Ever since a devastating earthquake hit Mexico City at the end of September, killing at least 228 people and injuring thousands more, architectural student Pablo Guadarrama has been working with a team of civilian volunteers who have been sifting through the rubble of collapsed buildings — including an elementary school.
At times, rescue workers would call for complete silence so they could hear the faint cries of anyone trapped beneath the rubble underfoot. Sometimes they found people alive, other times they didn’t. As foreign aid operations such as Red Cross flooded into his city, he found himself on the frontline of a recovery effort that will almost certainly take decades.
At the end of the day, exhausted but determined, Guadarrama would routinely check in with his Nelson friend Rosalie Metcalfe. The pair had met while Metcalfe was studying international relations there between June 2016 and July 2017, leaving only two months before the disaster struck.
She was horrified to see what he was going through.
“From my understanding of what happened immediately after the earthquake, it was quite chaotic — the civilian response was a lot faster than the government or most of the big organizations,” Metcalfe told the Star, after hosting a community fundraiser in Nelson that earned approximately $7,000 last Thursday.
“On social media and everywhere else I saw all these photos full of people trying to help out, which was really inspiring to see. It was like life just stopped, everyone dropped what they were doing and tried to figure out how to help.”
She was proud of her friend for joining in, pounding the pavement every day in his hardhat and eventually working his way out to the rural outskirts with his team, but she wanted to find a way to assist his efforts. In the year she’d spent there she’d learned that Mexico City wasn’t the dangerous, violence-riddled metropolis she’d been led to believe it was. She’d fallen in love with the culture, and the people who had welcomed her.
“Mexico City is this amazing, vibrant place with an incredible history and something like 21 million people living there. There’s so much going on, so much to do, and pretty much no matter what you want to do, you can do it there,” she said.
So she reached out to El Taco and other Nelson businesses, seeing if they would come together to help her host the community meal. She was met with overwhelming enthusiasm.
“I knew I wasn’t the only person in Nelson with a big connection to Mexico, so I was hoping the response would be supportive,” Metcalfe said.
“As soon as I proposed the idea to Justine Langevin at El Taco, her response was, ‘Of course we’ll do this’ and she took on a huge amount of the work. Most people we asked for donations for the silent auction, the response was, ‘Oh yeah, I go to Mexico ever year, you should have this.’”
Ultimately she hosted the fundraiser at the Nelson Rod and Gun Club, where attendees were served authentic Mexican dishes and were led in a group salsa-dancing lesson by Rita Deane and Maria Schuh. Included in the list of silent auction items: a ticket to next year’s Shambhala Music Festival, swag from a variety of local stores and work by local artists such as Avrell Fox. Musical accompaniment was provided by Gus Dixon of local Led Zeppelin tribute band Heavy Airship and by DJ Neil Sorochan.
During the event, Amnesty International’s Mary Ann Morris spoke about where the funds from the evening will ultimately end up. Ticket sales will go to the Canadian Red Cross, which mobilized 1500 trained workers to Mexico within hours of the disaster, while the remainder of the cash will go towards supporting longer term projects.
The two other organizations Metcalfe will send funds to are Isla Urbana, a charity that focuses on converting rainwater into potable drinking water, and Ha Ta Tukari, which is focusing on providing housing and psychological care for those affected by the earthquake. According to Metcalfe, these agencies will be instrumental in rebuilding efforts.
“The initial emergency was a huge deal, but this is also a long term thing for Mexico. It’s going to be decades of recovery,” she said.
And that work starts now. During the fundraiser attendees watched a video that included an interview with a woman who lost her house in the earthquake. Funds from the evening will be able to fully cover that woman’s $1500 replacement home. Guadarrama is on the construction team.
“They’ve already started measuring things and getting the first steps of it underway on Saturday. I think in terms of people being able to see where their money is going, that’s not something you always get,” she said.
“I think it’s amazing for Nelson people to be able to see that video, some of them who know Pablo because he was just visiting here in the summer, and see the house they’re helping to build.”
When she shared pictures from the evening with Guadarrama, he was deeply moved.
“He just went nuts, knowing that many people are thinking about Mexico and aware of what they’re going through from so far away. For them it really felt like the whole world had stopped, and this way they can see they’re not alone.”