Student Aids After Disaster
Compassionate engagement helps those afflicted and those who help. The April Chilean wildfires, in the areas of Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, were reported as destroying 500 homes, leaving thousands homeless, and killing approximately 11 people. Several study abroad students, including Purdue student Madison Neuenschwander (accounting major from Fort Wayne, Indiana), volunteered their assistance.
About the experience, Madison says, “I was actually on the coast when the fires began, and I could see the smoke pouring from the city. When I got back to my house, it was all over the news. For the rest of the evening and the days to follow, I sat with my host family and watched the unimaginable images of complete destruction. We could not believe what we were seeing. As the fires raged on for the next couple of days, I think the desperation to help was almost tangible in the city, and there was an air of frustration and restlessness as it seemed there was nothing we could do until the professionals calmed the fire. But in the meantime, neighborhoods, companies, families, schools rallied together to collect food, toiletries, clothes, etc. for the families. My school, Pontificia Universidad Catolico De Valparaiso became a center for collection.” Participating students and their host families contributed as they were able with basic supplies, construction materials and the like in coordination with local government and recognized aid organizations.
“As soon as the hills were safe to climb (and many before they were safe), people began to climb the hills. The week after the fires, we went up to help clean away the debris and work on bringing what remained of the houses down to ground zero,” She explains, “I was so blown away by this nation’s response to disaster.” Such compassionate engagement both helps Chileans with this tragedy and forms a solidarity with those in need.
Madison studied abroad for the spring 2014 semester in Valparaiso, Chile taking classes at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso and Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María.