Puerto Rico will never forget September 20, 2017. Hurricane Maria ravaged the island with 155 mph winds, taking down 80 percent of the utility poles and leaving 100 percent of the 3.5 million residents without electricity. Over 70,000 homes were destroyed. Food and clean water became scarce. The death toll has climbed from 64 to over 4,600, according to an interesting study in the New England Journal of Medicine.
For a U.S. territory that had already been limping through a recession for more than 12 years, coming to terms with $94 billion in damage seems impossible. Few Puerto Ricans found humor in the president’s joke, “I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack, because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico.” Ouch.
Today, the island is still hurting. Aid has been erratic and underwhelming. Complete recovery will take years, but there are ways we, as responsible travelers, can help fellow Americans now:
Be a tourist! Jobs–more than 50,000 of them–depend on visitors. Restaurants, bars, hotels, galleries, shops, taxis…so many businesses and people need our dollars. We love San Juan, but travel to other areas can support areas that were hit hard by Maria. Take a day trip or a tour.
“Tourism is very important to our recovery efforts,” says Ricardo Rosselló, Governor of Puerto Rico. “In the aftermath of the devastation, we want to show that Puerto Rico is a great place to do business and to live.”
A quick search shows that hotels are open and ready to welcome us. Travelers are posting positive reviews on Trip Advisor. Cruise ships have returned to the port. Why not go?
Be a volunteer! You say you’d like to have a hands-on experience? Great! Check out these opportunities:
- Add a few days–or longer–onto your San Juan trip and plant trees with the environmental organization Para La Naturaleza. An estimated 24-31 million trees were downed by Maria in El Yunque, North America’s only tropical rainforest. You’ll stay in San Juan, pay your own expenses (typical for most volunteer organizations) and get a ride each day to whichever site you’re helping at. Visit the website or email them: firstname.lastname@example.org
- All Hands and Hearts is rebuilding homes in Barranquitas and Yabucoa, two towns that lost nearly everything, even concrete structures. All Hands and Hearts accepts “spontaneous” volunteers of all backgrounds and provides free on-the-job training. The Puerto Rico project is active and ready for folks who can spend a couple of weeks in either place. Norwegian Cruise lines has committed to a $2.5 million donation to help those affected by the hurricanes.
- Like to cook? Serve? Clean up? World Central Kitchen (WCK) needs you! At one point, WCK was the largest organization serving fresh meals after the hurricane–150,000 a day! Two million meals later, WCK has moved into a support phase, establishing satellite kitchens outside San Juan and working with farmers and local businesses to rebuild the economy. WCK trains chefs all over the world (hence, its name) and helps countries in many ways. Other current relief efforts are in Guatemala and Hawaii.
Be a donor! Can’t take two weeks off? Don’t have enough cash or stamina to get to Puerto Rico? I understand. But if we each give up one cappuccino or Big Mac, we can fund an organization that’s there and ready to pitch in. Any of the groups above will happily accept donations of any amount. All have tax exempt status under Federal Code 501 (C) (3), Section 1101.01 of the Puerto Rico Internal Revenue Code; your contribution may be deductible from your liable taxes for the corresponding tax contribution period.
If you’d like to know about other grassroots efforts on the island, check out Together Puerto Rico. You can find a group that matches your interests, as well as ways to help from your home, such as writing members of Congress or sending supplies by way of Amazon.com.
Hurricane season is back again…it will continue through the end of November. Please consider giving assistance of any kind to our friends and neighbors. Gracias!
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