Catastrophes cease to be catastrophes when we partner

By Luis Santibañez, national director of Habitat for Humanity Chile

Editor’s note:On Feb. 27, 2010, a magnitude-8.8 earthquake rocked the length of Chile and triggered a tsunami along the country’s coast. One year later, much work remains to help families rebuild their lives and their homes. Below, Luis Santibañez recounts some of the challenges, successes and memorable moments for Habitat Chile in the past year.


Learn more about Habitat Chile’s ongoing campaign to help 10,000 Chilean families recover:

Chile Earthquake: 1 year later (4MB .pdf)




The first, most significant challenge was that our national office in Santiago had also been affected by the earthquake. Thankfully, we had the capacity to return to work in three days.

Everything that we had built in the seven years prior to the quake had remained intact. Not a single Habitat house was affected.

Despite the fact that we had little experience in responding to disaster situations, we have been able to overcome the challenges and move forward.

We still do not have all of the means of implementation that we would like to. But we have to learn from this experience, note the pros and the cons and continue to improve the way we work.

There was a Habitat Chile before Feb. 27, 2010, but the earthquake changed everything. None of us are the same. We have to unite together and continue working because there are still thousands of people awaiting a response.

One story that has stuck with me is that of Pincheira, a Habitat construction worker. He lost his father in the tsunami. He had to travel home to identify the body and make funeral arrangements. Within a few days he was back, asking how he could help. Always with a smile and a total willingness to assist the other affected families.

It is these types of people who provide a voice of hope.

Later, when I met with the mayor of Curepto, he was seated at his desk and said to me, “You cannot imagine the number of people who initially came to offer their help. But no one has stayed.” So I responded, “Habitat is here to stay.” He rose, said, “Thank you. Let’s get to work.” And we embraced.

We need partners. Catastrophes cease to be catastrophes when we partner. The greatest catastrophe is to forget those in need. Those who are able need to continue to help and not forget us.