After receiving news of the earthquake in Ecuador on April 16, business sophomore Bernardo Vallarino’s first instinct was to call his family. Despite his immense relief in discovering they were fine, Vallarino, like many other students from Ecuador, was overcome with unbearable pain because of his inability to help his homeland.
“Most of our relatives, families and friends were in Ecuador, in the ashes, helping people,” Vallarino said. “Most of us felt powerless from here, not able to do anything for them.”
St. Edward’s student Valentina Davolos said they were used to mild tremors in Ecuador, but no one ever imagined the devastation that would follow this earthquake, which peaked at 7.8 on the Richter scale.
“Suddenly there’s a 7.8 earthquake, followed by a 4.9, followed by a 6,” Davolos said. “Then suddenly we started getting all these messages: The coast is destroyed, there’s no highway, there’s a lot of people dead but we don’t know how many.”
Though Vallarino and Davolos were physically separated from Ecuador, Vallarino said they and 22 other Ecuadorian students from universities across Texas gathered to raise money to send back home. Together they created a GoFundMe page and a website called Texas Por Ecuador through which they’ve raised over $5,500 in donations.
Though they want their donations to cover all bases, Davolos said their largest focus is on providing hygiene products for people still living in the wreckage, whose basic needs are barely being met.
“Not many people are aware that when these disasters happen, people don’t have bathrooms [to use], they don’t have places to bathe,” Davolos said. “There are a lot of rats, and there are a lot of dead people because the morgues are full. Disease spreads really fast, and keeping people clean is one of the best ways to help them.”
Because nearly 90 percent of infrastructure in certain areas have been destroyed by the earthquake, Davolos said the funds are also going directly to reconstruction.
“It’s been two weeks and it’s still shaking,” Davolos said. “Every time it shakes, the structure gets [worse]. People are sleeping in the streets, wherever they can, to be far away from the buildings.”
Vallarino said this reconstruction will require the country to tear the wreckage apart and rebuild what has collapsed.
“In the summer, most of us are going back, and we are going to build houses,” Vallarino said. “Right now, everyone is helping — architects, engineers, putting everything out there. It’s our duty to our country to help.”
Although their campaigns were originally about collecting money, Davolos said they soon evolved to raising awareness about what had happened.
“We realized nobody actually knew what was going on,” Davolos said. “I wouldn’t donate to something if I didn’t know what the problem was, either. So we had to spread awareness — that Ecuador is a really poor country, and the most effected areas are places where it took many years for these people to build their houses.”
Vallarino said the group of students want to set a precedent for the way universities react in instances of crisis.
“Even though we’re all busy — we’re all going into finals — we’ve only had two weeks to pull all this off, and I think we’ve accomplished a lot,” Vallarino said. “If a disaster were to happen again, maybe the University or students would know how to react. After all, we’re all here in the same place, sharing this planet. It’s just about solidarity.”