Scouts rush to help after Mount Fuego eruption
Scouts in Guatemala have been hard at work helping people who fled their homes on the slopes of Mount Fuego after the volcano erupted for the first time in more than 40 years, sending a scalding mixture of gas and volcanic rocks hurtling through nearby villages, and burying homes in ash and rubble.
Families left food half-eaten on the table and clothes on the washing line, in their rush to escape on June 3. At least 110 people are known to have died in the disaster, while about 200 people remain missing.
As rescuers hurried to the affected area, local Scout groups mobilised to collect basic supplies for those who’d been forced to leave everything behind. In less than 24 hours, some 20 Scout groups got to work setting up collection centres to gather and sort donations.
Luis Fernando Mazariegos, 21, a Scout troop leader in the region of Escuintla, took to the streets knocking on the doors of shops, offices, and houses to get donations for the displaced families. He says people responded well, “with lots of food.” Around 450 Scouts from Cubs to Scout leaders - and more at the weekend - have been working to sort the donations of food, clothing, medicine, utensils and other basic needs, according to teams on the ground.
“It is part of the promise we made,” Mazariegos says on the Scouts’ response. “(It’s) a promise that has become a way of life and we trying to leave the world better than we found it.”
This month’s eruption of Mount Fuego – Spanish for ‘fire’ - was the first since 1974. Those who’d made their home on the mountain’s slopes often saw smoke coming out of the crater, but on Sunday the volcano suddenly sprang into life, rumbling and sending plumes of smoke into the air, and finally scalding hot volcanic rock and gas known as “pyroclastic flow,” which rushed down the mountain’s slopes – at speeds of up to 200 kilometres an hour – destroying everything in its path.
More than 12,000 people have now been evacuated from the volcano’s slopes, with some 4,200 villagers living in 21 shelters in the surrounding region. Scouts have been helping organise the facilities, sort donations, and provide first aid where it’s needed.
Bryan Monzón, an 18-year-old Rover from Escuintla, has been unloading trucks of supplies and playing with the children. He tries to keep spirits up.
“We understand their pain and want to help them overcome it,” he says.
Those who’ve been to the affected area describe a sense of desolation, with sand and ash nearly two metres thick, and the smell of sulphur hanging in the air. Rescue efforts have been suspended amid further volcanic activity, and it’s not clear when residents will be able to return home. As communities struggle with the traumatic events of the past week, local Scouts are doing their best to provide them with the help and emotional support they need.
“We react in the best way possible and try to give encouragement,” Mazariegos explains. “We want to convey positive feelings and make them feel they are not alone.”