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Human connections enrich lives through fair trade

By Mary Stamp

Oscar Haupt
Oscar Haupt

Oscar Haupt connects people and sees connections among people in Chile, his homeland, and Spokane, his present home.

He seeks to help people understand that they share the same fears, hurts, love and hopes.

In his fair-trade import business, Conosur Imports, he helps provide a living for artists and crafts people in 11 Chilean families by selling their products here.

Through his work with the Providence Visiting Nurses Association Home Health Care program, he learned that five Providence Sisters who came to the West 150 years ago later settled in Chile.  Sisters there today run many programs.  One is Hogar de la Providencia, an orphanage/safe home in Valparaiso.  By sharing with people in Spokane about that program for girls, he has raised support for it.

Although he may not see the  ultimate difference he makes in counseling/social work, importing cultural art or helping the orphanage, he knows that bringing people and cultures together enriches his life and lives of others.

Oscar, who still visits Chile regularly and who will be there in September, shared his background growing up there and moving to the United States, where he has spent his career. 

He was 14 when planes attacked the house of democratically elected Chilean President Salvador Allende on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 1973.  The president’s house was 10 blocks from his home.  He lived in Chile for eight years under the 17-year dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, when people were jailed, killed or disappeared. 

His mother was active in social services and the Catholic Church, which opposed Pinochet.  His father was in the Air Force.  So was General Bacholet, the father of today’s President of Chile, Michelle Bacholet.  The general and others were put in jail or killed. Oscar said that the terrorist attack on the United States on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, stirred his memories of the coup in Chile.

Oscar completed studies in marketing and advertising at the University of Santiago School of Communications, after completing a year of engineering school.

He said he was “more interested in what went on inside people and buildings—offices, prisons, schools or homes—than the exterior of buildings.”

In the early 1980s, he went to Ogden, Utah, to study psychology at Weber State University, graduating in 1987.  He went on to earn a master’s in social work in 1990 at the University of Utah.

In 1992, he moved to Spokane, where he worked seven years with Spokane Mental Health and taught undergraduates at Eastern Washington University and Washington State University.  In 1998, he worked with the Job Resource Center, offering stress and anger management groups at the Airway Heights Correction Facility.

Oscar chose social work, because he believes “people are people” everywhere.  People in Chile are the same as people in Spokane, experiencing fear, anger, hurt, love and compassion.

For example, to reach prisoners in a stress and anger management program at Airway Heights and while volunteering in a prison in Chile, his first question was:  “What hurt you?”

Having people share their stories can bring emotional connection by recognition that everyone experiences struggles, he said.

Oscar Haupt
Oscar places one of his niece's paintings at Kizuri

“People who have been hurt are guarded.  If I crack that, I can reach them and help them move beyond fear, aware that it’s okay to be scared.  Men are taught not to show any feeling but just to be tough, but even tough guys break down when they connect with others,” Oscar explained.  “Then they can learn to express their pent-up emotions in a safe way.”

He then told of the roots of his import business.  Because his parents could not send money to help him with college expenses, they sent products he could sell to earn money for his education.  He said that has helped him understand people’s economic struggles.

The spark for resuming the part-time import business came in 2002 after he married his wife, Penny, a nurse at Sacred Heart Hospital.  During a trip to Chile with his wife, they were admiring a painting at the home of his sister, Elizabeth.  They learned his niece, Sandra Schoihet-Haupt was the artist.  He bought some to sell in Spokane and found interest.

So he began adding jewelry, textiles, arts, and wood, horsehair and leather products made by 11 families in Chile.

Conosur Imports—Conosur is the name of the southern cone of South America—is about more than selling products, he said. 

It’s also about his relationships and friendships with families who make the products.  When he goes to southern Chile to buy products, he stays with the families and receives their hospitality.
“I find that they work hard and have the same struggles and feelings we have,” he said.

Oscar sells some items at Kizuri in the Community Building—at five or six fair-trade shows a year, or through special orders. 

He describes his business as informal fair trade, paying up front what the artists think the products are worth, and sharing with them what he thinks will sell here. 

A few years ago, when he began working as a social worker with the Providence Visiting Nurses Association, he learned about Hogar de la Providencia.

In September 2006, he visited the home and made a commitment to help the girls from two to 18 years old who live there and others who benefit from the day care, and before- and after-school programs.  Some of the girls are orphans.  Others are there because they have been sexually assaulted or have drug-addicted parents.  A staff of 40 serves about 300 girls.  About 85 live there full time.

When he told stories of the girls and showed pictures, people in Spokane asked how they could help, so he established the Oscar and Penelope Haupt Foundation, which is applying for nonprofit status.
“It’s incredible how people are willing to help,” he said. “ Penny and I have found that people in Spokane, from attorneys to dentist, from students to teachers, are so willing to give and be part of the project.  Without these people, nothing could be possible.”

Along with raising money, he collects clothing, toothbrushes and toothpaste, personal hygiene products and school supplies.  The foundation helped build a patio play area and a laundry facility.

In December 2007, a teacher at Greenacres Middle School invited him to tell about the orphanage and students wrote cards for the girls.  Chilean Providence Sister Myrta Iturriaga, who works in Spokane, took the cards to the orphanage.  The next October, he visited the orphanage.  While Oscar was cooking a meal for the girls, one girl asked where he lived.

When he told her he was from Spokane, Washington, she said, “I have family in Washington!”
“She was convinced the card from the student was from her U.S. family,” said Oscar.

Oscar grew up in a Catholic home and spent time in the Newman Center during college in Utah, but is not now involved in organized religion.  He admires his 84-year-old mother, whose Catholic faith inspires her compassion to care for premature babies, working with a doctor to set up 17 homes to provide them with nutrition and therapy.

“Today I’m more connected than ever, reading, studying and trying to understand the Bible and focus on what is important in life,” he said, noting that his study is partly behind his commitment to help the girls in the Providence Home gain the skills and care they need to succeed in life.

For information, call 926-0636. or email