Hurricane Otto Relief Bijagua CR
One of the hardest hit communities was our town of Bijagua in northern Costa Rica. This beautiful little place is located between Tenorio and Miravalles volcanoes. Many visitors come here to visit the Volcano Tenorio National Park and Rio Celeste. Many of the residents are employed in agriculture. Most people here live a simple lifestyle that many would consider ‘poor’.
Hurricane Otto smashed through the center of Bijagua creating absolute devastation and destruction. A month’s worth of rain was dumped in a few short hours. A head of water turned a small stream into a raging river and swept though the town taking everything in its path. Houses, roads and bridges were completely destroyed. Five community members lost their lives and we are all in mourning.
We have families in our community who have lost everything. In some cases the houses were completely swept away with nothing left. Some people were able to evacuate, some were rescued by their neighbors from rooftops and two young men held onto a mandarin tree as they watched their house being swept away. These are the people who now need our help.
Many just have the clothes on their backs. Emergency refuges have been set up in the local churches and high schools. The community is pulling together to support each other. There are people cooking and donating clothes to those who don’t have anything. There are national donation campaign set up by Red Cross Costa Rica, however there is a need to get funds directly to the families in need in our community as soon as possible. The need is great. And it’s urgent. Your donation will really help people who need support now.
We have formed a local committee of residents of Bijagua to seek donations for members of Bijagua. The committee is working closely with the ‘Bijagua Development Association’ to manage and distribute the funds collected during this campaign. The Bijagua Development Association is a legally registered association.
Hurricane Otto Bijagua Relief Fund Committee Members:
President: Donald Varla Soto
Vice President: Eliette Artavia
Secretary: Harriet Smith
Treasurer: Pip Kelly
Other members: Mark Pierce and Anna Maria Gentiluomo.
Who are we?
This is a community project and we are six people, five of whom currently live in Bijagua, Costa Rica. We came together to try and raise funds for the relief of 30 or so families of Bijagua whose homes were destroyed or washed away totally.
Donald Varela: Resident of Bijagua, dairy farmer and co-owner of Casitas Tenorio B&B.
Eliette Artavia : Resident of Bijagua, retired high school teacher
Pip Kelly: Resident of Bijagua, teacher and co-owner of Casitas Tenorio B&B
Harriet Smith: Resident of Bijagua
retired business owner
Mark Pierce: Resident of Bijagua
Anna Maria Gentiluomo: Former resident of Bijagua
Relationship to the parties we are raising funds for
We are raising funds for families of our village who have had their houses destroyed during the recent Hurricane Otto. Bijagua is a small community of about 4,000 and is very close-knit. None of the intended recipients are relatives of any of the four people involved. Since we formed our committee, we have found at least five more displaced families.
How the funds will be spent
We hope to raise enough money to provide grants to families so that they can rent a house and furnish it as necessary. We have interviewed the displaced families and have a list that includes names, ID numbers, family composition, what happened and where they lived.
Some families will need a lot -- families who have nothing left and no family to live with; some families can live with relatives for the time being. All the money spent will be clearly documented with written receipts, independent accounting and photos. completely transparent in our operations. All committee meetings have documented minutes.
How you intend to get the funds to those in need?
This will be done in person though meetings with the families concerned. Our committee is prioritizing the needs of the families and will work with each family to help them with rental houses, take them shopping and some cash grants. There is a balance between making sure the money is spent for worthy items and giving the families some sense of empowerment.
Anna Maria G is a US citizen with a US bank account. She has lived in Bijagua and knows the community. As gofundme requires a US citizen with a US bank account to withdraw funds, we approached Anna Maria to do so on the comittee's behalf in her name. We can not withdraw money here in Costa Rica, gofundme allows us to fundraise for the cause here, but funds must be withdrawn in the US. Anna Maria will then transfer all funds via international wire to the committee through an electronic transfer. All records of transfers will be kept and published if required. This process is legal and legitimate and we have been in contact with gofundme. Be assured, you donation will reach the ground here and those impacted by the hurricane directly.
