* This blog is published as part of a series of blogs provided by the United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to celebrate World Humanitarian Day on Aug. 19 *
I went to Chile just after the quake in 2010, to the towns by the epicentre, and it looked like the apocalypse. As well as the quake damage, the towns had been completely looted and buildings burned. I’d never seen anything like it. There was nothing – nothing to eat, no stores were open and this went on for about a week.
So I was visiting community radio stations for Internews to see if we could help, and I went to this little station called Radio Dinamica, which sits on a cliff above the ocean in a town called Coronel. It was run by a woman, Marcia Torres, and her husband out of their house, which had also been damaged. Half the patio had fallen right off into the ocean and the crack ran right through their living room. The whole area had lost power so there was no light, no electricity. But right after the quake, the mayor had ordered the fire fighters to make sure she stayed on air. So they climbed up to the station and brought a generator. She started broadcasting right after the quake, and down in the town people were sitting in their cars to listen to her.
When I arrived a week afterwards, a key problem was that people were starting to run out of medication, and there was nothing in the stores because they had been looted. So the radio station ran an amnesty on the looted stuff. Marcia put out a call for people to bring medicines to the station, no questions asked, then told people to call if they needed anything. People were calling to ask, for example, if they had any blood pressure medication. And the pharmacist would sit in the other room with the medicine and check, and then you could turn up and collect it.
So many people donated! The second studio was stacked with medication. I think people who looted it were probably remorseful. They broadcast all sorts of other things, too. They stayed on air 24/7. She and her husband were broadcasting and sleeping in shifts. She had even put speakers out of the front of the house so her neighbours could hear.
But it was so effective! And it impressed me that this town… they may not have had a plan in place, but they had solutions. It was really ingenious and they had the ability to act. They weren’t frozen by the situation. It was intuitive. It speaks to people’s ability to adapt. I was very impressed by that.