Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Monday September 20, 2017. Being a category 5 hurricane with winds averaging 175 mph, its effects on the small island were devastating. The hurricane knocked out the entire island’s electricity, with experts estimating that it would take four to six months for the island to recover. The effects on the island’s electricity were so grave that Puerto Rico, along with the US Virgin Islands, underwent the largest blackout in United States history. Three weeks after Maria landed on the small island, 90% of residents were still left without power.
Image Source: CNN
As of October 14, of the 1,113 schools on the island, only 200 were reopened. This forced many Puerto Rican students to leave their homes and, sometimes, families and travel to the continental US to continue primary, middle, and high school education. The state of Florida alone saw the influx of30,000 Puerto Rican citizens, young and old. With many young children coming in, the state is waiving some documents that are necessary for school enrolment. Miami-Dade county schools are also sending school administrators to register students before they even land in the US.
Deilanis Santana, a 13 year old girl, is one of those young Puerto Ricans. She left behind her mom and home to temporarily live with her grandma in Connecticut to continue her education. She is, as any child would be, nervous. She left behind family, friends, and her familiar environment. She doesn’t know anyone at her new school, nor what to expect once she arrives there.
Yet Santana is one of those lucky enough to be able to leave Puerto Rico. Those who live within the island’s villages do not have such privilege. Along with the loss of electricity, Hurricane Maria caused some regions of the island to be without clean water and food. This is most felt in the remote mountainous villages of Puerto Rico. Bridges are the main way by which the remote villages are connected to sources of water, food, and supplies. Hurricane Maria collapsed more than 100 bridges and forced 18 to be closed for an indefinite time. This means that most, if not all, village residents are left without access to clean water, food, or emergency supplies to deal with the effects of the storm. Though aid is arriving to the island, it has been the slowest for the remote villages.
Source: The New York Times
Three weeks after Maria made landfall on the island, aid groups still hadn’t arrived to Charco Abajo, a village on the island’s mountainside. Carlos Ocasio and Pablo Perez Medina are two residents of the Charco Abajo village. After Hurricane Maria destroyed the only bridge that connects Charco Abajo’s residents to the rest of the island, Ocasio and Medina did not wait for aid and instead took matters into their own hands. The two men crossed the Vivi River to buy a cable, metal harness and wheels. With these supplies, they built a pulley attached to a shopping cart. This would become a makeshift bridge by which they would transport food, water and other necessities back to the village’s residents. Next to the makeshift bridge sits a sign that reads “Campamento de los Olvidados”, which is Spanish for “Camp of the Forgotten.”
Image source: Miami Herald
Ocasio and Medina are not the only village residents who, as a result of the storm, were forced to improvise. Some gather to bathe and do their laundry along roadways. As can be imagined, this location was not a choice. The lack of clean water forced locals to redirect PVC pipelines to accessible locations, and that is where they were able to get them to provide clean water for the village residents. As it is one of the only sources of clean water for the residents, some take empty buckets and bottles and fill them up to take back home.
Though aid is slow and in some areas, such as in the village described above, completely lacking, ordinary people are taking matters into their own hands. “No one person can solve these issues. No one government can help the island,” stated Rosana Guernica. Guernica, a junior at Carnegie Mellon University, knew she alone cannot provide a solution to the devastation. However, that is not holding her back from providing aid to hundreds in need. She turned to YouCaring to raise funds for her homeland and in a matter of days, she had raised $82,000. She used the funds to buy supplies, such as baby formula and water filtration systems, and reserved a plane to take the supplies to the island. On October 4th, she went on her first humanitarian mission to the island. On October 8, Guernica returned to Puerto Rico with more supplies and volunteers from Carnegie Mellon.
Guernica’s humanitarian missions were a source of inspiration in a grim situation, and the fact that she was able to juggle them with the beginning of a new year in university is even more inspiring. It goes to show that you don’t need to be an organization or a government to make a difference in a tragic situation. You can even be just one college student, with the desire to help and a will to find a way.