A detailed census has started to record which families have been impacted and what their needs are. Funds will be used to assist these people to re-establish their lives. They need places to live, furniture, white goods, clothes and other supplies. All donations received will directly go to the community members in Bijagua who have been impacted. All payments will be recorded with photo documentation and written receipts.
We need your help NOW! Please know that you are helping someone who has lost everything.
Please share with you family, friends, colleagues and press contacts.
News stories about Hurricane Otto from the Costa Rican Press:
News stories about Hurricane Otto from the International Press:
El huracán Otto fue el huracán más fuerte registrado en el Atlántico este fin de año y el primer Hurriane en aterrizar en Costa Rica desde que comenzaron los registros en 1851. Creó daños generalizados a través del sur de Nicaragua y el norte de Costa Rica.
Una de las comunidades más afectadas fue nuestra ciudad de Bijagua, en el norte de Costa Rica. Este precioso lugar se encuentra entre los volcanes Tenorio y Miravalles. Muchos visitantes vienen aquí para visitar el Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio y Rio Celeste. Muchos de los residentes están empleados en la agricultura. La mayoría de la gente aquí vive un estilo de vida simple que muchos consideran "pobre".
El huracán Otto se estrelló a través del centro de Bijagua creando devastación absoluta y destrucción. Un mes de lluvia fue descargado en pocas horas. Una cabeza de agua convirtió un pequeño arroyo en un río furioso y barrió la ciudad tomando todo en su camino. Casas, caminos y puentes fueron completamente destruidos. Cinco miembros de la comunidad perdieron la vida y todos estamos de luto.
Tenemos familias en nuestra comunidad que lo han perdido todo. En algunos casos las casas fueron completamente barridas sin nada. Algunas personas fueron capaces de evacuar, algunas fueron rescatadas por sus vecinos de los tejados y dos jóvenes se sostuvieron en un mandarín mientras observaban su casa siendo barrida. Estas son las personas que ahora necesitan nuestra ayuda.
Muchos sólo tienen la ropa en la espalda. Se han establecido refugios de emergencia en las iglesias locales y en las escuelas secundarias. La comunidad se está uniendo para apoyarse mutuamente. Hay gente cocinando y donando ropa a los que no tienen nada. Hay una campaña nacional de donación creada por la Cruz Roja de Costa Rica, sin embargo es necesario obtener fondos directamente a las familias necesitadas en nuestra comunidad tan pronto como sea posible. La necesidad es grande. Y es urgente. Su donación realmente ayudará a las personas que necesitan apoyo ahora.
Hemos formado un comité local de residentes de Bijagua para buscar donaciones para miembros de Bijagua. El comité está trabajando en estrecha colaboración con la "Asociación de Desarrollo de Bijagua" para gestionar y distribuir los fondos recaudados durante esta campaña. La Asociación de Desarrollo de Bijagua es una asociación legalmente registrada.
Miembros del Comité del Fondo de Ayuda del Huracán Otto Bijagua:
Presidente: Donald Varla Soto
Vicepresidente: Eliette Artavia
Tesorero: Pip Kelly
Secretario: Harriet Smith
Otros: Mark Pierce y Anna Maria G
El comité trabajará con la Asociación de Desarrollo de Bijagua para administrar y distribuir efectivamente donaciones monetarias a las familias necesitadas. Un censo ha comenzado a registrar qué familias han sido impactadas y cuáles son sus necesidades. Los fondos se utilizarán para ayudar a estas personas a restablecer sus vidas. Necesitan lugares para vivir, muebles, electrodomésticos, ropa y otros suministros. Todas las donaciones recibidas irán directamente a los miembros de la comunidad que han sido afectados.
Necesitamos tu ayuda AHORA! Por favor, sepa que está ayudando a alguien que lo ha perdido todo.
Por favor, comparta con su familia, amigos, colegas y contactos de prensa.
L’ouragan Otto était l’ouragan le plus puissant à frapper le Costa Rica à ce temps-ci de l’année depuis le record établi en 1851. Il a créé des dommages sur une grande étendue, allant du sud du Nicaragua au nord du Costa Rica.
