Saving lives and inspiring volunteers during storms in Guatemala

Published: 25 October 2011 20:00 CET

By Enrique Jair Guevara in Guatemala

As storms battered Guatemala, one Red Cross volunteer found his skills and experience were vital in saving the lives of his family and neighbours as landslides engulfed their homes.

Diego Paz 19, a volunteer at the Guatemalan Red Cross, had just returned home from a workshop at his local branch and was telling his mother and sister about it heard a loud noise.

“The first thing I did was go outside to see what was going on,” he says. “I spoke with my neighbours to see if they were OK, and then saw the house next to ours was under a pile of dirt and rubble. I turned to my mother and sister and told them we had to leave. I told them to grab all some clothes and to grab all the money they had so that we could get somewhere safe.”

As Diego led his mother Maria Gregoria and sister Lara Lucia away from the danger, they realised they were trapped. “We climbed down, our feet sinking in the mud and dirt and that’s when we saw the firemen. It was with their help that we were able to reach safety,” he says.
Carlos, Diego’s father, tells us that when he came home it was as if he was sleepwalking, thinking only about the safety of his loved ones. When he arrived he could not find them, but with the help of neighbors and fire-fighters he was able to join them in a secure area. As they waited another landslide covered their home.

“Unfortunately we lost everything. It was a truly terrible experience,” says Carlos. The Paz family’s home was lost due to one of many landslides caused by the heavy rains that had been pummelling the country for more than a week. Five more families lost their homes.

Following the terrible experience, fellow Red Cross volunteers delivered food and goods to the Paz family. “After loosing our home we were able to stay with a neighbor, who are building a small apartment above their home, its not painted or ready yet, but it has a roof and it is safe. That’s what’s really important,” says Carlos.

What is inspiring is that despite the tragedy, Diego has continued to volunteer during the emergency operations. “I think that getting depressed and letting yourself be carried away by a bad moment is the last thing one should do,” he says. “I see these moments as an opportunity to get stronger so that the next time there is an emergency we are better prepared. I learned that being a Red Cross volunteer.”

With a proud smile Carlos says: “We are very happy and proud of the fact that Diego is a volunteer at the Red Cross because besides learning we know that in the future he will be able to help people in need.”

Diego has been a volunteer at the Red Cross for just four months, but his spirit and dedication are impossible to ignore. “I think that when I arrived as a volunteer, I fell in love with the organization. What keeps me going is that although we had not suffered losses before, we had lived through the danger in emergencies like these. That’s why I told myself, I want to help people that are going through the same thing. Now that I am going through all of this, instead of being defeated, I am gaining more strength so that I can help more people that are going through the same experience,” he says.

With eyes full of hope, Diego urges others to join the Red Cross. “That would be my invitation so that others become volunteers, and together we can help make our Guatemala less vulnerable.”