-FEDES, FCF Project Partner
Fundación Educativa de Desarrollo Economico y Social FEDES reports:
FCF Project Partner FEDES was responsible for bringing into Chile roughly $7 Million worth of relief for Chilean earthquake victims. For a perspective on this, the total amount contributed by the United Nations was around $10 Million worth.
Three cargo airplanes, and numerous shipping containers, of humanitarian aid in all form from the United States, was procured by FEDES, shipped, offloaded, organized and systematically transported to the most heavily-damaged areas of the country. And FEDES' relief efforts continue to this day.
A large number of earthquake victims lost their homes in the destruction.Most of these families, many of whom were already living in “at risk” conditions, continue to live in camps and emergency shelters which lack insulation against the cold. Due to below freezing temperatures in the evenings, coupled with the fact they lost all their belongings in the disaster, means many experience extreme cold at night, and also lack basic personal hygiene products. Thus one of FEDES' first course of action was providing blankets and family sized hygiene kits to those living in the camps.
Courtesy of an Americares’ grant, FEDES purchased 3000 blankets, 1000 large packages of shampoo, 3000 packs of soap, and a large quantity of toilet paper, which was all distributed in the disaster zone.
Abbott Laboratories donated of 45,000 bottles of Pedialyte, which was likewise distributed to all the health centers and the hospitals in three of the regions affected by the quake.
Vida donated a second container of equipments and medical supplies which was also distributed in medical centers and hospitals.
Direct Relief facilitated a large shipment including oral rehydration solutions and adult nutritionals, and FedEx donated the airfreight of incoming consignments, all specifically requested for the earthquake response.
News highlights from FEDES staff and volunteers:
FEDES’ latest visit to the disaster zone was to the region of Bio Bio. After loading a truck with hygiene kits, as well as diapers, crutches and walkers, we set off to Conception, the second largest city in Chile, located near the epicenter of the February 27th quake.
The local Senator sent part of his staff to guide us to the camps with a large team of young volunteers to help us with the distribution. They were a tremendous help and their youthful, cheerful energy brought smiles wherever we went. We spent the day going shelter to shelter delivering the packages to each family.
Conditions in the camps for those displaced by the earthquake are still tremendously difficult. The largest camp, on the outskirts of the city of Dichato, is divided into 5 sections, each with between 100 and 200 families. Now that the winter rains have set in, accessibility is limited so there are water and supply shortages continually. Children in the camps often can't get to school and those adults who still have jobs outside many times find the routes to their work cut off.
Many of the men have left to look for work elsewhere leaving the women alone with the children to try to eke out an existence, living in their one- room shelters, the majority of which lack insulation. The impression you get of the camps is of rows and rows of wooden crates in a sea of mud. The portable toilets don’t get emptied nearly enough for conditions to remain sanitary and without running water it’s basically impossible to keep the “mediaguas” (shelters) clean. With temperatures reaching below freezing at night, it’s little wonder that respiratory and skin diseases are spreading rampantly. Domestic violence is also a major concern as feelings of futility, helplessness and anger beset the victims and, as always, it is the most vulnerable who reap the consequences.
Tamara, one of the camp community organizers told us, “It’s not the loss of my things that hurts me. Things can be replaced. It’s the loss of my dignity that makes me depressed. I can’t wash my hands in my own home. I have to trudge through the mud to toilets that I would never have used in the worst circumstances. I miss being by neighbors I know and trust, my community. I miss being able to work and support myself and taking pride in my home.”
Some of the camp sectors have worked hard to create a sense of community. They name passages between the shelters after loved ones who passed away in the earthquake; another named a passage after the first baby born in the camp, another after the oldest survivor in their camp, etc. They explained to us that above being grateful for the supplies we brought, they’re mostly thankful for the personal touch and that our visit shows them that they haven’t been forgotten.
March 17th and 18th account by FEDES volunteer aid worker
For the last 3 weeks, our team of volunteers have been receiving and coordinating the distribution of aid, and making relief trips to many cities in the disaster zone. In the wee hours of March 17th, we loaded two trucks full of walkers, blankets, food, clothing, personal hygiene kits, and thick plastic sheeting, and set off for the city of Constitucion.
On the way we stopped in the city of Curico where we had heard there were several tent camps of people who had lost their homes but had received very little aid. Though short on time we stopped to unload food, clothing, blankets, hygiene kits, as well as some songs and smiles for the group of families we found camped in a field in the middle of the city. Though we'd heard of the sacking and mobbing of supply transports in the disaster zone, we didn't experience any trouble as the people were so grateful and patiently waited and thanked us over and over again for thinking of them. We then dropped some walkers, canes, and several boxes of alcohol swabs off at the local medical center, and then continued south. When arriving in Constitucion we met up with some local officials and began the distribution.
