Overwhelmed by people's love and communal spirit - "The disaster was everywhere around us"

by Simon Oeckenpöhler/SRA,  2011/02/10

This was not the first time for medical student Simon Oeckenpöhler to take part in a humedica relief mission. This time, his mission took him to Brazil, where, together with a medical relief team, he cared for the victims of the terrible landslides that had occurred this January.

In the face of more than 700 casualties, thousands of injured and countless persons who have lost their homes due to the disaster, humedica and local partners of humedica Brazil initiated a relief campaign a few weeks ago with the objective of caring for the victims.

Simon Oeckenpöhler (left) and the humedica team after their arrival at the airport of Rio de Janeiro. In the picture (from left to right): Dr Martin Ulbricht, Katrin Hoffmann, Dr Martin Laue, Dr Rainer Berendes. Photo: humedica/Wolfgang Groß

The situation the team was faced with in the disaster region surrounding the cities of Nova Friburgo and Teresópolis was just as impressive to Simon Oeckenpöhler as the people's communal spirit and their willingness to help each other.

"When driving the first kilometres from the airport of Rio de Janeiro, there was no evidence of the fact that we were on our way to a disaster region. The view outside the car window rather reminded me of pictures taken during a holiday in Brazil: nice weather, friendly and healthy people, untouched rain forests and a completely undamaged infrastructure.

However, when we set out for Nova Friburgo a short time later, this view changed completely. Besides Teresópolis, Nova Friburgo was one of the two cities that had been affected worst by the landslides. And we were soon to realise what this really meant.

The closer we got to the city, the more halting became the traffic. The streets, which became ever dustier, were blocked by trucks. From one moment to the next we were right in the middle of a Brazilian city centre.

The brown "coating" that covered the walls of the houses up to a level of one metre was evidence of the level the masses of mud and earth had reached when rolling through the city.

Many of the streets in the affected regions were still covered by mud and earth. Photo: humedica/Christian Simmons

We had arrived. In the centre of Nova Friburgo, but only at the very edge of the disaster. The city was full of dirt, sludge, mud and water that still did not seem to recede.

The closer we got to the base of humedica Brazil, which is located between Nova Friburgo and Teresópolis, the more obvious became the entire extent of the disaster that had happened here within only a few hours.

Rocks with a height of two to three metres were lying in the middle of the streets as if they had appeared from nowhere. Later, we were told that they had been carried down the mountain sides by water and earth for several kilometres and had finally come to a stop in the valley.

Again and again, there were huge piles of mud and earth in the streets. Immense cracks in the asphalt roads gave us an idea of the force the water masses had displayed here. Entire parts of settlements had simply been washed away or covered by mud.

At this point all of us definitely knew that what we had not thought possible only a few kilometres before, had suddenly become reality - the disaster was everywhere around us.

However, we also drove through many stretches of land that seemed to be unharmed. So, for example, the base of humedica Brazil had not been damaged by the landslides, despite the fact that landslides had come down all the mountainsides in its immediate vicinity. As by a miracle, only the hill immediately behind the humedica base had not slid down.

The fast aid of the humedica mission teams was accepted gratefully by numerous victims of the landslides in Brazil. Photo: humedica/Simon Oeckenpöhler

The base of humedica Brazil was to be our mission base and from here our relief efforts planned for the following weeks were to be coordinated.

On the exploring tours we did during our first days in Brazil, we encountered similar extremes. One team again and again encountered injured and traumatised victims of the disaster who needed our help urgently and were deeply grateful for it.

The other team, in turn, reached places where locals were already returning to every-day life. In these places power poles had been set up and houses cleaned within only a very short time. Also the health stations had soon returned to normal operations.

I was deeply impressed by how fast and motivated the Brazilians here were repairing their streets, cleaning their houses and reconstructing their infrastructure. But above all I was overwhelmed by how caringly they helped each other.

After only a few days there was no person left who had not yet found a roof over their heads. No matter where they came from, no matter what they had lost, they were taken in and cared for by friendly people.

Help was often offered by churches, communities, friends and acquaintances, but also by complete strangers. The mission in Brazil has revealed a country to me, where people have showed unbelievable communal spirit."

Dear friends and sponsors: after first medical treatment, humedica will continue its commitment for those Brazilians who have been affected by the landslides by means of distributing relief goods and running reconstruction projects. Please help us to support those who have often lost far more than only their homes.

      humedica e.V.
      Donation reference "Landslide Brazil"
      Account 47 47
      Bank Code 734 500 00
      Sparkasse Kaufbeuren

You can also donate for Brazil using our online form, or by means of a Family Sponsorship or by sending a text message: send the reference DOC to +49 8 11 90 and make a donation of 5 euros, with 4.83 euros being directly channelled into the humedica project work. Thank you very much!

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