By Heidi Isaza, flying home from Santiago, Chile.
For anyone who has never felt a moderate to strong earthquake, it just dawned on me how much turbulence at 30,000 feet resembles the rocking and shaking of the earth during an quake or aftershock—without the danger of the walls falling in on you, of course.
Before I left for Chile, just over two weeks ago, I was one of those people who didn’t know what a strong earthquake felt like. After two weeks of frequent and often intense aftershocks, I have developed an internal Richter scale which tells me if I really need to get out of bed in the middle of the night or if I should run for higher ground.
While I may not be physically present in Chile any more, I am bringing a piece of it, especially the people I met, with me in my heart and my prayers.
One of those people is Sandra, a woman from Talcahuano who survived the tsunami. To me, she is the embodiment of the Chilean spirit of survival. When we met her, she was trying to clean her house, even though she knew she could not live there anymore because it had been knocked off its foundation. She couldn’t just sit still and wait for things to happen, she needed to do something—now. Through tears, she told me her story of survival, emphasizing, “You don’t forget these things.” Although I hope to forget the smell of the rotten fish and the contaminated mud that surrounded her, I will not forget Sandra.
I also will not forget the day I spent with Raquel Larena Busto, and elderly woman living on the side of the road in a tent outside of Dichato, with her husband, daughter, and 11-year-old granddaughter. I won’t forget the look in her eyes when we felt the 7.2 aftershock and watched as everyone from one of the most affected areas were evacuated once again for fear of a second tsunami. Her words, “I am going to die afraid,” continue to haunt me.
Even more than the adults, however, I will carry the children I met in mi corazon (my heart). I was astonished by their ability to overcome and find joy, even in the most difficult circumstances. I was especially impressed by their faith. I would love to say that if I were put in the same circumstances, I would react like Ninoska, an 18-year-old former sponsored child, who was trapped in her collapsing room after the earthquake. She told me, “When I got out of the bed, the first thing I grabbed was my Bible. I sat down next to the wall, I crossed my arms, I closed my eyes, and I told my mom [who was trying to help her get out] to leave me because I know where I will go when I die.”
Thankfully, Ninoska wasn’t one of the quake fatalities, like her aunt who lived next door. And instead of shaking the foundation of her faith, this situation has strengthened it. Today, she tells her friends, “You are looking at a walking miracle.”
I will also never forget the hope for a brighter future embodied in 8-year-old Constanza. She cried because the room her sponsors had helped build for her and that she and her sister had decorated together had collapsed. But then she paused and said, “Maybe God allowed this to happen so I can have a better house, a prettier house.”
Sandra was right—you don’t forget these things, or these people. I will not forget them, and I hope you won’t either. Please continue to keep Chile’s people in your prayers as they have a long and difficult road of recovery and rebuilding ahead.
If there is one thing, however, that gives me peace about leaving them, it is knowing that World Vision has a wonderful, caring, competent, and dedicated team of Chilean nationals who have been walking and working side-by-side with those most in need for the past 30 years. They survived the earthquake and all the aftershocks along with their neighbors, and with our support and prayers, they will rise again like the many Chilean flags emerging from the rubble—to continue to provide life in all its fullness to all children in Chile.