A hard hat and a heavy heart: Manuel’s mission to Mexico

Following the devastating effects of the Central Mexico earthquake which left 370 deceased and over 6000 injured, Manuel Delgado, from our Organizational Foundation team, headed back to his homeland of Mexico. He was there to support on the ground however he could with disaster relief. Shocked, unsettled and yet inspired by the camaraderie he encountered, Manuel returned back to Germany yesterday, knowing that his efforts were only the tip of the iceberg in rebuilding Mexico’s fallen states. This is his story (so far…)

The arrival

As the plane touched down onto home soil, my first thoughts were how excited I was to see my family. They were picking me up at the airport, and I hadn’t been back to see them in almost 2 years. I tried to savor this warm homecoming feeling, as I knew it would not last long. I could only see my family for a few hours, as I wanted to get straight to Morelos; a region situated at the epicentre of the quake, which was left totally destroyed. The devastation there is incredible, with the number of deaths in Morelos exceeding even that of  Mexico City. Despite the fact that the region is not receiving as much media coverage, and subsequently less governmental aid, most of the people I encountered are very humble and grateful, even thought they lost the few things they had.

“I couldn’t stop crying. Even though I have seen similar images on TV, being there amongst it just didn’t compare”

First impressions

The first day, I walked through the rubble left by the earthquake in Mexico City. I was in shock, the destruction was overwhelming. Entire buildings had collapsed with people still inside, leaving thousands totally homeless. My mom has a bakery situated in the quarter of the city affected the most. Just 20 metres away from her bakery, a building with three children inside collapsed. The building where my father used to work (he thankfully retired some years ago) also partially collapsed with some of his former colleagues and friends inside. There are similar stories coming from every corner of the city. There are hundreds of buildings that didn’t fully collapse, but are so damaged that they need to be taken down. I couldn’t stop crying. Even though I have seen similar images on TV, being there amongst it just didn’t compare.

I walked to one of the most affected areas nearby, and saw the remains of a four storey building that collapsed in 15 seconds. At the time I was there, 27 people had been rescued but 44 remained inside. Their families were camping outside waiting for any news. The army, police officers, national and international rescue teams were working together to try and salvage any possible life from the wreckage. Thousands of civilians worked together to assist however they could; removing rubble, collecting supplies, or providing food and drinks to those ones that were working. The reaction of the Mexican population should be seen as an example for us all to follow.

After facing those scenes, it was time for some hands-on action. I went directly to a collection center that opened the same morning to gather hundreds of dogs that become homeless, lost their owners or needed their wounds nursed.

“I joined a group that was heading in convoy down the long highway to Morelos. We were in three vans, but only two made it”

Hands-on action

Very early the next morning, I joined a group that was heading in convoy down the long highway to Morelos. We were in three vans, but only two made it. We were assaulted on our way and we lost half of our supplies. In times of sheer desperation, we saw the best and, unfortunately, also the worst of humanity. However, we knew we could not lose hope, and tried to keep our spirits as high as possible, aware that there were people in far greater need than us.

The first destination was a small town called Tlayacapan, it was very damaged and many structures had to be removed before they fell down. We heard that an old lady who lived nearby, and who was suffering from cancer, desperately needed help. She was now living under pieces of canvas in her garden, as her house was all but destroyed and the remains of the walls were collapsing in. We stayed and did all we could to remove any remaining dangerous structure. We had to take down tons of concrete that could fall at any time, and even though we were helping, I couldn’t escape the feeling that we were removing the last pieces of anything she ever had. Despite the facts that she had nowhere else to go, she kept telling us to go and help others more in need. This selfless spirit echoed throughout the region.

The next town was a ranch called La Nopalera, it was also very damaged. Help had only just started to arrive. The people there didn’t have enough food or electricity, and several houses collapsed or were very dangerously unstable. We met a group of people that had come from towns nearby. All of us were there to help; bricklayers, students, children, old people, everyone. Some of them had already lost their loved ones there. We spent hours taking out tons of rubble, hammering stones and carrying rocks in the 32°C heat. The owners of the very homes we were dismantling were working among us. Women cooked and were wandering around the town offering food and drinks to all the workers. Everyone was doing their best.

Afterwards, we headed to Tetela del Volcán; a humble destination that almost lost communication to the outside world as the roads got very damaged. We had to carry our tools on  horses and donkeys. It’s hard to describe the amount of destruction that we found there. The few material possessions those villagers had one day, had completely gone the next. Support there was nonexistent and again, we helped to deliver supplies and tools and provided the manpower for the manual work. During our little free time, we played with the children and talked to the locals. Their stories were heartbreaking and the more I did to help, the most frustrated I felt. I knew it was simply not enough, and it will never be.

“While removing the rubbles, we found a corpse and after taking it out, we gave it to his family who was still looking for him”

The last town we went was Jojutla, the place in Morelos nearest the epicenter of the earthquake where 73 people perished. The devastation there was also indescribable. Working with other volunteers that we met, we put ourselves in danger by taking down the second floor of a collapsing structure. We had to do this because beneath there lived an old couple, and we desperately wanted to save their place. After a few days of work, we fortunately finished successfully. However, the worst was yet to come. We received a phone call because our help was needed to take down a house that was dangerously collapsing. While removing the rubble, we found the corpse of a young man. We had to tell his family, who were still looking for him in hope. This was one of the hardest things.

During these days we weren’t able to shower, and the clothes that we used were taken from the collection centers. We hardly slept as there was always something to do, we even spent a night in a barn. However, despite all the tragedy, we also met wonderful people with huge hearts that were always willing to help. I’ll never forget four guys that left everything behind to help in Morelos and afterwards, they headed to other distant regions such as Puebla, Guerrero, and Oaxaca, to give assistance and aid. Their plan is to keep working for one more month. It was people like them who kept me going. Mexicans who have a great love for our country and where in times of desperation, proved that hope and kindness will always prevail. There was also an incredible effort shown by the other Mexicans at trivago; baking cookies and collecting donations from the employees. On behalf of the Mexican people I would like to thank everyone who donated to the cause, and also thank the company for what they offered on top of that.

Now that I have returned to Germany, I realize that this story has only just begun, and I will continue to do my best to keep helping from here.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones

Lee Jones is a Conceptual Copywriter and Employer Branding Specialist at trivago.

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