This past June, IRUSA’s Disaster Response Team traveled to Puerto Rico for hurricane recovery efforts. The needs are still great even though Hurricane Maria hit almost a year ago.
Many families, especially at-risk Puerto Ricans, have largely been forgotten. IRUSA’s Disaster Response Team was there distributing food to survivors.
During the trip, the team spoke with families who hadn’t had power in 9 months—a reality that thousands still face almost a year after the hurricane hit. Puerto Rico has an aging population, and for many, tasks like traversing damaged roadways to get food have become all but impossible.
IRUSA donors paid for thousands of food boxes to reach the people in need across Puerto Rico’s most damaged areas. The boxes contained staple items common in Puerto Rican diets. “We are still in the response phase of this disaster,” Disaster Response Manager Hani Hamwi said. The response phase entails providing basic necessities like food and water. The recovery phase for Puerto Rico has yet to begin, though the new hurricane season commenced on June 1.
IRUSA partnered with a local chapter of Lions Club International who knew the community needs well. While they were all volunteers, they were also survivors of Hurricane Maria. As the team trekked through rural areas of Puerto Rico distributing food, they spoke about how much it was helping and how great the need was. They articulated the realities of their situation with ease, until asked about how they were personally affected. When attempting to describe their personal experiences, their faces changed as words came choked through tears. It soon became clear that the volunteers who were working with IRUSA had in fact turned to service as a way to cope with their own trauma from the hurricane.
One guide during the trip was a woman named Mariam. From her vibrancy and energy, you would never know that she lost her daughter just a month after Maria. She was pregnant and died in the hospital during childbirth. Her newborn daughter was one of many fatalities that happened post-Maria as a result of a health care system completely crippled by the storm. Many hospitals remained without power for months or operated off of generators too weak to power even basic medical equipment. A report published in May by Harvard researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine states that “one third of the deaths were attributed to delayed or interrupted health care.” Mariam’s daughter was one of them.
The team also met Maria, a volunteer with Lion’s Club whose lively personality was contagious. During the course of the distributions, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with cancer. “They want me to go to the hospital,” she said, “but what will the hospital do for me without power?” She shared that she would rather be with IRUSA, helping people — that it was the only thing that made her feel happy.
The situation in Puerto Rico remains dire, though it has all but left the world’s attention. Again and again, the community thanked the team for not forgetting about them. IRUSA will continue to look for more opportunities to help the people of Puerto Rico, and others around the globe, get back on their feet.