Businessman Sylas Souza Silveira is going to be awarded the Order of Rio Branco, an honor given by the Brazilian government to people who have executed relevant services to the country’s foreign policy.
Silveira owns Bristol, an agricultural machinery and civil construction equipment factory located in the city of São Jerônimo, in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, and in the last 20 years he has operated as a volunteer in the rescue of victims of natural disasters all around the world.
He uses a product made by his company to cut concrete and metalwork and open a route among the rubble. The machine is an abrasive cutter, a kind of saw in the shape of a disk that operates connected to a chainsaw.
Silveira and his machine, according to his own calculations, helped save 23 lives in Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Iran, Algeria, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan, nations that suffered with tragedies caused by earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis in the last two decades.
The businessman’s story as a volunteer began in 1985, after the earthquake that hit Mexico City. On seeing the images of the tragedy, he decided to donate three machines to help rescue the victims.
When faced with the difficulty of sending the equipment on a government flight, he explained that the made a loan at a bank to buy a ticket, financed in 12 instalments, and went to make his donation personally.
On arriving in the Mexican capital, the businessman got the help of a taxi driver to find his way around and even to clear the machinery through customs. He explains that his first mission as a volunteer was at a hospital in Mexico City that had collapsed.
"I cut through the entire structure, iron, concrete, all in one," he said. In Mexico he was even decorated for his work.
Taking a liking to the operation, in the same year Silveira travelled to Colombia to help rescue victims of an eruption of Nevado Del Ruiz volcano. In 1987 he travelled to Ecuador, after the strong earthquake that hit the country.
At the time, his desire for helping was strengthened by a nationalist feeling. "I was working and two blond women appeared, they arrived in a helicopter and one of them asked me how Brazil, a country full of problems, could be helping. That offended me very much and I said: ‘now I am going ahead’."
And he did. He travelled to Iran, in 1990, and to Algeria, in 2001, helping rescue earthquake victims. He also travelled to Sri Lanka and India, where he participated in the operations to help save victims of the tsunamis that hit Asia in December last year. His most recent mission was this year, to Pakistan, a country affected by a strong earthquake.
Throughout these years, Silveira says he has always paid for his travel expenses from his own pocket, and has counted on the hospitality of people who gave him a place to stay at their own homes, as occurred in Pakistan and Algeria.
He always travels alone, accompanied by his machinery, which he normally leaves at the place, after having taught people how to operate it.
Without speaking any other language apart from Portuguese, Silveira prefers to go straight to work. "I leave on my own accord, believing that it is all going to work out," he said. "It gives you a great feeling of self accomplishment. In that distant place, you end up becoming an important person," he added.
Over the years he has improved his technique and has become more efficient in the use of the saw. Nowadays, with the help of other rescuers, he breaks the concrete with pick-axes and then uses the machine to cut the metalwork, reducing the number of disk breaks.
Apart from that, after opening way through the rubble, he covers the exposed tips of the metalwork with pieces of pipe so as to avoid cutting the victims when they are being taken out.
Apart from the language barrier, another challenge is the lack of information. "Sometimes you have no information about where the problem that you can help solve is," he explained. In recent years, however, Silveira stated that the Brazilian diplomacy has given him more help during his trips.
Fear is also a constant companion. "In Pakistan, it was very cold and there were landslides in the region, I was very scared. On the first day as night was approaching it started raining and everything became slippery. All the constructions had fallen down. I felt there was no place to find cover in case there was a problem," he stated.
While he is not travelling around the world and saving earthquake victims, Silveira, who has already been decorated by the São Jerônimo City Hall and City Council and by the Legislative Assembly of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, runs his company.
Established in 1973, Bristol has among its main products drills for civil construction and implants for chainsaws, products like the abrasive cutters he uses in his travels.
In fact, the company site shows that the equipment may be an ally in saving and rescue operations. The utility has been proven in practice. The most sold item, however, is a drill that also works connected to a chainsaw.
Silveira says that his objective is to produce tools for easy manipulation and low cost, which may be adapted to other equipment. This, in his evaluation, makes the products more attractive in emerging markets.
Most of the company production, however, is sold in Brazil itself. According to him, just 2% of production goes to countries like Argentina, Venezuela, Cuba, Angola and Gabon. The company employs 70 people and has revenues of around US$ 220,000 a month.
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Anba – www.anba.com.br
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