Forgotten People

Faces of the Fund: Interview with Alexandra de Habsburgo-Lorena de Riesle

One of the Fund’s first grants was to the Order’s work with the elderly in Chile. This Christmas a grant will help to establish a new day centre in Villarrica for elderly people. We spoke with Alexandra de Habsburgo about her decades of work in the country and partnering with the Fund.


How did you become involved with the Order?

I knew the Order through my family and I had volunteered in Lourdes.  However, I only really became involved when I moved to Chile, where I saw great need.  I was asked to create a Relief Service here, and I found the idea of starting something new in a new field, which I was allowed to choose, very exciting.  I wanted to choose the work we did according to who needed it the most.

What I admired about the Order is its Catholic values which I try to follow in my day-to-day life and I also saw, from my experience with other organizations, the advantage in that one isn’t required to do a specific thing, but can proceed according to what is most needed.


Is volunteering common in Chile?

Yes, it is easy to find volunteers.  Their longing to be volunteers is always positive, they give time to our work’s guests, listening and talking to them, and showing them affection. Our guests always wait for the volunteers to come back with joy. It does a lot of good to the people we help, but also to the people who help, it goes both ways.


In the Fund’s very first grant round, we gave the Chilean Relief Service a grant to support the elderly of Loncoche. How has this work evolved over the years?

In Loncoche, the need came to our attention because one of the women there was regularly requesting wheelchairs for the many unsupported elderly people. We suggested she start a project which developed into a day care centre so that the elderly don’t need to go to a home and their families can go to work without worrying.  We provide spiritual attention, medical assistance, activities, special food for those who need it.  You initially helped us with food and a freezer to store it in, but then we needed to do some repairs, so you helped us again, and then the floor sank so you helped us again, then the roof leaked, and you helped us again. Following its success, we are now thinking of starting a new day care centre in another area.


So the success of this project led the Chilean Relief Service to start other similar ones?

Yes. We have a new project in Villarrica to repair a little house to gather elderly and disabled people who live alone in the surrounding hills.  They often feel they are useless or burdens to their families. We would like to teach them things they can do to be busy and also produce things they can sell. We think this project will give them dignity because they can contribute to their households. The Fund just announced they will finance the repairs of this house. We are very happy.


Why is it so important to continue supporting elderly projects in Chile?

There is great need, and a lot of isolation.  Also, sadly, the elderly are sometimes mistreated by their families.  They will use their pensions for other purposes and not to take care of them. That is why we like to visit the homes. Some of our guests are not happy at home but we do our best to bring them food and talk to them. It is very sad to be in that situation when you are at the end of your life and you cannot defend yourself any more.


Tell us about your partnership with the Fund.

Luckily, we have a lot of projects that fit the ones you support!  We started with neglected children with diseases, and children born with disabilities, then we added the elderly, the lonely and the isolated, people who have no one to turn to, or no one who really cares for them.  You have helped us with all of this.

But our relationship brings so much more.  A full 12,000 kilometres from Rome, sometimes we feel alone, but the Fund not only supports us, but helps to connect with the wider Order. You know a lot about what we are doing, all the detail, and we really enjoy that. We also appreciate the consistency of the Fund, helping us not only in the beginning of a project but until it is finished and can fly all alone.  We feel close to the Fund because our goals and objectives are the same. We also enjoy seeing what others are doing through your publications. We all have the same intense desire to help.


Finally, what personally motivates you to continue dedicating your life to these works?

I feel very at ease with people who have very little because you can go to the essentials. It’s wonderful to be able to establish a connection with them, to make them laugh and feel relaxed. I like the possibility of giving them hope. One good thing of the pandemic is that we are now obliged to go to people’s homes because they no longer can come to us, so the relationships with our guests have become very personal.

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