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Facing Adversity, Mexico's American School Foundation Community Grows Stronger

By Nina Blake

10/04/2017

A powerful, 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck near Mexico City on September 19, 2017, leaving over 300 dead and countless people missing. This was the deadliest earthquake in the country since 1985, and was the latest in a series of earthquakes to hit Mexico over the past few months. Only weeks before, an 8.1-magnitude earthquake struck the southern Mexican states of Oaxaca and Chiapas, affecting over 800,000 people.

On September 19, most of the city remained without communication, as phone lines fell and power lines were damaged. Rescue workers searched for survivors in collapsed buildings around the city and countless volunteers took to the streets to help remove rubble and join the rescue efforts. Several areas in the city were hit hard, including central Condesa, Roma and Del Valle neighborhoods, where unfortunately, a large number of teachers from the American School Foundation (ASF)—most of whom had moved to Mexico a month before— lived in rental apartments.

Numerous buildings in the area suffered structural damage and threatening gas leaks, forcing ASF teachers to evacuate their homes immediately. The ASF Community was quick to respond, putting together a team of volunteers to take action amidst the crisis.

After determining there were 24 affected faculty members, a network of communication was immediately established through each Director, to review all faculty members' situation. Each of the 24 affected faculty members were contacted to identify their specific needs, and the Division of Human Capital ensured that the affected faculty members reached out to their families to let them know everyone was safe. After setting up a meeting with the group of affected faculty members, some decided to stay with relatives or friends and others were relocated to a hotel near their home.

A WhatsApp group was created to maintain constant communication with faculty members, publishing relevant updates every 2 hours. Additionally, the school’s Communications Office kept parents and staff informed via email, and used the school’s official Facebook and Twitter accounts to update Community members on the affected faculty members’ situation.

A list of emotional support and counseling was established for all ASF faculty and staff and was shared through the Heads of School, offering teachers a safe space to be heard and looked out for, during this stressful time. Many of the affected faculty members are alone and far from home, and their emotional wellbeing was one of the school’s top priorities. A group of bilingual volunteers came forward to offer their support, until faculty were relocated to safe places or able to return to their residences.

A second group of volunteers was put together to help faculty members house hunt, making sure they accompanied them to appointments, helped them with the required paperwork and lease signing process. This group set to work immediately, helping affected teachers and staff find new places in a matter of days, as well as assisting them during moving.

Upon learning about the current situation, ASF Community members, including parents and alumni, reached out to the school, asking how they could help. Some of them shared information about rental properties, while others kindly offered their homes to affected faculty members, in a heartwarming display of solidarity with the Community.

ASF Community members were encouraged to support faculty members by donating gift cards from supermarkets and department stores, so affected teachers and staff could purchase clothing, household appliances and furniture once they were able to return to their apartments or move to new locations. Within two days, $274,000 pesos (around US$15,222), were received in gift cards and distributed to the affected faculty members accordingly. To date, donations continue to pour in.

In order to consolidate all the efforts that ASF Community members undertook to support earthquake victims and volunteers, the hashtag #ASFporMexico was created, and the Community was encouraged to use it on Facebook and Twitter, along with a photo or message of all actions carried out to support earthquake victims throughout the country, allowing the American School Foundation to document and follow all the wonderful community service measures carried out. Over the next couple of days, photos poured in from Community members working alongside the Mexican Red Cross, participating in the rescue efforts, removing rubble, collecting donations, and supporting earthquake victims in countless ways.

Next steps for the American School Foundation include focusing relief efforts on the greater community through the Mexican Red Cross, in a continued attempt to help thousands of victims around Mexico. ASF Community members will continue donating items like medicine, food and clothing for as long as they are required.

The earthquake was a tragic event, which marked the lives of many and made the world mourn. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case, the powerful spirit of generosity and social responsibility which prevailed among The American School Foundation, sent out a powerful message of solidarity, teamwork and cooperation, even during the hardest of times, making the entire Community proud.


Nina Blake is Communications Coordinator at the American School Foundation A.C., in Mexico City.




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