ONE year after a devastating earthquake struck Chile, the tiny village of Los Coipos remains uppermost in the thoughts of a group of Hawick youngsters.
A hamlet of around 250 inhabitants, most Teries will never have heard of Los Coipos, but such was the devastation caused by the quake, which destroyed 90 per cent of its homes, the village seldom fails to leave an indelible mark on those who visit.
And testament to this are Vanessa Reith, Caitlan Hamilton, Nick Swanston, Paige Umpherston, Scott Wilcox, Gaillia Young, Jack Bruce, Mark Graham, Rachel Nuttal, Rob Hemming and Cameron Taylor – the intrepid party of Hawick teenagers who were part of the Borders Exploration Group’s expedition to help the village community rebuild their lives after the awful disaster.
And through the eyes of Vanessa Reith, the Hawick News shared some of their memorable experiences from last summer. Talking first of the BEG – an organisation set up to help young people develop a sense of identity, raise awareness of environmental concerns through recreational activities, understand other cultures and develop communication skills as a team – Vanessa said: “I first heard of BEG at the Hawick High and I really liked the idea what it was all about. So did a lot of my school friends, so we decided to look into it.
“To become a venturer, as you are called, you had to be selected following six weeks of weekend training which included mountain craft, survival, first aid, presentation skills and team building. It was all very hard work but it was exciting and great fun as well.
“At the end of it all, 11 were chosen from Hawick for a group of 24 from the entire Borders. This was just amazing to have 11 from the same town.”
With the selection process over, fund-raising was the next matter on the agenda for the Hawick contingent, as each venturer had to raise £2,000 before setting off.
However, any concerns over reaching their cash targets were to prove unfounded as townsfolk rallied in fine style. Many fund-raising activities were organised, one of which was Sir Chay Blyth’s well-received and memorable talk about his sea-faring experiences, which was staged in the high school.
With the youngsters’ funding secured, it was time for Chile. And after three plane journeys, the BEG arrived in the capital city of Santiago, before a four-hour bus trip to Los Coipos.
This was to be the beginning of a big adventure. Vanessa went on: “The stay in Los Coipos was brilliant and a fantastic experience. We all stayed with families and the people were very friendly.
“As the horse and cart is very much part of their lives, we showed them photographs of the horses and riders at the Common-Riding, and the villagers were really fascinated. Perhaps they thought it was part of everyday life in Hawick.
“We dished out Hawick Balls and they went down well. While Jack Bruce played the bagpipes and I think everyone got an impressive picture of Scotland.”
As well as giving their hosts a taste of Teri culture, BEG members were in Los Coipos to do a job in helping to rebuild a community centre that had been badly hit by the earthquake.
And this they did in sterling fashion. Vanessa continued: “We started very early in the morning and finished late at night. All sorts of jobs had to be done, such as hand-mixing cement, taking down the old roof, and building roof trusses and new toilets.
“It was all very hard work, but it was all worthwhile when you saw what you had done at the end of the day.”
It wasn’t all hard graft for the venturers though and they enjoyed the thrill of sandboarding, and various trips including a trek up the Lascar volcano which although daunting was an incredible experience Concluding her thoughts on the BEG’s expedition, Vanessa said: “We met a lot of lovely people and made a lot of friends. The villagers were very grateful for what we did for them and told us that we’d always be welcome to go back and visit them.
“We all had a time we will never forget, and we would like to thank everyone who helped with fund-raising, for without them the trip would not have been possible.”