Photo: bigstockphoto.com/Vigen M
Generating income in the backyard during the time of the Pandemic: “There is very little workaround. We are just surviving on donations of food and clothing. How are we going to pay our monthly water, gas and light bills? What are we going to do?” These are the voices of the eleven men, residents of “St Columban’s Migrant House of Hospitality”, in San Columbano parish, Santiago, Chile. These men come from Venezuela, Haiti, Mexico and Russia. They are migrants to Chile, suffering unemployment during this time of the pandemic. One young fellow of 25 years has a terminal illness and another young man, under 20 years, has a sad history of abandonment and abuse by his own family.
Also resident at the Migrant House are much loved Luki and Lenox, two formerly abandoned and abused street dogs, who like all eleven human residents have now gratefully found a caring family with lots of love and affection. Luki and Lenox, however, truly earn their keep, protecting the Migrant House from break-ins, assaults and robberies, as it is located in an area with a high crime rate.
Because of the economic downturn due to the pandemic these men had all lost their employment and were unable to pay their rent. They all faced homelessness before coming to live at our Migrant House. So at a residents meeting it was decided to start a number of projects to generate income for the Migrant House to cover expenses and to give the residents a little pocket money for their personal needs. This income is needed, not only to pay the rent, but also for food, medicine, cooking and cleaning items, internet, sheets and towels and household repairs.
A common practice in homes in the poorer areas of Chile is the manufacture and sale of bread, cakes, empanadas, sweets, even ice creams and hot-dogs to boost the family income. Homemade Christmas, birthday and anniversary cakes are also popular. Anyone can put up a sign outside the house and go into business offering goodies to the passers-by.
Our Migrant House residents too have become cooks and every second weekend produce batches of Venezuelan “Sweet Buns” and sell them for 1,800 Chilean pesos, roughly $3.16 AUD to parishioners and neighbours, many of whom have now became regular clients. The residents have also set up a small car-washing business on weekends. They have developed a small clientele who know their cars will receive superb treatment for a reasonable price.
A backyard vegetable patch is also up and running, providing much needed vegetables for their meals. They have also learnt to compost all the organic waste and are shortly to be assisted by a supply of earthworms. It is planned that the resulting high-grade earthworm compost will be sold in the local market. Rainwater from the migrant house is also saved for the garden.
Meanwhile, a backyard chicken coop provides eggs to supplement the residents’ diet. A future project involves the purchase of some native Chilean hens such as Gallina Mapuche or Araucana which produce blue shell eggs. These high quality eggs can be sold for a much higher price at the local market.
The big income-generating project that the residents are working on now is the transformation of a small backyard brick shed into a 'Bakery, Patisserie and Pizzeria'. This requires installing some windows in the building to provide ventilation and insulating an adjoining bedroom. A semi-industrial gas oven and an electric dough mixer will be installed. Of course, all the health, COVID-19 hygiene and other regulations from the local Municipal Council Health Department and Government will be adhered to.
The idea is to sell to the public different types of bread, pastries, sweets and pizzas, all with an international flavour. Home deliveries by the young residents on their bicycles will be offered as well as take-away from the front gate. The residents are confident that they can prepare their national delicacies and build up a good number of regular clients. They want satisfied customers.
Another hope for the 'Bakery, Patisserie and Pizzeria' kitchen is that it will be able to offer professional cooking courses by qualified instructors to unemployed persons hoping to improve their employment skills. This, of course, once we have passed through the pandemic.
Migrant woman & child at the opening of the Migrant House Mass, San Columbano parish, Santiago, Chile. Photo: Missionary Society of St Columban
All of these projects are being supervised by our two Migrant House Coordinators, Javier Núñez, one of the Venezuelan residents himself, and Elisa Núñez, a local supporter of the Migrant House. Our hope is that once Javier and Elisa get all these projects up and running, sufficient income will be generated to pay the bills and to buy other household necessities.
Of course, one of the important tasks for Javier and Elisa will be to make sure that, Luki and Lenox become friends with the hens, especially those expensive Mapuche ones with their blue shell eggs.
They will also be careful that Luki and Lenox will not help themselves, when no one is looking, to the newly-baked bread, pastries and pizzas!
Columban Fr Daniel Harding is the parish priest of San Columbano parish, Santiago, Chile.
Listen to "Bakery, Patisserie and Pizzeria"
- Read more from The Far East, November/December 2020