Students strike for right to volunteer after ruinous Valparaíso fire

Published On : Wed, Apr 23rd, 2014

Two weeks after a blaze claimed entire neighborhoods in port city, thousands of university students demand time off classes to continue in relief efforts.

Students strike for right to volunteer after ruinous Valparaíso fire

Volunteers outside Escuela Grecia where currently 286 people are still sheltered. Photo by: Sandra Segall / The Santiago Times

Students at three universities in Valparaíso are on strike and refusing to return to classes, keen to continue with volunteer community work following the catastrophic fire which left more than 12,500 people homeless and destroyed close to 2,900 homes in some of the most vulnerable neighborhoods of the city.

“There is an urgent need for volunteer work, including helping out at aid coordination centers, collecting essential items such as clothes and toiletries, clearing scrap and reconstruct housing, as well as emotional support,” Catalina Yáñez, student member on the Board of Representatives at the Universidad de Playa Ancha in Valparaíso, told The Santiago Times.

Students voted for the strike at Universidad de Playa Ancha on Monday and Tuesday, after which a council of student presidents declared that 23 out of 28 university majors were on strike and demanded the university allow more time to pursue voluntary activities. The campus in Valparaíso has some 6,000 students.

“This is a ‘solidarity strike’ — its main purpose is to make sure that schedules allow enough free time for students to continue voluntary work,” Yáñez said. “Universidad de Playa Ancha will be on strike throughout this week.”

The university’s education faculty is offering training courses for volunteers working with victims of the fire.

The Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María in Valparaíso is also completely on strike, according to university student federation (Feutfsm).

At the Universidad de Valparaíso, 1,200 university students across five majors are on strike, according to the university’s student federation (Feuv).

The student effort in Valparaíso has been enormous, and residents have pinned posters across town thanking the city’s young volunteers in the wake of the devastating fire.

The construction of “mediaguas” — a form of temporary and quick-to-construct prefabricated housing used in disaster relief — is underway, however tented camps still remain across hillsides. Currently, more than 1,700 displaced people are housed in community centers, churches, educational facilities and gymnasiums throughout the city. There are still approximately 1,000 soldiers maintaining public order, patrolling streets and plazas. The city is still under a red alert — a minor fire occurred on Tuesday in the same area where the previous wildfire began, though authorities say the flames were contained.

The government announced on Saturday that 70 percent of damaged homes had been surveyed by the Housing Ministry in order to ascertain status of land ownership and the extent of damage.

Requests for further voluntary assistance in Valparaíso are frequently announced by aid organizers on social media and on coordination websites such as Ayuda Valpo.

The continuation of the student strikes will be decided weekly by votes held by individual university programs.

By Sandra Segall
Copyright 2014 – The Santiago Times

About the Author

Sandra Segall
Sandra Segall
Sandra is a print and radio journalist with a B.A. in Peace and Conflict Studies. She specializes in international affairs and human rights. Follow her on Twitter via @sandrasegall or contact her at [email protected]