By Dave Schwab
Earthquake relief wasn't on La Jolla High grad Mike Thompson's itinerary during his visit to Chile on a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship, but it has become a central focus of his trip.
As a native Californian, Thompson had experienced his fair share of dish-rattling quakes. But never "the big one." That came in February, three weeks after he arrived for a yearlong stay at the Universidad de Chile in Santiago.
"It (quake) struck at 3 a.m., and I woke up with my bed headboard battering against the wall," he said. "The walls waving from side-to-side felt like they were made of paper. A friend of mine who was out in the street at the time said the ground was moving like a wave in the ocean."
Santiago, the country's capital where Thompson is living, didn't experience significant damage. But four hours away, rural areas near the quake's epicenter were ravaged.
"Immediately after the quake, we worked with disaster relief to bring in food, clothing and water," Thompson said. "After that, we worked cleaning up the rubble from homes and actually building a few temporary homes out of wood."
Thompson said out of 55 homes in the rural town of Barba Rubia, only a half-dozen remained habitable after the quake.
"A lot of people there are still homeless essentially," he said. "Only about half of them have running water. We're working on a project right now to rebuild their community center and the main school in their whole county that lost more than half of its classrooms."
Disaster relief has been a mission Thompson has been proud to be a part of and a cause he's committed to.
"We're lifting up the community through volunteerism," he noted. "This community is very isolated, and they receive very little government funding and depend on people like us to help them out."
Thompson said he can see the "bigger picture," which is the whole point of getting rural Chilean communities devastated by the quake back on their feet. "If we don't rebuild the school, students will leave and go to the state capital and probably never come back, and we'll see small, rural communities disappear," he said. "It's a bigger issue, has a bigger meaning, than just helping the needy. It has a larger, socio-cultural impact down the road several generations. That's why it matters so much to us."
Graduated from La Jolla High in 2005 and from Washington & Lee University in 2009, Thompson is in Chile on an ambassadorial scholarship, studying international entrepreneurship. The yearlong study abroad scholarship is sponsored by La Jolla Rotary Club.
Eventually, he'd like to start his own company, but in the meantime, he'd like to get a job somewhere in the renewable energy field.
"The new green wave of energy is something we need," he said. "It's not going to be our primary source of energy in the next 10 years, but it's a developing portfolio."
The group Thompson is working with on earthquake relief for Chile has a $150,000 fundraising goal to meet to rebuild rural schools. Those with questions and/or donations for the effort can e-mail