Fr. Eugenio Valenzuela, SJ, Chilean provincial, sends a report from Pablo Castro, SJ, the superior of the Jesuit Tirua Community. In this letter he writes some reflections and describes some ways of developing medium and long term apostolic works in the communities affected by this tragedy:
We are very grateful for all your generosity, support, and aid.
We have not yet recovered from the violence that hit us from the earth and the sea. It was shocking. When we went into town, the situation was distressful. However, we hugged each other gratefully because we survived the catastrophe.
We began asking for help for those people whose houses were destroyed by the sea but who escaped with their lives from the tsunami.
In the beginning we prioritized and served people who lost everything. At that time we were isolated and without any kinds of services. Only the radio was working. We immediately organized a commission in order to respond to the emergency with humanitarian aid. The earthquake did not damage the interior little towns too much, but the tsunami destroyed a large part of the small coastal towns here. It destroyed all the supermarkets, for that reason, we had a food shortage. Furthermore, houses, cars, trucks, some small restaurants and carpenter workshops were also washed away. In other words, the tsunami took part of the hearts of those people who worked and fought all their lives to have those possessions. Most of the fishing boats were also destroyed.
A few days later the cities finally got aid. “Hogar de Cristo” sent us food and clothes by plane. “Un techo para Chile” and “Servicio Pais,” another aid organization, started to evaluate damages and developed an emergency plan which was implemented in coordination with the municipalities, community leaders, and neighborhoods.
Working together we have also provided humanitarian aid to the very poor rural families who were living in fear and anxiety because this tragedy deeply affected their lives.
Three days ago, life gradually began returning to normal. For instance, the basic services are working now. Humanitarian aid is well organized and it is providing effective and efficient services.
We think that it is time to begin the process of reconstructing the small towns here developing medium and long term reconstruction plans. We believe that coordinating and working together with the different existing networks here will be a key element in this process. The first step is to start a dialogue with the different organizations that are already working in this area in order to improve our diagnosis and make the best possible decisions. At the same time it is important to develop a psychological support program for the affected people especially for those who continue to suffer from fear and anxiety. In this regard, psychologists are volunteering and working with these families and in the poorest rural areas, some volunteer teachers are already working with children affected by this tragedy.
Below you will find the medium and long term initial reconstruction proposals which we are developing. We hope and ask for your support and help. We need your generous financial donation in order to develop and implement these programs.
Housing: The “Un techo para Chile” is building emergency housing. We are asking for donations such as wood, zinc roofing, and financial assistance. We want to cover the houses inside and out with a special material in order to make these houses more resistant to the coming winter time. Furthermore, we want to improve these houses adding a small 9’x9’ room which will be used as a kitchen. The biggest room will be used as bedroom. We also want to build a shed that could be used to house tools and other kinds of materials. In this way we want to support the small businessmen who lost everything because of the tsunami. Finally, this proposal also seeks to provide jobs for the poor, better their incomes and the quality of their lives.
Goods and services. We have already started to support those families who lost their possessions or whose houses were flooded but are habitable. We are providing them with mattresses, ovens, small tables, etc. However, we know that it is going to take more time in order to provide everything that they need. We have almost nothing of kitchen utensils such as pots, pans, etc. Yesterday, a mother was able to pick up her three little children and go back to her home because she received kitchen utensils and was able to cook for them.
Grassroots organizations. We are working with the members of these organizations seeking the best ways to strengthen their committees and organizations. We strongly believe that we have to dialogue with them and take into consideration the grassroots organizations leadership opinions and experience before we make any decision or send or distribute any kinds of donations in these places.
Spiritual and emotional support. The affected population is very distressed and frightened. We have been to get back to work on our regular ministries and apostolic works and this Holy Week will be an special time of reflection for all of us. It is also very important that school teachers have professional support in order to develop some skills which will allow them to help and support students.
Micro Enterprise. There are many things that have to be done. The temptation to respond to just immediate needs is great but longer term projects are more important. Tirua had been a subsidized community before this tragedy. It would be a big mistake to increase these subsidies. In this regard there are some things that can be done almost immediately 1.- Replace the working tools lost when the carpenters of the town lost their workshops. In this way they will immediately start making furniture which we will buy and distribute to the affected population. 2. Grant loans to people who lost their small businesses such as: supermarkets, restaurants, and small retail outlets in order to help them to restart and provide these services soon. 3.) Strengthening the trade network of the Relmu Witral weavers whose sails will be affected by this tragedy.
Fishermen and Forestry. The major sources of employment in this city that have been damaged by the tsunami and the earthquake we linked to the fishing and forestry industries. We and our partners are seeking ways to allow these two small industries to continue to function.
After the tsunami hit Tirua, someone posted a video surveying the damage. You can see it on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSTpQvTfrac&feature=related