The human impact of Fuego volcano

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"The human impact of Fuego volcano" - Unbound - (CatholicMom.com)

Unbound sponsored youth Crisla (right) and her mother, Maria, are among the families who stayed in a shelter after the Fuego volcano erupted. Copyright 2018 Unbound.org.

Meeting families displaced in Guatemala
Guatemala’s Fuego volcano erupted June 3, destroying entire communities. The news media reported more than 100 confirmed deaths and nearly 200 listed as missing. The eruption displaced thousands, and among those affected were around 150 Unbound sponsored friends and their families. In times of natural disaster, Unbound notifies sponsors personally if we learn that their sponsored friends have been injured or otherwise seriously impacted.

Oscar Tuch, Unbound’s communications liaison in Guatemala, along with other Unbound staff, recently visited shelters housing area residents displaced by the volcano, and he shared his impressions.

In the northern part of the area affected by the Fuego volcano eruption, there are thousands of people in shelters. In the San Juan Alotenango central plaza, it looked like a fair, like the one celebrated on the 24th of June in honor of Saint John the Baptist. But on this occasion, the fair was different.

The plaza was the location of a vigil. On the day I was there they found two more bodies. The first was of a woman, approximately 40 years of age; that’s how the text on the coffin identified her. The second corpse was of a 72-year-old woman, who may have lived long, but it is a tragedy to leave so suddenly and in this way. That section of the square was where strangers consoled family members of the deceased.

At a shelter for displaced residents, we met Maria, the mother of sponsored youth Crisla. Maria greeted us and offered us a chair to sit comfortably. As she shared her experience of the tragedy, she recounted how she thought she would not be able to survive and how she did. She escaped with her three children, but her husband found himself trapped in one of the ranches near the volcano. He was fine, but there was still anxiety since the family was not together. What most saddened Maria was that they recently completed construction of their home. They just needed to install the doors and windows. They were close to moving in, but that reality disappeared in the volcano’s ashes.

We tried to enter the devastated area, but the perimeter was secured by The National Coordination for Disaster Reduction of Guatemala (CONRED) and the National Civil Police, and they prohibited our entrance. They didn’t want us exposed to the risks. We were about 4 kilometers away. Even from that distance, the desolation could be felt, the pain and the emptiness, and the scent of the pyroclastic flow affected my throat and eyes. In the evacuation zone, we saw the tireless efforts of the police and firefighters.

What’s next?

Our return to the Unbound office in Escuintla was distressing, knowing that on this side we were fine. The families were content with the visit, but their questions remained:

What will happen to their homes? Will they be able to return to the affected areas? Will they be able to continue growing crops on their land? Will they need to migrate to other areas?

The staff was prepared to discuss options on how to support the families as the days passed. This will be discussed with the larger regional team and action items will be presented to help preserve the dignity of the sponsored families.

After this storm, the affected people will return to their daily lives, looking for their daily bread, as always, struggling for another piece of land, constructing a home again, rebuilding a family. They know there are kids depending on parents, and that there are parents depending on their children. Friends depend on their friends and neighbors depend on neighbors.

Guatemala depends on its people, its hardworking and tireless people. This is another disaster we must overcome, in the same way we overcame Hurricane Mitch, tropical storms Agatha and Stan, the El Cambray landslide, the San Marcos earthquakes and, now, the Fuego Volcano.

What you can do


Copyright 2018 Unbound.org

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Unbound is an international nonprofit founded by lay Catholics grounded in the Gospel call to put the needs of the marginalized and vulnerable first. We build relationships of mutual respect and support that bridge cultural, religious and economic divides. We bring people together to challenge poverty in 18 countries. We invite you to join us. Find us on Facebook or Twitter.

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