I think the closest thing you could compare the destruction this city suffered to is a bombing in all out war. Over 90% of the city center is uninhabitable; the majority is made up of piles of rubble. There are ships washed up far inland, heavy machinery twisted and overturned in a powerful statement of the tsunami's strength, bare foundations where homes used to be, and thousands of refugees living in makeshift tents or with friends or relatives who could take them in. Government aid has been painfully slow and dramatically inadequate. Parts of the city still are still without running water and electricity and sewer runs where pipes were broken close to the surface. In the face of all this need it's hard to feel that anything you can do will make a difference, but as we stopped in each area to give what we could, we saw how important our presence was to the people there.
Our first visit in Constitucion was to a school which had been turned into an emergency reception center for the senior citizens of two low income retirement homes, as well as quite a few families. Many of them had barely gotten out of their former residences alive and had lost everything. We unloaded walkers, canes, diapers, food, and hygiene kits, then spent time talking with and listening to the people there. Again, we find that one of the greatest needs for the victims is a listening ear and a sympathetic hug, as many are traumatized and have lost loved ones as well as all their belongings.The reactions we got from them though, were priceless, and we were just thankful to be a part of brightening their futures in any way.
After driving by the city center and coastal areas, distributing food, blankets, clothing and hygiene kits to the fishermen's families and other communities which had been most devastated, we reached the top of a hill where a series of government apartments for low income families had collapsed, killing eight people in only one building of six apartments, including parents with their two small children. The residents who had been living there were camped out next to the shattered building, working together to try to survive. We gave them all the supplies we could. We had to admire these brave people, who are facing a very bleak immediate future uncomplainingly. Indeed throughout our trip we were impressed with people's courage and positive attitudes in the face of tragedy. Our day ended in the Constitucion's regional hospital, giving them all the crutches, diapers, walkers and so forth they needed. A local family invited us to stay the night at their home, and ended up being invaluable for our work the next day.
After a good night's sleep and hearty breakfast, we set out to work. First we delivered more supplies to people's homes or camps.
Many have only makeshift tents or ones made of flimsy material that get soaked through with the dew, so with rainy season on the way we got to work making them as water tight as possible, hanging heavy plastic above and below them to control the rain flow and make a larger living space. This we did in several camps especially where there were mostly women and children whose little shelters would have been wallowing in mud with just a light sprinkle. There was actually a huge demand for it, as the amount of people living in the streets reaches into the thousands.
In the outlying towns where virtually no aid had arrived we found the demand for the thick plastic sheeting was stronger than ever. Because most of the houses were made of adobe bricks entire villages were reduced to rubble by the quake.
The regional hospital in Talca was so damaged by the quake they were running at only 20% capacity rate and had a field hospital camped outside. Our team split up and some went to each, taking whatever supplies the staff said was most needed. After giving what we could we finally started the long trip home to Santiago. I believe we have all came away changed, awed by nature's destructive power, humbled by the courage and brotherhood we saw manifested so strongly in those who have been living for weeks under incredibly difficult circumstances, and with a much deeper sense of gratitude for every bite of food, a clean bed, a shower, our lives.
March 10, 2010
We traveled to the Region of Maule, where several of the larger public hospitals are uninhabitable, first visiting the city of Curicó. 90% of the downtown area of the city is in shambles, with shops, churches and over 2,500 houses destroyed.
Upon our arrival, we were met by Dr. Carlos, a long-time friend, as FEDES has been helping this area with medical supplies for several years. Dr. Carlos provided us safe-conduct and authorization to enter, and we met with his team in a makeshift room in the basement of a private clinic that afforded them the use of some space to set up the hospital administrative services. We met with the doctor and nurse in charge of hospital supplies and medicines, who gave us a list of their most urgent needs and commented that they’re lacking storage facilities.
At the time of the quake, the hospital had 350 beds in use and all of the patients had to be evacuated. The administrator explained that the patients behaved admirably, as frightened as they were. “They cooperated and followed instructions, and nobody complained. It was beautiful to see those whose condition was less serious helping evacuate others who could not fend for themselves. Help came immediately from the fire department and many volunteers, who showed up to help us transfer the patients.
“Initially we used the lights of our mobile phones to find our way in the dark, until we were able to avail ourselves of some flashlights and candles. We could barely see where we were going, as the place was riddled with debris all around. It was a miracle of God, who gave us the strength. We were able to evacuate every one and take them out to the patio, where they spent the rest of the night (the more serious cases were temporarily transferred to private clinics, with the help of their personnel).
“The two larger hospitals in the area—Talca and Curicó—which handle the more critical cases, were almost completely destroyed, so you can imagine what a complicated situation we found ourselves in. We experienced some very desperate moments and we didn’t think we were going to make it. The army came to our rescue and sent us several field hospitals.
