TENACITY, LOVE AND THE CHILE MINERS
In 69 days, 33 men lived in the bowels of the earth, entombed in a dark closet alive. In more than 69 ways and methods they found life, joy, creativity, survival, fame and finally rescue. In more than 69 ways they elicited sympathy, support, world attention and unequalled love.
I don't know if you took time to read the details of the story of the awesome 33 of 69. Like a joke, the track from which they ventured into the womb of the earth caved in and shut them out from the world. For 16 days, they were written off as dead and gone. But on the 17th, hope overcame despair. And from that day, the world got attracted to the obscure 33 who nobody knew beyond their Copiapo town. Twenty four of them were typical Copiapo village men, two had migrated from another zone while escaping a disaster only to run into the embrace of another. One found the trouble all the way from his country, Bolivia, a nearby nation. But they all got intertwined into a common destiny. It was a matter of time before the larger world joined them in the battle for survival - the longest in recorded history any human engaged in such dire circumstances. But triumph was the last song.
The near calamity incident was in the threshold of the Atacama Desert. Atacama has a reputation as the hottest place on earth. The next reputation is that science has no record of a drop of rainfall on Atacama since the dawn of creation. The earth is pure red in Atacama. It is a sign of extreme dryness. On economic scale, Atacama has no value on the surface. There is no vegetation, no faunal interchange. There is no constituent of biodiversity. There is no activity of any kind in Atacama. It is a forsaken place.
National Geographic wrote that: 'At its center, a place climatologists call absolute desert, the Atacama is known as the driest place on Earth. There are sterile, intimidating stretches where rain has never been recorded, at least as long as humans have measured it.
You won't see a blade of grass or cactus stump, not a lizard, not a gnat.' But notwithstanding the emptiness, Atacama has gold and copper underneath. And one of the lessons of the Chile 33 is what Atacama stands for - no matter how bereft of qualities one would look, you inclusive, there is an underlying great quality that would one day throw you up for good value. That may come in form of calamity at the outset. All of a sudden, Atacama acquired reputation as habouring the 33 great men of toil and sweat.
While in the tomb of wasteland Atacama, they devised means of survival so stunning and daring that the rest of the world had to join them to make sure they come out alive to become a great tablet of reference for resilience.
One of them was not a miner, who also never mined before. He went into the depth on August 5, the same day the mine entrance collapsed to handle some mechanical repairs and he was trapped. His was the opposite of the experience of one of them who had worked as miner for 33 years before the incident. Two of the 33 men had left their part of Chile after surviving an earthquake in February this year to find new life in Copiapo at the San Jose mine. But they instead found trouble. Many in their circumstance would say the gods/enemies are after them to make sure they perish in 2010. There were two sets of brothers among the trapped. That means four of them (two each) came from same parents.
While there, after they were found still alive, concerned persons bore a hole through which food, water and other supplies were sent down to them. They also got videos, cameras, music, souvenirs and many other things to keep them happy and alive. But there was this particular case of one of them, 34 years old, who was busy running 10 miles underground everyday to keep fit. As the fittest, when the rescue capsule came down into the tunnel, he was the first to be lifted because the rescuers needed the fittest to test the efficacy of the capsule that harboured each miner for 15 minutes on their journey to the surface through the almost 700m shaft. In fact, the youngest of the 33 had just worked for five months in the mines when he encountered trouble. One of them turned a preacher instantly and handled the task of supporting others to live underground with words of the Bible. Special reference was made of Urzua, 54, who was shift commander at the time of the disaster. He used all his wits and leadership talents to help these men stay calm and in control for the 17 harrowing days it took for rescuers to make their first contact with them.
Indeed, they all sported shirts inscribed Psalms 95:4 - a most suitable quote for their situation. Two of the miners had diabetes and hypertension, while one had skin ulcer in addition. The odds were against them for survival, yet they endured 69 harrowing days and came out very fit. One of them even celebrated his birthday underground whereas another got trapped like his father some years ago.
This same man had his sister leading others in camp prayers while he languished in the tunnel underneath. Not minding that one of them had nightmares of choking in an enclosure for many nights as he kept reporting to his family members, he still made it. When the miners and their loved ones were still unsure of their survival, one of them got a phone call from the girlfriend who proposed marriage to him. While still there, they were formally engaged and to marry immediately he got out. The next surprise was that one had a baby from his pregnant wife while trapped. He was called and told of the arrival of his baby girl who he aptly named Espranza (Hope). The hope paid off and on the day he surfaced (October 13) he embraced and cuddled his little Hope that came real. By the time the last miners were rescued, they had crossed over to their 70th day underground.
As they waited for the day of hope, their government showed that citizens matter and have value. The government of President Sabastian Pinera had to hire US NASA to build the rescue capsule and fly in soldiers from Afghanistan. These men with the government and people of Chile showed the world that with unity and determination any obstacle could be surmounted. In 22 hours, 37 minutes, less than the estimated time, all 33 were safe and up on the ground and like Pinera told the 5th rescued miner, they were welcome back to life. Pinera showed himself a worthy leader as he relocated there on day of rescue, and the people of Chile proved themselves great people who love each other and would stand by each other in times of need. Even the government of the local Copiapo declared public holiday on the day the rescue started to enable the children watch it live. To make sure they did, hundreds of media house cameras perched by the side of the hill overlooking the rescue hole as the miners who made a video of their life underground were filmed at rescue and shown to the world live. Thanks to CNN and the infotech magic.
At last, they are home and hearty with five of them about to walk to the altar and wed their beloved wives. And one of the wives of the miners who relocated to the ad hoc camp of Hope they built on top of the tunnel where she remained in prayers and phone calls to the husband to encourage him had her sweet victory.
In addition to the lesson of the strength and perseverance of the miners, the next was the lesson of the unity of the families for their loved ones in distress. The love and encouragement were enough to keep the miners alive underground. You would have watched the daughter of Franklin Lobos Ramirez, welcome her footballer dad back with a football.
Chile's show of love for their brothers and the efficacy of the rescue and tenacity in finding solution have projected the country to the whole world in great and wonderful light. The lessons here for you and others abound, and you must take time to reflect on the gains and move with them. The miners' incident educated the whole world.