Chilean earthquake felt at University

3/25/2010 - By: Mary Hunton

Despite being more than 5,000 miles away from the site of Chile’s magnitude-8.8 earthquake on Feb. 27, the University of Nevada, Reno is far from unaffected. A number of students and faculty have some kind of connection to the country, whether through academics or personal life, and the tremor shook the foundations of many Nevada homes as well.

Emma Sepúlveda, a University Foundation Professor in Foreign Languages and Literatures and an internationally known writer, is one example. Sepúlveda was born in Argentina but moved to Chile when she was six. She still has many friends and family who live there. Luckily, the people close to her made it through the disaster in one piece, but that does not account for the loss of property and peace of mind.

“Fortunately,” Sepúlveda said, “everyone in my family and my friends are fine. Some houses are damaged and will need repair, but the continuing aftershocks are frightening everyone because the buildings and houses are weaker than before.”

For others the story is similar. According to Sepúlveda, the other professors, students and staff she knows who have friends and family in Chile have not lost those they care about to the earthquake. Most of the damage seems to be more psychological than physical. Aftershocks continue to rock the country, and it does not make it easy for the people who live there to forget about it.

Sepúlveda said, “They are wondering ... when is the next big one coming? Or is it going to happen again in the middle of the night?”

The compassion on the campus is “overwhelming,” said Sepúlveda. Following the disaster she received numerous emails, phone calls and cards from everyone from students to faculty. Even the dean of Sepulveda’s college, Heather Hardy of the College of Liberal Arts, sent her sympathies.

“I was really touched,” Sepúlveda said. “After all, we are in the middle of a huge budget crisis at UNR and people have much to think about, but so many thought first of me and my family.”

And they’re not thinking only of Sepúlveda’s family, but of everyone else affected by the disaster as well. According to Sepúlveda she knows of many separate efforts to raise money for the people of Chile. She has received many requests for information from people in the community, elsewhere in the United States, and abroad concerning the issue.

However, the project that Sepúlveda is most actively involved in is called “Una Escuela Para Chile (A School for Chile).” The project was organized by her Spanish 227 class in order to make a more permanent impact in Chile than simply raising money.

“We decided to re-build the elementary school in the town of Curepto, near the city of Talca, in the south of Chile,” Sepúlveda said. More than 80 percent of Curepto was toppled by the quake.

The students involved in Una Escuela Para Chile are doing a lot to raise money to go toward their cause. They are trying everything from selling cookies on campus to partnering with the professional basketball team the Reno Bighorns to collect a percentage of the proceeds they make off of tickets for Latino Night, which is on March 29.

“No donation is too small,” Sepúlveda said. “Every donor’s name will be put on a paper scroll created by the students and will be hung in Ed Cain Hall by the Latino Research Center. They also hope to put the names of all donors on a wall at the school once construction is completed.”

The project is meant to do more than simply rebuild the school. Sepúlveda and her students hope to unify the countries in a mutual understanding and respect for the value of education.

“Students, as well as visitors, will have a memory of the international connection between students in Reno, Nevada, and a rebuilt elementary school in the town of Curepto, Chile,” she said. “They will be united not only by the generosity of strangers after the devastating earthquake, but also by the need for education in both of our countries.”

To find out more about the “Una Escuela Para Chile” project, contact Emma Sepulveda or Iris West at the Latino Research Center at 784-4010.


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