Une des communautés les plus touchées fut celle de Bijagua, notre belle petite ville située au nord du Costa Rica, plus précisément entre les volcans Tenorio et Miravalles. De nombreux touristes viennent ici pour visiter le Parc National du Volcan Tenorio et le Rio Celeste. La plupart des citoyens travaillent dans l’agriculture, ont peu d’argent et ont un mode de vie très simple.
L’ouragan Otto a frappé le centre de Bijagua, créant des dommages très importants. L’équivalent d’un mois de pluie est tombé sur la ville en seulement quelques heures. L’eau a tout emporté sur son passage ; maisons, routes, ponts ont été complètement détruits. Cinq membres de la communauté ont perdu la vie. Certaines familles ont tout perdu, leur maison et tous leurs biens ont été emportés. Certaines personnes ont été évacuées, d’autres ont été secourues par leurs voisins alors qu’elles étaient réfugiées sur le toit de leur maison ou dans les arbres. Ces gens ont maintenant besoin de notre aide. Les églises et l’école secondaire accueillent présentement les sinistrés. Tous les membres de la communauté s’entraident pour fournir de la nourriture et des vêtements à ceux dans le besoin. La Croix Rouge organise des levés de fonds pour venir en aide aux sinistrés du pays. Toutefois, nous sollicitons votre aide pour soutenir directement les citoyens de Bijagua. Les besoins sont urgents, votre aide peut faire une grande différence.
Nous avons organisé un comité qui veillera à répartir les dons aux familles dans le besoin. Ce comité travaille en étroite collaboration avec l’Association de développement de Bijagua, une association légalement enregistrée.
Voici les membres du comité de la levée de fonds pour les sinistrés de l’ouragan Otto :
Président: Donald Varela Soto
Vice-Président: Eliette Artavia
Trésaurier: Pip Kelly
Secrétaire: Harriet Smith
Otros: Mark Pierce y Anna Maria G
Les fonds amassés seront utilisés pour aider les sinistrés à acheter de la nourriture, des vêtements, des meubles et des matériaux pour la reconstruction de leur maison. Tous les dons seront acheminés directement aux sinistrés de Bijagua.
Nous avons besoin de votre aide MAINTENANT. Vous aiderez des gens qui ont tout perdu. Merci de partager avec votre famille, vos amis, vos collègues, etc.
#otto #ottocr #hurricaneotto #todosporcostarica #somoscostarica #fuerzacostarica
As we finished up the logistical aspects of our second distribution of funds -- meetings, withdrawal at the bank, putting together the "packages" and receipts for our families -- it was time for a big sigh and we were off to find our recipients.
As a committee, we made a decision to provide an "extra helping" to a few of our families who had small, really only subsistence, businesses and were really hurting. Their businesses had been destroyed along with their homes and because their businesses were at their homes -- a small plant nursery; a tilapia farm and restaurant; a dairy farmer -- it would be a monumental task to rebuild these.
We divided our committee into two parts: three of us in one group and two in the other and we divided our list of families.
Our three met the first recipient on the road to pick up one of our members and promptly waved him down. Our committee head explained to him that we were distributing money that had come from donations through GoFundMe and almost all of it from people in other countries -- mainly Australia and the US but also donors from Europe and a few other places. We explained that this money was his to do with as he saw fit, that there were no restrictions. As I passed over the envelope with the money and asked him to sign a receipt, he was more than a bit stunned. Sort of a "manna from heaven" reaction.
We asked him to count the money to verify the amount and after counting, tears began to well up in his eyes. (I was swallowing hard....) He explained to us that he had gotten a bank loan to expand his small dairy business (about 6 cows) and now he had a payment due at the bank that he couldn't pay. He was riding around town trying to find anyone who could loan him some money to pay the bank. The money you provided for him (about $730) was almost the exact amount that he owed the bank. Later in the day, we met up with his sister and she was ecstatic about "saving" him and effusive in her thanks to our wonderful donors.
