former Sename to go through what I had to go through. There were many frustrations, sorrows, discrimination and traumas that I had to experience”.
At the moment, the partners are working on the design of a project, which they intend to apply for regional funds, called “Transitional sheltered house”.
Its objective is to give young people who are already out of the residences or who are in the process of leaving them an opportunity, so that they have an alternative where to reside and not have to decide between the street or going to live with a relative they do not know.
During the interview, many boys and girls from the “Trade and Leadership School” came up to talk with Eduardo. You can tell that they have affection and gratitude for him, to which he responds with equal affection and closeness.
One sees them and they are children like everyone else, smiling, innocent, playful, but each one carries a story of abandonment and deficiencies, which are generally unknown by a community that is largely indolent in the face of vulnerable children.
Eduardo Correa, through the “Changing Destinations” Corporation, carries out commendable work that needs government support to continue functioning and to move forward with the “Transition Sheltered House”, so that a young user of the protection system never again has fear to turn 18 years old.
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