April 16, 2016 began as a normal day for the residents of the northeastern coast of Ecuador, but at around 7 pm, tragedy struck the country as a magnitude 7.8 earthquake rattled the Earth beneath them, leaving over 670 dead and 16,600 injured.
In response to the disaster that took from the already-poor country, two Drury alumns, Jorge Nadal Volckaert and Juan Fernando Calderon, and one current student, Masha Podokshik, felt compelled to help the people affected.
The three, along with five other members, decided to found a non-profit, and in May of 2016, Foundation Relief! was born. “We were looking for a way to help the victims of the earthquake but were not finding an organization that really spoke to us,” said Podokshik, “so we decided to bring our diverse talents together and start our own non-profit.”
With the mission to “Develop community projects that fulfill basic human needs such as housing, food, and medical care through sustainable environmental and economic projects,” Foundation Relief!’s founders began making contacts and laying the plans to help the people of Ecuador recover from the earthquake.
Fast forward to almost a year later in March of 2017, and one founder, Podokshik, was finally able to visit Ecuador for a week to meet the communities affected and film a Virtual Reality (VR) video story, with the help of another Drury Communication student, Kyle Perry, that will be used to promote the organization, their mission, and their first project in Ecuador.
Perry works for StoryUp studios, who specializes in VR storytelling. He had heard and seen what Foundation Relief! was doing and wanted to get involved, so he connected with his boss, who immediately got on board and gave him full reign on the production. “Kyle was director, cinematographer, and drone pilot extraordinaire,” said Podokshik.
“It was so beautiful. The people, the culture, the food, and the nature were all very amazing,” said Podokshik. “In a week, we got to see the coast, swim in the Pacific ocean, walk through a giant bamboo forest, climb an active volcano, visit mountains and valleys, meet tons of kindhearted people, and eat authentic Ecuadorian food.”
Looking into the future, they plan to release the VR videos in the coming weeks to help themselves establish as an organization, form partnerships, and initiate higher- scale fundraising efforts in order to build sustainable earthquake resilient bamboo housing using locally-sourced materials in Ecuador.
“Our main goal is to help facilitate positive change in the lives of the people that have lost close to everything,” said Podokshik. “We want to help rebuild their homes but also build lasting relationships with these communities that will flourish for years to come.”
To find out more information or to contact Foundation Relief!, visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/foundationrelief/