Each recipient has an envelope with their name on it with the cash inside. This time, we decided to include some of the comments from our donors -- well-wishes from you folks -- because we felt it was important. Not only do these people need money, but also a person-to-person support that you have provided in your sweet comments and well wishes. Several times, it was mentioned in the comments that the donor had visited Bijagua and loved the town and the warm reception given them by the local people. This was kind of shocking to some of the people who never imagined that they were anything special or that visitors to Bijagua would remember it so fondly. (Of course, your comments were translated into Spanish.)
All in all, our committee members managed to give out all of this distribution - except for one person who had gotten a temporary job in San Jose and would return in a few days.
In one day, we distributed $14,000 of your generous donations with two more distributions planned. We have found that families are recovering and moving on and rebuilding their lives. Your donations have been the most important part of this recovery. They have gotten a bit of assistance from the Costa Rican government, but not much. And what you have provided is the major factor in their ability to recover from the devastation.
My most moving moment of the day? (There were many....) A local man met us at one of the little restaurants in town. We sat and talked for a few minutes and he showed me a video of his neighborhood and the place where his house had been, which was now nothing more than a floor. He explained that because the course of the river had changed, he would not be able to rebuild on that property and would have to go elsewhere in the area. He is also a dairy farmer and lost all his equipment, including an expensive milking machine that he had saved for years to buy, and his milking shed in addition to his house. As he was talking, I looked at his hands. Strong hands with blunt fingers and many callouses. Obviously.. a working man.
He opened the envelope and counted the money and his eyes got moist. Then he took out the paper with the "good wishes" that you have written and as he read this, tears began to stream down his face. I put my hand on his arm and realized that it was like touching steel. This hard-working and very strong man was not ashamed of his public tears in the face of such kindness and good will. (Yes, I cried, too...) He went and washed his face and came back to give us bone-crushing hugs (this was the order of the day) and then started off on his trip to the farm supply store.
"Thank you" is totally inadequate.
But we of the committee thank you so much for your donations and for giving us the opportunity to interact with these great people in their time of need. We've made new friends and strengthened some old ties -- as have you!
Tomorrow marks two months since Hurricane Otto ripped through our village of Bijagua in Northern Costa Rica. We are still recovering from that dreadful night. This week we completed another cash distribution to the families who have lost everything. Below are some reflections from committee members that we’d like to share with you:
On November 24, 2016 the life of the residents of Bijagua, completely changed. Never in the history lived by any Costa Rican today have we had had the presence of a hurricane. We Costa Ricans know about earth tremors, earthquakes, ash and lava from volcanoes, but never a hurricane.
On that day the afternoon darkened very early. Although we all expected strong winds and heavy rain, we were not prepared for Hurricane Otto to hit the mountain of the Miravalles Volcano thereby causing an incredible avalanche of mud, tree trunks and huge boulders. We lost friends that night., two mothers and two children were swept away in the avalanche. Houses, furniture, appliances and all the material possessions of many females was swept away and destroyed by the force of the avalanche. Many farming families and cattle ranchers lost animals, crops, tools, and seeds. In short it means they must start again from zero. The financial aid received from all of you that we have been able to distribute to these families has been a great support for them. Although the Government has provided some cash grants to pay for rent and basic household items, many families have had payments to make and businesses and have not had any cash to use. Your donation has made it possible to meet these needs.
On behalf of our community, infinite thanks. We hope one day you can visit us and that we can share with you a recovered Bijagua.
Our committee has worked hard to distribute your donations. We’ve spent hours on the phone and then driving around the unmade roads in the village and surrounding areas to find where the families are now living. We have visited ‘ground zero’ several times each time it is just so difficult and hard to believe what happened.
It’s not simply a matter of delivering the money, we’ve sat with families, shared coffee and discussed what happened that night and what the next steps are to continue rebuilding their lives. We’ve provided advocacy and emotional support to some of the most vulnerable people in our community. Many of those who lost their houses did not have titles to the land they were living on and some don’t have bank accounts or any type of savings. One man had sold a cow a few days before the hurricane and had the money from the sale in his house which was completely swept away. He was left just in the clothes he was wearing.
Government support is complicated and only one grant has been made to families so far, to which they must provide receipts of all purchases. Your donations have provided independence and empowered local families to purchase what they require. It’s provided a cash injection into small businesses in our community, at the end we will have distributed over $40,000 into our community.
