Chilean team tries to bring back smiles in Leyte

Chile Ambassador to the Philippines Robert Mayorga (left) gestures during a meeting with Askaan Wohlt (center) and Keko Yunge of the Desafio Levantemos Chile (Challenge Rise Chile) Foundation at the Chile Embassy in Makati City on Thursday. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

Chile Ambassador to the Philippines Robert Mayorga (left) gestures during a meeting with Askaan Wohlt (center) and Keko Yunge of the Desafio Levantemos Chile (Challenge Rise Chile) Foundation at the Chile Embassy in Makati City on Thursday. PHOTO BY EDWIN MULI

A CHILEAN team known for its rehabilitation work in disaster-hit countries like Haiti and Japan is working not only in distributing relief goods in Leyte but to bring back the “smiles” and revive the spirit of the typhoon victims.

Chilean Ambassador to the Philippines Roberto Mayorga said the team understands the fact that the “first three months [after a disaster]could be very painful” because of the “feeling of isolation.”

Especially now that the Christmas season is already in the air, “People need hope, new dreams and the feeling that someone is caring,” Mayorga stressed.

Called Desafio Levantemos Chile, the group identified some neglected typhoon-hit areas and immersed with the locals for eight days to help in the reconstruction, both physically and spiritually.

“The first thing is to give them their smiles back,” said Chilean journalist Askaan Wohlt.

Having nothing to play with, children in typhoon-hit areas make do with the piles of garbage to create toys. “It’s not only about the money. It’s about the heart too.”

“We saw that they made toys our of shampoo bottles and other materials,” Wohlt, who works at an education-oriented non-government organization, Desafio’s leader of education said.

Giving the affected children a “Merry Christmas” this year may be difficult and this is something that Desafio is working on for the past few days, said Wohlt.

Desafio has been collaborating with different universities in Manila to give the children in Leyte that happy Christmas which is seemingly elusive for them.

“Something immediate that we could do now is to give them a happy Christmas. That’s the first major step we are doing now. We don’t have to wait months to raise the funds. This is something we could do immediately through collaboration with the universities,” Wohlt said.

Mayorga also said that messages of hope, happiness and encouragement help in building bridges.

Desafio foundation visited the outskirts of Leyte and identified six schools they could collaborate with in different ways, which could be “model to other communities.”

Chilean singer and songwriter Keko Yunge, Desafio’s leader of culture and sports promotion, said that the “material” and “human” aspects of reconstruction should go side-by-side. Money is important to help in the reconstruction but “people need to understand that people need company to restart rebuilding their lives.”

“It’s about the heart too,” he said.

Yunge said his team is now working on a development plan. They will go back to Chile to scout for funds from the private sector. “Yunge was one of those behind the rebuilding of the community of Juan Fernandez when earthquake and tsunami struck Chile in 2010.

Yunge also said that the private sector has a big role in the rehabilitation of Leyte just like in Chile.

“This kind of disaster needs the support of the private sector. The government can’t do it alone. The government needs to understand also that it needs the private sector to rebuild,” Yunge said.

Wohlt said the foundation is mobilizing the private sector involved in this project.

“The private sector can put money and knowledge. Different professionals can advise. Top lawyers, top engineers, top architects, top doctors, they work pro bono for these different projects. These are people earning big money and can volunteer their services for free. That’s part of the idea of what we do,” he said.

Both Wohlt and Yunge said that the government should realize that the private sector wants to help but must be given some tax incentives just like what the Chilean government did when they were devastated by the tsunami and an 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

“We still don’t know how the law operates here on donations but in Chile they made a special law for the earthquake with the duration of one year and it was extended another year. The people who are donating can remove their donated expenses from their taxes. And the result was the companies donated more. It helped a lot of organizations to work,” said Wohlt.

Yunge said the private sector can donate money through foundations which is faster.

Wohlt added, “It is the best way of really knowing where your money goes. It’s not going to a big fund of relief or grant, which you end up not knowing where the funds went.

“Say, you put $100,000 to build a classroom or a school then you know exactly [where your money went]you see it there, something very concrete,” Wohlt said.

Donning their shirt with imprint of “Chile gives back,” they said it is their way of paying for the help they received.”

“You need to listen to the people in these places because sometimes in your office, you think they will need this and that but you’re wrong, because there, is a different situation,” Yunge said.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

1 Comment