University of Idaho sends a group to Chile to help rebuild in wake of earthquake

U of Idaho sent another group on a United Planet Quest — this time to Chile on a construction project. Our Chile Coordinator, Paul, reports that they had a great time, worked hard, and made a difference in many people’s lives…

In August 2010 the University of Idaho informed United Planet of its decision to send a group of 13 students and two professors to build houses in Chile. The decision was a response to Chile’s devastating 8.8 earthquake in February 2010, the fifth strongest in recorded history, which had left thousands of Chileans homeless.

Idaho’s decision was not surprising. The university had been sending students on United Planet-organized group Quests around the world for the past five years, and enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the foundation.

Idaho’s Quest was divided into two separate volunteer experiences during their 18 days in Chile.  Their first worksite was a daycare center operated by United Planet’s partner organization near Viña del Mar, which provides all-day childcare to 63 children between six months and four years of age.

Lots of helping hands at the daycare center

The volunteers’ tasks included landscaping, pruning trees and painting outside gates.  The volunteers also participated in playgroup activities with the children and daycare center personnel.

On their second morning at the worksite, the volunteers discovered some wooden desks out back which had been thrown away.

On their own initiative and with the daycare director’s consent, they took apart the old desks and began constructing a slide, a long table, and refurbishing a swing set which was not being used. They went to a hardware store and bought sandpaper, screws and nails.  They dug holes and trenches to lower everything to the level of a four year old.

Constructing the swingset for the children

The last morning at the daycare, the director arrived at the site and could not believe her eyes.

Just two days before, she had welcomed the volunteers with the expectation that they would clean up the large outdoor area with its overgrown fruit trees and weeds, and make it look nicer. 

Now she was looking at a new outdoor play area for the children with a table, slide, and swings in a setting that might appear on the cover of a gardening magazine.

The volunteers’ only weekend at Viña del Mar was full of excursions and activities.  There were tours to Viña’s lush botanical gardens, a walking tour of Viña del Mar’s colourful boardwalk and arts and crafts shops, and a ride along the 44 steep hills surrounding Valparaiso included a visit to the home of the Nobel-prize poet, Pablo Neruda.

An unexpected added treat was witnessing a spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display at midnight from Playa Amarilla beach along with thousands of cheering and festive Chileans.

The volunteers’ second quest consisted of building houses at a rural worksite seven hours south of Santiago by bus. The agricultural, coastal town of Cobquecura had been at the epicenter of February’s 8.8 earthquake, and many of its adobe structures had collapsed.

Constructing houses in the coastal town of Cobquecura

United Planet’s local partner organization had recently received Chilean government funding to build four homes for displaced families that would use anti-seismic and energy-saving technology and hopefully serve as a prototype for future low-cost housing.

The local families who would receive the houses cooked meals for the volunteers. A few more Chilean university volunteers arrived the second week and joined the group staying at the school.

At the worksite, various tasks were done by groups of four or five volunteers. A lot of time was spent on constructing the walls of the houses which were a mix of straw and mud placed in wooden frames.

Frame of house during construction

The Idaho volunteers enjoyed the multiple challenges at the worksite, and had made significant progress by the time they had to leave.  On their last night they made a large bonfire on the beach and sang songs with their new Chilean university friends.

The group arrived back to Santiago one day before their return flight, tired but happy. They enjoyed a special tour of the Presidential Palace, La Moneda, and shopping at the Pueblito de Los Dominicos, an area of 150 arts and crafts shops.

What was obvious was that they had changed. Now they felt more independent and comfortable in the Chilean culture. For example, they returned to a restaurant they had eaten at on their first day in Chile, but this time they were able to give their orders to the waiter in Spanish without any help.

What they then realized was that an inevitable consequence of their quest and their effort to help others bring about change had been a change in themselves.

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2 Comments. Leave new

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February 1, 2011 2:03 pm

[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GoAbroad, ExchangesConnect. ExchangesConnect said: RT @UnitedPlanet: Check out all the awesome things that the group from @uidaho did while on a quest in Chile! […]

I was lucky to meet this group of U of Idaho students when I was in Chile in December (I was actually visiting friends there that I had made during my UP Chile Quest). I was impressed with all of these students-what wonderful, caring people. It sounds like they made a huge impact in Chile. 🙂

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