Valparaíso: fire and passion

Posted by on Apr 15, 2014 in News | No Comments

The fire is more or less out, leaving behind a trail of destruction: 15 dead, 2,500 homes destroyed, 11,000 people affected, 1,145 hectares burnt.  The volunteer firefighters are exhausted; the hospitals and medical centres are now seeing a stream of people with respiratory problems and teams of volunteers have arrived in the port city to help the people affected. Temporary shelters are lined with mattresses. Clothes, bedding, non-perishable food and toiletries are arriving by the truck-load from across Chile.

Next comes the clean up and the rebuilding of homes and lives, all made more urgent because winter is just around the corner.  It would be nice to think that this situation won’t arise again but the reality is that Chile experiences many wild fires every year. The long, dry summers, the tendency of poor people to build inflammable houses on any bit of unoccupied land, suitable or not, people’s tendency to dump rubbish, the lack of resources for fire prevention and fighting and many other factors mean that next summer we’ll probably see fires breaking out again, unless the government decides to tackle the underlying factors, of course.

Anyway, in the midst of this bad news, I’d like to share some positive news about Valparaíso.  Today Dr Kathleen Whitlock is to receive the Medal of the University of Valparaíso in honour of her work to make science fun and interesting for children from deprived backgrounds in Valparaíso. Her project Ciencia al Tiro has been running since 2008 and Kate made a great step forward last year when she inaugurated a permanent home for the project: Edificio Verde, an old house which had been gutted in a fire and Kate bought and lovingly renovated using local, recycle and ecological materials where possible.  The centre is kitted out with microscopes, an aquaponics centre and other equipment. Kate is a woman of great passion and commitment and has made this project happen in the face of all obstacles. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of an award.

There’s another example of passion and innovation from Valparaíso which is, moreover, completely relevant to the current situation in the city. I’m talking about the Casa FENIX, a home designed to arise phoenix-like from the ashes of a disaster, the design of a university team from Valparaíso together with a team from France. Students and teachers from Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María and l’Université de La Rochelle have joined forces to develop a well-designed, modular, ecological home which can be deployed easily by volunteers in the aftermath of a disaster and which can later be extended by adding additional modules. In Chile we do already have temporary homes, simple wooden structures, known as mediaguas. They are cheap but very basic, lacking insulation and really just provide a roof for families made homeless. Within a few years, they end up being burnt as firewood and the family needs to be rehomed somewhere more permanent.  The idea of the Casa FENIX is to offer a home which deals with the immediate emergency but is also durable over time.  This house has been entered into an international architecture competition, the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, in France.  I would like to congratulate the team for their exciting design and wish them luck in the competition.  What is more, let’s hope that by the time the next disaster strikes in Chile, it is the Casa FENIX which is deployed to provide shelter for those who need it.

This is Valparaíso: a rowdy, unruly city with tremendous poverty but great potential and a big attitude. A city which excites passion and has the capacity to develop innovative projects of great value.

If you would like to donate following the disaster, here are three organizations which are helping:

The Red Cross:

Beneficiary Information Beneficiary Name: Cruz Roja Chilena
R.U.T. / ID.: 70.512.100-1
Cuenta / Beneficiary Account: 5-166-11995-09

Beneficiary Bank
Banco / Bank: Banco Chile – Santiago de Chile
Sucursal / Branch: Seminario # 151 – Providencia
Codigo Swift / Swift Code: BCHICLRM

Intermediary Bank
Nombre / Name: Citibank N.A. New York.
Cuenta / Intermediary Account: 10922666
ABA / Routing: 021 000 089
Dirección / Address: 111 Wall Street NY-10043

Nota importante:
Favor indicar número de cuenta bancaria y dirección del ordenante en swift de transferencia.Important note:
Please indicate the applicant account number and address in wire transfer swift.