Quake-afflicted nations working to rebuild lives

Returning to normalcy in the aftermath of the sorts of quakes that recently hit El Salvador and Peru this year doesn't happen in a week or two.

Disaster relief, of course, in the hours and days following such tragedies focuses on keeping people sheltered, fed and alive. Yet months or even years are sometimes needed for families and cities to fully recover. Damaged homes must be demolished and rebuilt. Crops have to be replanted. Many need to find new jobs. And the pain of losing loved ones to natural disaster lingers forever.

Still, Church members in quake-afflicted El Salvador and Peru are making progress.

Garry Flake, director of the Church's humanitarian service, recently visited El Salvador and was pleased to see progress has taken place in the months following the Jan. 13 quake that killed 15 Church members and damaged hundreds of member homes.

"The people are rebuilding and making progress," Brother Flake said.

Still, the Church is continuing to access the needs of the people — in part because of the lingering impact the quake has had on the Salvadoran economy. Members are continuing to provide assistance to their fellow Salvadorans via fast offerings, service and work. Most Church members have been able to return to a degree of normalcy, Brother Flake said.

While the impact of the Salvadoran quake is still being felt, a few positive elements have arisen from the tragedy, Brother Flake said. The Church has strengthened its relationship with the Salvadoran government and business community.

"They recognize that the Church was among the first to help," Brother Flake said.

In Peru, the efforts of many are helping ease the long-term suffering of quake-weary members and their neighbors. Several large temblors rattled southern Peru weeks ago. One LDS girl was killed and hundreds of other LDS families lost their homes.

Humanitarian relief was dispatched from Church headquarters. Local leaders and members also rallied to assist quake victims. Members living in Lima — which was not affected by the earthquakes — recently contributed 3,000 food boxes to be distributed in southern Peru.

Now much of the LDS humanitarian effort will focus on rebuilding, said Elder George Wheeler, the Church's area welfare agent in Peru. About 370 member homes will need to be rebuilt or fortified. The Peruvian government has mandated building guidelines to ensure that rebuilt homes will be built to better withstand seismic episodes.

"In many cases, the homes will be better than what the people had before," Elder Wheeler noted.

Elder Wheeler said he has been inspired by the local members' willingness to help one another. Assistance is also coming from "civilians" abroad. The Chasqui Humanitarian Foundation of the Andes, a non-profit corporation based in Utah, sent a 40-member team of volunteers Aug. 9 to deliver aid packages and help rebuild destroyed and severely damaged homes in Mocequa, a town heavily impacted by the quakes. Included in the volunteer team will be several carpenters, plumbers and other skilled contractors to supervise the 10-day building effort.

"Chasqui is hoping to build or rebuild 20 homes," said Chasqui volunteer Sara Ulloa.

The foundation was formed a few years ago by a group of people who served full-time missions in Peru and Bolivia. Chasqui volunteers travel to the Andean countries about six times a years to provide humanitarian assistance and instruction, Sister Ulloa said.