Shelter and community to keep spirits high after devastating

Published: 24 April 2014 17:38 CET

Yolanda Hernández is an elderly woman who lost her home to the forest fires in Valparaíso. She lives in the shelter at Escuela Grecia school and is a beneficiary of the Chilean Red Cross. “We have created a very strong bond with volunteers,” she says. “People of the Red Cross are always watching us, we feel confident to talk to them; they are our friends.” She lives with her partner, Alfredo Maskenna.

The couple lived in Cerro La Cruz, with their cat and two dogs, which were unable to escape the flames. Despite the terrible event, Yolanda keeps her spirit and joy. She prefers to look on the bright side of things and her joy spreads throughout the shelter. “The important thing is that we are healthy and safe,” she says.

Her husband, an active man with a great sense of humor, jokes showing a pair of dolls that are under the covers: “These are our children,” he says. “It is time for them to go to sleep.”

It's after 9pm and people in the shelter are ready to rest. The site is full of volunteers from various organizations that have joined to support the victims. The entire country has their eyes set on Valparaíso, and the help is varied: volunteers, food, blankets, covers, clothes. There is great concern for those affected.

But this reality is totally different from that in the mountains. Many people have chosen to stay in their homes and not leave for fear of invasion. “I chose to go to the shelters, I am afraid I’ll get depressed if I stay in the Cerro (mountain). Here I am warm and feel protected,” says Yolanda. Some people have managed to find shelter in the mountains, some in tents and others, whose homes survived the flames, remain in areas that are desolate and in ruins. Yolanda is one of the few people who chose to live in these shelters, where she can stop worrying about the cold wind and dust, although some discomfort exists because she does not have a clear idea of how she will rebuild her life and home.