Back on April 14, over a month before I went to Valparaiso, there was a devastating fire up in the hills of the city, leaving 12,000 people homeless. It started as a forest fire behind the city, but the dry land and high winds quickly brought the fire to the cities borders at the top of the hills. Many of the people who live at the top of the hill are stricken with poverty, and their homes consist of wooden shacks or tents, both immensely flammable. It is being considered the worst fire in the history of Valparaiso.
Chile has an uncanny ability to jump back on its feet, and during my visit to Valparaiso, many of the tourists I encountered were not aware of the recent fire. The people of Valparaiso have all chipped in to help the victims. Some of the hostels I stayed at were providing temporary homes for families who had lost everything. The government is helping, but only provides aid to legal residents of the land and property burned. The trouble is that the fire burned the poorest part of the city. That high up in the hills people were simply claiming sections of land. There is no infrastructure or running water that far up, which was one of the reasons the fire was so deadly.
Valparaiso is trying to rebuild the burnt areas, and provide housing for more people, but it is a lot of work. I arrived after the initial wave of relief funds. Building was in process, and the volunteers had a sense of direction. However, there is still quite a lot of work to do. Building homes for 12,000 people does not happen quickly. While volunteers and locals are working towards the big picture of the rebuilding, it is easy to overlook the everyday needs of the people. As their homes are being rebuilt, the people on the hills live in tents without bathrooms and limited water supplies. Food is not an easy subject either.
While I was in Valparaiso, I helped out by feeding the local families and volunteers. A single lunch on only one of the hills burnt easily fed 200 people. Everyone was incredibly grateful for the food. Even though I helped feed 200 hundred people that day, we didn't even put a dent in feeding the 12,000 people affected by the fire.
Katie Rasch, a girl from Michigan who has been living in Valparaiso for some time now, was the one who took me up on the hill to help out. She has walked through the hills talking with the affected families, asking them what they need. She believes the best way to help is to put the power in the hands of the affected people. Katie and her sisters have started a relief fund, and are well on their way to making a difference in the volunteer effort. For anyone who has been taken by the beauty of Valparaiso, I strongly urge you to help out and give, even if it is just five dollars. You can help out HERE.
Please help out those in need by donating to Katie's Relief Fund.