After delivering the relief aid, a city council member picked us up and came with us to visit the Maule coastal areas that were hit by the earthquake and ensuing tsunami (because it’s under military protection, we again needed safe-conduct to enter the area).
It took us two and half hours to make it to the coast from Curicó, as many small bridges and highway sections are damaged and the road is riddled with rocks. Driving on them is dangerous due to potential landslides. On the coast, we visited the towns of San Pedro—a small town by a river, where 90% of the houses collapsed, most of which were made of adobe bricks; other towns we visited were La Pesca, Iloca, Duauand Lincanten. These towns are very poor and their inhabitants live mostly of coastal fishing. Their situation is even worse off now, as they lost it all, including their boats, nets, homes, everything. The small market where fish brought to shore was cleaned and sold was completely destroyed. Schools, churches, and houses were all swept away by the tsunami.
We were impressed by the thankfulness and resignation of the townspeople we spoke with on the way through. “We’re just thankful to be alive” they told us, “that’s the only thing that matters. We’ll start over again.”
They told us that one of the policemen noticed that the sea was behaving strangely after the quake, so he took his motorcycle (while the rest of his fellow policemen stayed back at the station taking out the firearms and some documents), and drove through all the little towns down the coast yelling at the top of his voice (he didn’t have a megaphone) advising everyone to leave their homes and head for the hills. The people told us that thanks to the policeman’s quick action, they saved their lives. The police station was swept away and everything in it was lost.
We visited several camps close to the hills, where people had set up tents for the earthquake victims. There aren’t enough tents for everybody, so a small refuge was built with nylon or plastic and boards in order to protect themselves from the wind and the sun (the need for tents is urgent, as the rainy season will soon start and tents are out of stock everywhere). During our tour we were able to distribute diapers for children and adults, walking canes, crutches and medical supplies which we left at the medical outposts attended by volunteer doctors.
At one of the camps we met Yasna and Luisa, two young mothers, who received diapers to share with all the children in the Camp. Yasna had to run into the hills with her 25-day old baby. She told us: “It was a miracle we’re still alive. I’m so thankful. Here we are, all helping each other. While some care for the children, others cook or help clearing debris (they built a makeshift refuge with wood scrap and plastic in order to protect themselves and have a larger place to eat and keep the babies in the shade). It was a heavy experience for us because the water came in from one side. And the mass of water gushed in powerfully sweeping away everything in its path. We were dumbfounded. There was mass confusion and a roaring noise. The most devastating thing was to see the wreckage in the morning…” She broke down and started crying. We gave her a hug and some words of hope and encouragement. They thanked us from the bottom of their heart.
We were deeply moved by the gratitude of all the people we spoke with, such as Mrs. Olga Jara, who is 76 years old and suffers from Parkinson's disease. When we asked her how she was feeling, she tenderly responded: “I’m fine. With God’s favor, we’re still alive. My granddaughter is also fine. She helped me make it to the hills. It’s just that lately I haven’t been feeling very well because of my sickness, but now, with this walking cane you brought me I’m going to be better as I’ll feel more stable when walking. Because we’re sleeping in the tents, in the afternoon I have to climb up the hill and that wears me out.”
We asked her if she would rather have a walker, but she respectfully answered: “No, thank you. I like to get around and do things on my own. I’m a very active person. When I had my little house (it was swept away by the tsunami), I would bake bread and empanadas, and I would sell them. I’ve always kept myself busy and that’s what I’m going to continue to do. I love plants and flowers; I had lots of them in my little house.”With tears in her eyes she looked down at where her house used to be and sighed: “Now I have nothing left…But God knows; with His favor we’ll pull out of this. Thank you for not forgetting us.”
March 1, 2010
In focusing on the south of the country, where most of the damage has been done, we have organized a convoy of trucks to head south with food and medical needs. Thankfully, we had just received a container of medical supplies from Globus Relief, most of which is now being loaded on trucks. This includes a wide range of medical supplies, diapers and orthopedic needs. We expect an escort from the National Police, with whom FEDES has been working this past year.
The Ministry of Defense will utilize the military and volunteers to help with distribution. The Ministry of Defense will also be receiving the planeloads of further supplies at a military airport so that it won’t have to be delayed going through Customs, and then helping us transfer this to relief areas via commercial planes.
We have been promised further containers of medical supplies and equipment from four agencies in the States, but do desperately need financial resources to transport further help to those in need.
A musical group which is volunteering its services, as well as group of children with a show, are accompanying the convoy, with the entertainment designed to encourage people who have found themselves in hospital. A series of programs are being planned with the Ministry of Health.
Fortunately, our FEDES office and base of operations suffered only minor damage, allowing us to begin caring for the immediate needs of others.
Within the greater Santiago area, donated food is being delivered to and organized at our storage location, as community members, students and local organizations put the word out via radio.