Movie theater and solar energy, some of the benefit projects made possible by ALMA funds for its neighbors

18 April, 2016

San Pedro de Atacama has just installed its first movie theater, and the inhabitants of Toconao now heat their water with energy from the Sun. These are some of the benefit projects made possible by funds that the ALMA observatory provides annually to the Regional Government of Antofagasta since its arrival in Chile.

Each year, ALMA partners contribute close to 160 million pesos -depending on the dollar and euro exchange rate- to the Antofagasta region, which is home to the most powerful radio telescope in the world. Since the agreement was signed in 2003, more than two billion pesos have been spent on improving quality of life for neighbors in the San Pedro de Atacama region in the areas of community, productive, social and cultural development, as well as health and education.

“This fund is unique and special because there is no other agreement like this which involves the regional government, a municipality, the local community, CONADI, etc.,” says Liliana Cortez , head of indigenous affairs for the National Corporation of Indigenous Development (Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo Indígena, CONADI) in San Pedro de Atacama, the organism responsible for monitoring the funds. She adds that “this fund is also special because it lasts for 50 years, its resources are carefully monitored and it covers different types of social projects. Several great initiatives have already been implemented, such as 100% dental coverage, increased emergency room coverage, multigrade school games, etc.”

The first move theater in San Pedro de Atacama was recently installed in the Escuela E-26 school. This initiative, which involved a 38 million peso investment, was led by the school’s parents and guardians’ center. “The construction of this movie theater is the culmination of a dream that we have had for many years. Thanks to the support of ALMA, our children and the community in general are now closer to culture and entertainment,” says school director, Paula Benavides.

In Toconao, the closest community to ALMA, thermosolar panels were installed on 26 homes. “These dreams have come true thanks to the natural benefits of our Pattahoiri (Pachamama) and our Kappin (Sun). We have obtained this common good in conjunction with ALMA,” says Minette Zuleta, president of the committee that applied for the funds. “I am the happiest because of the savings this implies,” says Rosa González, who sees that the gas cylinder that previously lasted only one month now lasts for 3 months. Rodrigo Zuleta is also very grateful, because as he says, “there is a heart behind this benefit.”

One of 26 homes that benefited from thermosolar energy in Toconao. Credit: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

The social, cultural and athletics club of Toconao also received funds to replace its old facilities, which were in a state of evident disrepair, with a new construction that has capacity for over 100 people and includes bathrooms and a kitchen. “We want to motivate culture among the younger generation and offer trainings to encourage enterprising people to use this space to fight for their people,” says Justo Mondaca, president of the club.

The Toconao farmers also received funds that were especially important after a 2012 flood destroyed plantations, trees, walls and fences, affecting close to one third of the Jeré Valley. “This represents the livelihood of many Toconao locals. With the funds we obtained from ALMA, we rented machines to even out the affected land, cut fallen trees, build retaining walls and recover the sand-covered canals. With close to 40 beneficiaries, people are once again cultivating the land with corn, fava beans, squash, gourds, pears, quince, figs, prickly pears, etc.,” shares Wilson Cruz, president of the Toconao indigenous community.

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The President of the Toconao indigenous community, Wilson Cruz, shows Jeré Valley land recovered thanks to ALMA Funds received after the 2012 floods. Credit: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ) | Download image

The Toconao school parents’ center also received funds to create the first Astronomy Academy for their children, where some parents even participated. “The classroom was full at the year-end event last year, and students showed mock-ups of different constellations and the instruments they use in the academy, and they observed the Universe … the children loved it,” says Haui Romero, who was responsible for the project. Of course, as part of the workshop, the children visited ALMA.

Toconao astronomy academy observes the privileged night sky in the area with its new equipment. Credit: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ) | Download image

Other communities also benefited from this fund, such as Catarpe, which replaced the generators in its social club with solar energy. “For us, this changed everything. Just imagine, there is no more noise, it turns on with the flip of a switch, we save money and it even works for the refrigerator…it has been very useful,” says Mirta Solís, president of the Catarpe Atacameño community.

And the Río Grande folk group was able to purchase costumes, instruments and technological supplies to record their dance. They will soon perform for the Día de la Cruz (day of the cross) religious celebration

Additional images

Cooking classes in the Catarpe social club, now with solar lighting. Credit: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

The new Toconao athletic, social and cultural club just before opening day. Credit: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

Cabin on the shores of the Tebenquiche lagoon, built with ALMA Funds to control tourist access to the area and protect flora and fauna from harm. Credit: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

Inauguración de uno de los 9 proyectos financiados en 2015 con Fondos ALMA-II Región, por una suma cercana a los 160 millones de pesos. Crédito: R. Bennett – ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)

Additional information

  • List of benefit projects in 2015
  • ALMA is a partnership of ESO (representing its member states), NSF (USA) and NINS (Japan), together with NRC (Canada), NSC and ASIAA (Taiwan), and KASI (Republic of South Korea), in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. The Joint ALMA Observatory is operated by ESO, AUI/NRAO and NAOJ.