Our volunteer, Rasha, has just returned home from 2 weeks in Puerto Rico where she made connections on the island and distributed aid. Below is her report of exactly where she went, the situations she encountered, and the expenditures on food and supplies.
Breakdown of work:
12/07-12/12 (excluding 12/09): When doing work with Jose, our day would start at 6am and end usually between 4pm-5pm. We would drive up to various mountain towns, including the following places:
The town of Yabucoa (and neighboring towns) was hit hard by Maria, as that is where the hurricane made landfall. Although Yabucoa is up in the mountains, the roads are not steep and it is more leveled compared to the region of Utuado. Upon arriving in Yabucoa, we drove throughout the town and spoke to locals. As with most of the mountain towns, the homes are spread out. We eventually decided to stop by a local church and spoke to a Mr. Raul, who is part of the church. He informed us that most are still without electricity and water, and some homes are still without proper roofs, including their own church. After speaking to him and the pastor, we were informed that about 100 families within the area are in need of basics, such as rice and beans. After finishing our time in the region, Jose and I drove to a Sams not too far from the town (the nearest Sams was still closed due to hurricane damage). After going through the aisles we decided the following would best benefit the needs described by the church:
In addition, with remaining funds, we were able to also purchase cereal, bananas, tuna, and wipes. Distribution took place on 12/10.
The total cost for 100 families: $3,168.56 (the money to cover the entire cost came from both SCM funds as well as the personal donations I received)
The second mountain region we visited was Utuado as well as neighboring towns. On the first day out there, we realized how difficult some of the roads were on Jose’s car. We were informed prior that many landslides had occurred there after the hurricane, but did not realize the extent of the damage until we arrived. During our drive, we not only spoke to locals, but to other volunteer groups, as well as FEMA worker we ran in to. We were informed that the higher up we go, the roads would be in worse conditions. They all highly suggested we rent a Wrangler.
After receiving approval for the car rental from SCM, we drove to one rental place. We were informed that FEMA had rented every available truck/SUV and had a 6 month contract. Eventually we found another rental place and rented a Jeep Wrangler for 2 days. Upon returning on 12/11, we drove further up and spoke to locals, most of whom were elderly and some without any form of transportation. They informed us that they had received some help from local church groups, but mainly on the weekend. After several hours of driving and speaking to locals, we stopped by a local church. We were informed that about 85 families were still in need, with 5 having family members who were bed-ridden. We decided to return the next day (12/12) and distribute the same items we did in Yabucoa (excluding the tuna cans, as we didn’t have enough funds). In addition we also returned to homes higher up in the mountains and hand delivered the same items to 5 separate families.
The total cost for 85 families: $2,292.41
**12/09: Yasean, Omar, and I spent the morning (8am-12pm) volunteering with a local group known as “A La Mano poor Puerto Rico” handing out food bags and sandwiches to locals in a mountain region. Most of these homes were up very steep areas, and were better accessible on foot than by car. I also took the opportunity to speak to them about the work SCM had done in Greece and continues to do out in Jordan as well as locally in Seattle. I also expressed SCM’s interest in doing future work in PR. They were extremely pleased and thankful that SCM came to do work in PR and expressed interest in working together on future projects.
The morning of my return, I had passed by a medical clinic I had made contact with upon my arrival. I passed by their central office in To a Baja to hand over the samples SCM had sent me. Upon Jose and my arrival, they were kind enough to offer a tour of their facility and spoke to me about their work, and again expressed interest and thanks for SCM’s work out in PR. They go throughout the week, mainly on weekends, to provide free medical care.
As usual, the bigger NGOs seem to be quite absent in a lot of these areas, as expressed by the many locals, as well as local volunteers we spoke to. The mountainous regions seem to still be feeling the aftermath of Maria the most. Little work seems to have been done in those locations since the hurricane. And although the beginning of trip was full of bumps, it all eventually led me to some great contacts. The distributions we did seemed to have been the best decision we made, and in my opinion would be the best course of action to continue. For future work in PR, SCM needs to consider the following:
• Mode of transportation (When traveling to certain mountainous regions, such as Utuado, a Jeep/truck would be the best course of action)
• Acquiring a Sams card under SCM’s name. Along with the physical card and hardcopy of a tax exempt letter, they will not charge taxes on purchases
• Upon deciding on a location for distribution, SCM needs to make sure that there is a reliable way to transfer ALL of the items to said location
• Best/most reliable source to contact regarding local distribution in any location is a local church
• Best way to save money on lodging is to use Airbnb. They have rooms, as well as entire apartments and houses. There are also locals renting out their apartments.
• When deciding on a future project, please keep in mind the distance(s) of areas for distributions, but more importantly the TRAFFIC because that can easily add a very long delay. (Jose and I worked around traffic times and directions).
Total Cost of ALL Distributions: $5,460.97