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Friday, August 20, 2010
Full Circle

[Editor's Note: Matt Philippi is a perennial contender in superpipe competitions across the globe. During his off season this fall, Philippi and his friends Taylor Felton, Jack Tolan, Aidan Haley, and Osvaldo "Chico" Rosemburg are in Chile, mixing community service and skiing with their FullCircle Project. This is the first installment in Philippi's travelogue from Chile.]

The FullCircle Team (Matt Philippi, Taylor Felton, Jack Tolan and Aidan Haley is hanging out at Nevados de Chillán, good and tired after our first day of skiing.
Matt Philippi, Taylor Felton, Osvaldo Rosemburg
After ten days of volunteers work, Matt Philippi, Taylor Felton, and Chico Rosemburg click in in Nevados de Chillán.
We have been in Chile for two weeks already and we started our trip off with 10 days of volunteer work for Un Techo Para Chile (A Roof for Chile), an organization that focuses on improving the quality of life of impoverished families through transitional housing and social inclusion programs. Un Techo Para Chile has shifted its focus to disaster relief efforts in response to the catastrophic earthquake that struck Chile in February of this year. We came down with motivation to help Chileans recover from one of the strongest earthquakes ever recorded — a terrifying 8.8 magnitude on the Richter scale.

It was hard to know what to expect as we arrived in Santiago after an overnight flight from our respective homes in the States. Hopeful and dreary-eyed, we met our guide and good friend Osvaldo "Chico" Rosemburg at the airport and with a hug we started our bus trip south.

Chico had some interesting news for us, both exciting and disconcerting. Chile had just been hit by the biggest winter storm in the last decade, leaving the deep southern regions incapacitated with snow. This was not an immediate concern, but the second half of our project is supposed to be based out of a developing national park in Valle Chacobuco, and we need to fly to a region with an airport that is closed indefinitely as of our arrival. Supposedly, the population down there was surviving on food and fuel flown in via military helicopters. To say the least, that's not looking too promising for this bunch of gringos.

Un Techo Para Chile
The FullCircle crew poses for a group photo with their partners in reconstruction, Un Techo Para Chile.

Jack reassured us saying that, "we will cross that bridge when we get to it" and our focus and energy shifted to our first project with Un Techo. We had been feeling uncertain about the volunteer work that we were to start with. The crew wanted to offer whatever support we could but we were unaware of the actual needs on the ground. We asked ourselves whether people needed or even wanted our help some five months after the quake struck. As we headed to Chico's hometown of Chillán, which was about one and a half hours from the epicenter of the quake on the coast, our understanding of the situation began to improve.

Traveling south on famous coastal Route 5, we started to see the remains of houses and buildings that had collapsed. We periodically came to parts of the road that had been destroyed by the quake as well as bridges that fallen into the rivers they had once spanned. As we passed close to Taca, our guide informed us that 70 percent of the structures in that town had either collapsed or been damaged.

Our guide Chico found his tractor, but it was out of commission.
Chico, a native of Chile, has spent the last 3 years working an aquaculture job in the Mediterranean. Chico and I had met during my last trip to Chile and we ended up hanging out a lot during my month stay down there. When The FullCircle Project decided to put together this volunteer and ski effort I contacted him to see if I could help. Chico happened to be taking a long vacation from work and was really excited for the opportunity to be our guide, but at first he did not want to do the volunteer work with us. This was his vacation and he did not want to spend it working long days of manual labor. Upon his return to Chillán, his opinion changed.

For starters, his house on the coast was severely damaged by one of the five tsunami waves, the largest of which was 22 meters tall — about 72 feet. Most of the things that had made Chico's home his home had been damaged or washed away. He did find his tractor though — out of commission, unfortunately.

Chico had underestimated the damage from the quake and overestimated the progress of the rebuilding efforts. After spending a couple of weeks at home in Chile before our arrival, Chico changed his mind and decided to join us for our volunteer work. We were stoked to have his company!

Schoolhouse Bedroom
"We were shown a classroom, well decorated with graffiti, and handed foam pads spotted with mold and told to make ourselves at home."
After a nice night in Chillán we hopped on another bus to Concepción in order meet up with our group of volunteers with Un Techo. We met the group in the pouring rain in the city center. The group leaders explained to us over a megaphone that the work would be challenging. They also mentioned that volunteer groups had been quitting early in response to wet winter weather and unfavorable working conditions. We hoped for the best.

We arrived at what would our home for the next 10 days. It was a high school in Las Salinas, just outside of Concepción. The inside of the school was cold, damp and dark. We were shown a classroom, well decorated with graffiti, and handed foam pads spotted with mold and told to make ourselves at home. The whole volunteer group sought shelter from the cold in the kitchen where we huddled around propane gas flames to heat ourselves and a late dinner.

The next day we began our work some 20 miles from the school, where we had spent the night. We headed to a very poor district of the Las Salinas where Un Techo had built emergency housing for displaced survivors from the quake. The people here were lucky enough to have moved on and we were sent in to take apart the kindergarten building in order to salvage some materials for the next project. It was pouring rain all morning and we were soaked through as the structure began to come apart. Luckily the rain subsided by the afternoon and it stayed dry as we worked into the night. The day was surprisingly long, but we were warmed and energized by two meals that a local family shared with us during the day. Hanging out and speaking with this family was also a source of motivation for us. They were thankful for our efforts and shared their food and house with us, even though we were complete strangers.