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In Chile, staying alive is an excuse to party

Thousands of elderly Chileans have been celebrating surviving wintery August.

“One can feel this good mood, that energy and positive attitude that you have and always impresses me. I wish your positive approach to life could spread to the rest of society, because we Chileans need to be more positive and feel more energy to overcome difficulties,” said Bachelet to a cheering crowd of gray-haired party-goers.

In Chile, 12 percent of the population is over 65, and the government estimates that by the year 2025, this will rise to 20 percent. Life expectancy is rising, but so are the difficulties in addressing an aging population. The government has made social protection for senior citizens a keystone of its public spending programs, extending coverage and funds for social security and health care and a myriad of subsidies and programs to help them “not just live longer,” as Bachelet said, “but in good conditions, with less uncertainty and basic guarantees.”

Rosa Rojas is 78 and lives in Paine, a town close to the capital. She has been participating in a group of 23 senior citizens where, she says, “we do a bit of everything: cook, knit, do exercise, we have tea, we tell jokes, sing, dance, we dress up in costumes — we have a great time and feel like we’re 15 again!” Many of the joyful senior citizens participating in the August survival party in Santiago shared a zest for life — thanks to their busy schedules, they say. Virginia Cordero, for example, spends Monday through Friday in one sort of class or another. Some days it's Tai Chi, others it's gym or literature. What she really likes, though, is the “memory course,” in which monitors have participants write about whatever they want — an experience, a recent activity, a letter.

“We’ve also learned to write poems. I discovered I’m really good at poetry!” said the 78-year-old from El Bosque, a low-income suburb in southern Santiago.

Her neighbor, 82-year-old Juan Avila, is into computers now. He’s been taking a workshop to learn how to use a computer and surf the internet. “This opened the world to me. Through written words and the computer, I can study, have more knowledge of things and visit places through the internet that I know I would never be able to visit in person,” he said.

And these activities could yield more than a way of filling the day. A new online contest offers an award for the best “prescription” for passing August. Open to anyone over 60, applicants must email their most creative suggestion for surviving winter. First prize: 12 bottles of red wine.