Almost a year after the devastating Hurricane Maria, reporters are still trying to discover the actual body count. While official counts totaled less than one hundred, it is now believed that over 4,500 Puerto Ricans died during and in the aftermath of the natural disaster.
The island also remains in disarray, due to poor response from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which now admits they were unprepared. In FEMA’s own report on the hurricane response, they found they were severely understaffed and relied on “underqualified staffers,” and that even agency leadership lacked knowledge of Puerto Rico’s crucial infrastructure. The report advises that communities instead prepare for future disasters without the aid of FEMA.
In itself, the wholesale abandonment of a US citizens by their own government should be considered a grave sin. Everyone who worked at FEMA for the response should at the least lose their job. But since that likely won’t happen, we citizens should act to help our fellow citizens still in need. The question you might ask though is how?
The Center for International Disaster Information states that donating money is the almost always the best form of assistance. Organizations that have assisted in relief include the United Funds of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans in Action, and Friends of Puerto Rico.
If you have material goods to donate, such as non-perishable foods or blankets, please contact these organizations to make sure they are needed before hand. The Food Bank of Puerto Rico is recommended for any food based donations.
If you are willing and available, volunteering is another option. All Hands Volunteers has worked over 24,000 hours to help the island’s inhabitants recover, and the well known Habitats for Humanity has a Puerto Rican division dedicated to rebuilding neighborhoods badly impacted by the Hurricane.
It’s important to acknowledge the necessary dedication of time when pledging to volunteer. “Voluntourism” is a real issue wherein people get to come to impoverished areas, learn about the culture and “feel” like they’re helping, but in reality have accomplished nothing. These are real people’s lives that need aid, and helping them will require true effort and commitment.
Taking a Trip
While many wouldn’t consider taking a vacation to be a form of aid, there are many that argue that tourism dollars are essential to economies of destinations like Puerto Rico. The many hotels, shops, and restaurants of Puerto Rico’s local economy employ roughly 50,000 people.
If you do travel, make sure to spend time outside of the island’s hub of San Juan. “Taking day or overnight trips and spending money in a community outside of San Juan is important, too,” Manolo Lopez, founder of the Cosa Nuestra Relief Fund, recommends. “Go to Arecibo, Ponce, Mayagüez, Isabela — these are towns with a lot to offer, so much charm, and beautiful beaches. They depend on their local economy to get back on their feet.”
Several programs have been developed that assist in local reconstruction efforts through tourism. One such program, Visit Rico, helps with the recovery of the island’s agricultural system by organizing tourist stays at Puerto Rican farms. In a way, travelers are able to see the “real” Puerto Rico and help rebuild it at the same time.
Have any questions, or information on how to help Puerto Rico in other ways? Share with us in the comments below!