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Chileans stand strong amidst the ashes

Updated April 28, 2014

VALPARAISO, Chile — With a devastating fire in Valparaiso minimized and contained, Unbound staff in Chile stand ready to accompany sponsored friends and their families as they begin rebuilding their homes and lives.

Fire in Chile
A fast-moving fire that swept through neighborhoods in Valparaiso,
Chile, left thousands homeless and faced with rebuilding.

The raging fire that started April 12 left a wave of destruction in its wake, killing at least 15 people, including three sponsored elders, and left thousands homeless. Fires are still burning in parts of the countryside, and officials say it could take more than 20 days to fully extinguish the flames, according to the BBC.

Luis Olivares, Unbound staff member in Valparaiso, reported that the deceased sponsored elderly members are Manuel Santiago Pérez Rojas, 81, Juana Rosa Vega Ruz, 85, and Maria Zunilda Canquil Rauque, 76. Unbound has notified the sponsors of the deceased elders.

Olivares said about 400 sponsored friends and their families live in or near the area affected by the fire.

"Unfortunately, our fears were founded as the majority of sponsored friends who live in the disaster area lost their homes. They lost everything," Olivares said.

So far, Valparaiso staff have identified 51 sponsored children and 20 sponsored elderly who lost their homes and their belongings. They are providing counseling and delivering emergency assistance to these families and others affected by the fire.

People from the affected areas are being offered shelter at local public schools. Others are staying with relatives or friends. Unbound staff members quickly established an emergency plan to help sponsored friends affected by the fire.

Unbound staff have begun distributing emergency vouchers for basic necessities, as well as baskets of food, toiletries and school supplies.

Despite the disaster, staff and families remain hopeful.

"The work has just begun and winter is drawing near," Olivares said, "but more than ever there is a feeling in the air of fraternity, of communion amidst the pain, and courage that plants a seed of hope and unity on this burnt wasteland, which energizes efforts amidst so much disaster."

On April 13, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile declared the areas destroyed by the fire a disaster zone, and said the country would begin sending aid to help the cleanup effort in Valparaiso, according to the BBC.

Olivares reported an influx of Chileans ready and willing to help with the cleanup and rebuilding efforts.

Chilean fire
Waves of volunteers arrive in Valparaiso to help those affected by the
fire.

"We're seeing traffic jams caused by trucks bringing aid, vehicles loaded with all kinds of basic necessities and citizens on foot with shovels on their shoulders ready to help clear debris and begin rebuilding," Olivares said.

"This is all so emotional, it's as if the country was awoken from a long hibernation of individualism and consumerism, and each person wants to give the best of themselves."

When fires and other natural disasters make national news coverage, waves of help and aid begin to flow. Because Unbound is known and trusted locally in Chile, many Chileans have brought donations to the Unbound office to distribute among those affected, Olivares said.

"We've received donations from businesses, shopkeepers and anonymous citizens," he said. "We know that this wave of solidarity, like all waves, will recede," Olivares said. "But we'll be there when the mega fire is forgotten, when it's no longer national news."

Unbound works with more than 3,800 children and 645 elderly people in Chile through our sponsorship program based in Valparaiso.

Please join the Unbound worldwide community as we keep those impacted by this tragic fire in our thoughts and prayers.

(Henry Flores, director of Unbound's communications center in El Salvador, contributed information for this story.)

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