We placed some information on B&B website about the hurricane and many guests have responded and brought donations. We have also had donations sent with friends and contacts overseas. A drill, bed sheets and clothes were brought from the UK, and toys, clothes, school supplies and house supplies have been sent from the US.
Distributing your funds and placing the money into the hands of those who need it has been an incredibly emotional experience and one we will never forget. We printed out the comments some of you left when you made your donation (and translated them into Spanish). Those comments have reached the families you are supporting and many cried when they read or heard your kind words. Driving up the place where five houses once stood and where a mother and her eighteen month daughter died was really hard. Men were working to harvest a cucumber crop which was planted two days before the hurricane and miraculously survived. No houses were there and between tears and hugs we distributed the donations to the husband who lost his whole world that night. Not only did he loose the loves of his life, he lost his house, car and land where they once all lived. He has no objects left at all, nothing stands where they once all lived. It’s very surreal.
It was only yesterday that the clouds lifted to reveal the true damage on the side of Volcano Miravalles. After the Hurricane we received 46 days of continual rainfall. The water soaked ground and flooded roadways made it difficult to clean up and feel positive about moving forward. We are a strong community and the people who have lost everything are resilient and fighting to restart their lives. To be involved in this empowering community development project has been worthwhile for all committee members and on behalf of the families here in Bijagua we can’t thank-you all enough for sharing your resources and support with those in need. We will never forget what you’ve done and the impact it has had.
An interesting article about effective aid: Why you shouldn’t give a goat this Christmas David Sanderson
Extract from the article
“Currently, only some 6 per cent of global aid is delivered as cash handouts. Yet, according to a growing body of research, the most effective aid is often the most straight forward; distribute cash, or its equivalent, on the frontlines of tragedy (the caveat is where markets are working, which they almost always are). Giving cash is part of changing the paternalistic way we have long thought about aid. A large international study of 5000 people caught up in disasters around the world found overwhelmingly that what survivors really want is to be heard. That is, they don't want to be "saved" and they don't even want aid agencies to rush in, unthinkingly, to do so. Instead, they want agencies to take the time to understand their local conditions and to ask them what they need to help themselves”.
Thanks to our generous donors, we have completed giving out cash grants to 28 families. The best Christmas gift ever to us to be able to make this happen.
It was a fantastic experience for all of us on the Committee and more than a few tears were shed. Try as I might, I could not hold back the tears when a lady who lost everything hugged me so tight and sobbed into my shoulder.
The good news is -- we have more money to give out! We are transferring more money next week from the US to Costa Rica and plan another distribution in a couple of weeks. They know nothing of this so it will be an amazing surprise to them.
As we all know, when a disaster strikes, there is a lot of attention right away but as time goes on, the attention goes away but the problems for the victims do not.
This was our thinking in planning to distribute the money in three parcels.
We have complete paperwork covering everything, including IDs of the recipients and signed receipts. We also have privacy concerns for our families and we assured them that our lists and receipts and ID copies were just for our use and no one else would have access to them.
As we stated in our GoFundMe page originally, ALL THE MONEY YOU DONATED WENT TO FAMILIES IMPACTED BY HURRICANE OTTO. As a Committee, we chipped in to pay for the bank transfer fees.
If any of you have any questions, we'd be happy to answer.
Just know that the generosity of our donors has made a huge difference in these peoples' lives. And secondarily, a difference in the local small businesses, most of whom will benefit from the purchases made by the families.
You are our heroes!!
Thank-you for thinking of our community this festive season. Thanks to you we have reached 50% of our target goal of $100K. Imagine if you could find just one person (or a few people) to match the donation you made. That would allow us to reach our goal and make even more of a lasting impact on these people's lives.
Above is a link to a news video of the area in Bijagua that was destroyed. Footage of Bijagua starts at 1.07minutes.
A small town unites to help Hurricane Otto victims ... - The Tico Times written by Harriet Smith.
Bijagua Hit Hard By Hurricane Otto
On behalf of the community members who have lost everything, we thank-you for your generous donations.