Kwin Atleo got this medal after he went to donate money to a school in Chile that was damaged last year by an earthquake.

Youth’s efforts to help Chile continue

Kwin Atleo is not done helping Chile.

Last year the 10-year-old, whose mom was born in Chile, pushed forward a coin drive to help the earthquake- and tsunami-stricken country.

He raised $1,600, to which his parents matched for a total of $3,200.

It doesn’t stop there though, Kwin said. The country still needs help.

Chile was hit by an 8.8 magnitude earthquake on Feb. 27 last year. It was the fifth largest earthquake to take place in the world since 1900.

It happened just months after Kwin’s first visit to the country where many of his extended family still reside.

And even though the kid had barely mastered his times tables, he knew an earthquake of that magnitude was not something to be ignored.

More than two dozen aftershocks ensued, as did tsunami waves. Hundreds of people were left dead; more than a million were displaced from their homes. Buildings were torn apart, streets were filled with rubble, windows shattered, bridges crumbled.

And now, one year later, houses are still unfixed, many are unsafe to live in, and several Chileans are without jobs.

“It’s really sad,” said Kwin.

When Kwin started the coin drive, he initially thought it was his family he needed to help, but soon learned that wasn’t the case. His family lives approximately three-hours from Santiago, the capital of Chile. They suffered scrapes and bruises, and some broken dishes, that was it.

“But it was the people living in the south that really desperately needed our help,” said Kwin. “The Mapuche.”

The people of the earth.

From Dec. 1 to Jan. 4, Kwin and his family returned to Chile.

After Christmas they drove to the south, 10 hours to Concepcion, a city they knew had been devastated through news reports. When they arrived, they were directed to Arauco, a city further south that had experienced the strongest shakes.

The mayor of Arauco was so taken aback by Kwin’s moxie, he awarded him a medal of honour.

“They couldn’t believe a boy started this,” said Kwin’s mom Lorena, a proud smile on her face.

The mayor, however, would not accept Kwin’s donation. Arauco didn’t need the funds as much as Yani did.

Yani is a small, mountainous community located in a remote area along the coastline. Approximately 100 families live there; nearly every one of them was put out of work because of the effects of the tsunami.

The natives work off the land, most collecting seaweed and algae for wages. But when the tsunami washed over the community, it changed the landscape. It raised the land above the water’s surface – killing almost all algae and seaweed.

“These people are out of work for at least two years until the algae and seaweed come back,” said Lorena. “That is their main source of income.”

Yani has not received any government funding.

“They were not just affected by the damage, they were affected by unemployment,” said Lorena. “And it’s disturbing because they are not getting any help.”

Kwin donated the money to the local two-room school that was struggling to stay open with limited school supplies and lacking funds.

The donation will go towards textbooks, reading books, pens and other needed school supplies.

“I have textbooks and a gym and a library in my school, but all they have is a classroom and a cafeteria,” said Kwin. “They just have paper and pens, and they listen to their teacher. They don’t have a math textbook, nothing like that.

“It really made me grateful for what I have.”

One mom told Kwin that because of him she knew her children would get a better education.

The Atleos spent two days in Yani, touring the community, meeting the locals, experiencing the culture and cuisine. They plan to go back.

“For two weeks next time,” said Kwin.

The Atleos are starting a letter-writing campaign, sending pleas for help to the president of Chile, Chilliwack MLAs and anyone else who may be able to help these forgotten people.

“These people are still fighting the effects of the earthquake,” said Lorena. “We’re not finished helping them.”

kbartel@theprogress.com

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