4/23/10

Meghan and Josh's Chile Relief Challenge

Meghan and Josh, two of WorldTeach's former field directors in Chile, have been living in Chile for a combined 8 years and are involved in efforts to help the country rebuild following the earthquake two months ago. You can read more about their "Chile Relief Challenge" at their blog. In the post below, Meghan writes about an Easter weekend trip she and Josh took to build temporary houses in one of the most affected regions of the country. 


Josh and I couldn't have done this alone, and, thankfully, we had the help of volunteers from our FECH (U. of Chile) group, the University of Concepción, VE Global (one of the organizations that our Chile Relief Challenge in benefiting), and our friend María Jose (who went down to Retiro with us for a second time). The first day, we had a 5-member squad to start the construction of a media agua (temporary wooden house). With little or no prior media agua training, our group quickly found out how grueling the first step was: setting the base posts for the house to raise it off what will be a very wet winter ground. We had to fix 17 posts 2 feet deep (not to mention making sure our base hypotenuse calculations were on par- not a fun math lesson). After a day of digging holes in the ground, we finally got the floor placed on the posts when the sun was long gone, and cold fall night had set in.

The following day was a flurry of help from more volunteers who helped us raise the walls and roof. The final steps of hinging the windows and door were so gratifying, and seeing the Chilean flag nailed right above that door was a true victory.

However, for Josh and me, the most rewarding part of the weekend was getting to know the family that will live in the structure we built. Our constant Chilean mother cheerleader, Señora Margarita, took care of our whole crew by feeding us homemade empanadas, fresh fruit and even the evening tea ("onces") that's so typically Chilean.

We had a big photo shoot with the family on Easter afternoon when the house was finished, and Margarita even invited us to celebrate her son Pablo´s 13th birthday. Mom, Dad, their 3 children, Grandma and even the neighbor gathered around the birthday table with us- the few members of the first day building crew- and shared their earthquake experience.

Despite the scare of the quake, they are full of hope for their plans to continue living in Retiro and eventually build a permanent home when government grants come through. However, no one is sure when that day will come, so this Easter and birthday afternoon, the celebration took place beside 2 temporary shelters- one that Señora Margarita had built to last just as long as the fall sunshine, and one we had build to last the winter. We hope that this gracious, gracious family will be able to celebrate Pablo's 14th birthday in a permanent, earthquake resistant house. For now, at least they have a rain-resistant alternative to get by.

The relief situation in Retiro continues to be complicated by a lack of organization in carrying out reconstruction projects. Though there are many willing hands to help on long holiday weekends like this past one, organizing this help in an effective way in a daunting task, and will continue to dictate how quickly affected towns like Retiro can recover. Now, a month and a half after the start of the school year, some Retiro children still haven´t returned to classes due to damage to school buildings. Even though temporary locations for classes are being established, parents are apprehensive about sending their children to school. One mother of 7 girls told me she wouldn´t send her kids to school until she had personally inspected the classroom.

However, some kids are already back in class and are returning to their normal rhythm of April life. Thanks to volunteer work, media aguas have popped up on various house lots around the town now from which rubble was cleared, including 2 lots we removed rubble from 3 weeks ago. These media aguas are a sign of hope, albeit temporary. It's a sign that volunteers has stretched out a hand to Retiro and actually helped.  Oh, and the little chocolate Easter eggs we passed out to the kids didn´t hurt either.  Happy Easter, Retiro.

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