Page 8, 2nd September 1977

2nd September 1977
Page 8
Page 8, 2nd September 1977 — The forgotten earthquake victims

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Locations: Bristol, Guatemala City


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The forgotten earthquake victims

IT IS more than a year since the earthquake struck Guatemala on February 4, 1976, killing 22,000 people, injuring many more and making thousands homeless.

What has happened to the survivors? They have been largely forgotten by a world in which disasters produce an emotional response and a burst of giving, followed by loss of interest.

The world's sympathy and its funds have also gone to other victims for 1976 was earthquake year: nearly 1,000 killed in Italy in May, 5,000 in Papua in June, 100,000 reported killed in China in July, 1,000 in Bali in the same month, 4,000 in the Philippines in August and an unknown number in China.

Finally, in November, more than 5,000 died in the Turkish earthquake and a number as yet unknown in a third Chinese disaster.

Meanwhile, in Guatemala, there is still suffering. The plight of earthquake survivors does not end with the disaster. Homeless, bereaved, un employed, often hungry and ill, they desperately need to he given a chance to help themselves, Among those trying to satisfy that need is a Dutch priest, Fr Adrian Bastiansen. With two lay brothers, he has started a nutrition centre, a dispensary and a co-operative in a shanty town on the outskirts of Guatemala City. Their work is designed to raise the morale of the people, give them hope and help them build a community.

Now, the three-man team has been joined by two young volunteers from Bristol, David Morgan and Sara Harcourt, who had already worked with Fr Adrian.

Each member of the team is financially self-supporting, do ing an ordinary commercial job alongside the voluntary work "an important point," says Sara Harcourt, "because on the previous occasion we were fulltime and in spite of ourselves,

we were projected to these communities as `the idle rich come to do good.'"

Backed by Fr Adrian, the two volunteers appealed to CAFOD for help to pay their return fares to Guatemala. After careful consideration, this was agreed.

CAFOD was especially swayed by their practical good sense and by Fr Adrian's testimony: "Sara would be very useful because of her past experience here and in Nicaragua and because of her being accepted well by our people. "David has long-term usefulness for food production and diet supplementation and for his technical abilities and previous experience with cooperative societies in a developing country -Uganda."

After the earthquake, it was quickly realised that the steep ravines or barrancos in which 3,000 families were living were unsafe, in danger from further earthquakes and from landslides in the rainy seasonand in Fr Adrian's words: "Without the most elemental facilities for decent living."

As so often happens, it was the poorest and most vulnerable families who were the greatest sufferers. These were people living in places whose only other use had been for sewage and garbage disposal, their malnourished children acutely prone to disease.

From this unpromising base, there sprang the movement now called "Exodus '76". The volunteers tell the story. "The communities we knew left the sites where their homes and possessions were buried under fallen cliffs and camped on the edges of roads, in parks, etc. Padre Adrian and his colleagues soon formed a working inter-denominational group.

The leaders of several barranco areas met the Ecumenical Committee and together they decided to occupy land within the city limits which had been bought by the Government Housing Bank but had not yet been developed. A nucleus of families settled on this land in March, 1976, and the Government has now promised to hand over the title deeds.

The committee is building houses for 800 families belonging to the Tierra Nueva the New Land which is the name adopted by this nucleus group. In mid-November, another group known as the Sakerti the New Dawn, also obtained government approval for their settlement on new land nearer the city centre. David and Sara reported to CAFOD: "We are working with a team of people which includes three Catholic sisters, whose areas are health and popular education.

"The technical team includes two Argentinian architects and a Guatemalan. The social work team includes a Salvadorian and two Argentinians. They are trying to organise the community and do the enormously complicated job of allocating the houses.

"Two Mennonite families worked with us very effectively for two months in the construction team, supported by Church World Service."

Sara's main job has been in support of the construction team. She is the procurement expert, buying tools and materials and obtaining supplies for the clinic and cooperative shop.

David has been involved in the central pre-occupation, the housing of the 800 families. He has also started a demonstration plot on a farm. This is a focal point for the development of community allotments and market gardens to improve the diet of the people and provide badly-needed cash income. Outside the city he is using his agricultural skills by helping poor farming families to clear jungle and prepare new ground 'for cultivation.

"There are already provisional services such as a school, a clinic, church, market, bus terminal and voluntary police force, and these will be formalised in time."

The CAFOD grant to David Morgan and Sara Harcourt is a vital part of the ecumenical voluntary effort which is providing new homes and work for the survivors of the earthquake who are now taking the First steps on the road to longterm development.

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