Hard hats to fundraising

Two of the 33 Chilean miners have put on their fundraising hats to promote the upcoming National Folkloric Ballet of Chile (BAFONA) tour across Canada.

Rescued miners Omar Reygadas and Franklin Lobos, a former Chilean soccer player, are endorsing the Canadian tour which is raising funds to rebuild a school that was destroyed by the Chilean earthquake in February 2010.

Sponsoring the miner’s seven-city tour is ATCO Structures & Logistics and the organization Together for Chile, which was formed by a group of Canadians in Calgary following the deadly earthquake. With a mandate to provide safer communities for the affected families through the reconstruction of schools in the most quake-ravaged areas, the organization teamed up with The Calgary Foundation and Habitat for Humanity with the goal of building a school in south Chile.

Together for Chile then met with Chilean government officials last June with the idea of bringing the popular BAFONA performances to Canada to raise money. They created BAFONA Canadian Tour 2011.

For the first time, the flamboyant dancers and musicians will perform across Canada in seven cities: Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. 

BANFONA will hit Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts on Oct. 19. The troupe has been performing since 1965, attracting over 13 million spectators in more than 600 cities.

“We feel very elated, and happy and proud to be a part of this noble event to reconstruct a school in the south of Chile that will benefit the community directly,” said Reygadas though a translator at a press conference in Toronto.

“I’m very proud to be a part of this campaign and to help reconstruct a school in Chile, and to witness that Canada has been a welcoming place for many many Chileans,” added Lobos through the translator. “I wish that all the Chileans community as well as the Canadian community and the Latin American communities can come to support the event. Come and see the beautiful show, which is an expression of Chilean identity, and to support the reconstruction of Chile after the earthquake.”  

ATCO’s South American joint-venture company donated the 33 modular units that were used for medical evaluations and family receptions after the October rescue.

Year in review

It has been almost a year since the 33 miners were rescued after spending about 69 days trapped at the San Jose copper-gold mine near Copiapo. The rescue efforts captivated millions as uncertainty mixed with hope turned into a successful rescue mission as the miners were hoisted to freedom.

 “We were pretty anonymous before the accident,” said Reygadas. “After the accident, we had the opportunity to travel around the world and to meet different people, and to be somehow famous,” commented the 56-year-old, who has spent 30 years as a miner and was the bulldozer operator at the time of the accident.

“Life has definitely changed for good,” said Lobos, who retired from soccer in 1995, and became a miner in 2005. The 53-year-old started working at the San Jose mine just three months before the mine workings collapsed on Aug. 5, 2010, and left the men 631 metres underground.

He explained the miners are “very happy to be with family and very grateful” but are hurt when people suggest they are greedily cashing in on their fame.

In reality, almost half of the men have been unemployed since the disaster, according to an Aug. 4, 2011, article by the Associated Press, which reported the group has filed negligence lawsuits of US$10 million against the bankrupt mine’s owners and are requesting US$17 million from the Chilean government for not enforcing safety regulations. But payout if any is years away.

Lobos and Reygadas both agree the one thing they would like to improve in the industry is safety to prevent mine accidents and to avoid suffering to a miners’ family.

“The biggest pain we felt when we were trapped down in the mine was knowing that our families were suffering very much,” said Lobos, a father of three. “When we are asking for more supervision to prevent accidents like these, it’s to avoid the pain the family of the miners can experience when accidents like these happen.”

What kept Lobos and Reygadas going during the darkest hours was a concoction of hope, faith and teamwork.

“The brotherhood prevailed,” said Reygadas, a father of six, a grandfather to 14 and a great-grandfather to four, who emerged as a leader among the trapped miners. Reygadas adds that he and Lobos keep in touch with the others and have a group called “Los 33.”

That is also the title of the upcoming movie based on the 33 miners. Reygadas says they are asking the producers to keep the tone serious and the plot as realistic as possible in conveying a message of love, hope and generosity. Production is set to start in early 2012.

Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, is writing the official book on the miners’ story.  


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