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An Island in Need

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— February 15, 2018

An Island in Need

  • Nature’s Plus and its employees help Puerto Rico after a devastating storm.
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After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, electricity and cell service were out over most of the island, so Elba Rivera, who lives in New York State, couldn’t reach her relatives at Isla Bella for over three weeks.

News reports suggested their region, near San Juan, might have been spared the worst, but as images of flooding and collapsed buildings appeared on television, it was nerve-wracking not to know how her cousins were faring.

When texts began to trickle through, Rivera learned they were fine. Although they still had no electricity, their concrete house had withstood the violent winds, and water in the streets had been pumped away.

Rivera is one of several Nature’s Plus employees who have family in Puerto Rico. They sent supplies to their relatives, and the company donated $3,000 to Save the Children’s Hurricane Maria Relief Fund for the children of Puerto Rico. A separate collection from individual employees added $485 to that sum.

Amid the devastation, people are better off if they are able to receive supplies from relatives in the US. “I asked my family what they needed,” said Rivera, the company’s accounting manager. “The phone jacks were working, so I sent them plug-in phones, batteries, flashlights. Fortunately, my cousin’s son is a pastor who could supply a lot of stuff they needed through churches. It’s easier for the church to receive things.”

In mid-December—110 days after the storm—Distribution Supervisor Angel Hyland reported, “Half of my relatives still have no electricity. They’re relying on generators I shipped from here. I was out of touch with them for almost nine days without knowing anything. They finally reached me through Facebook when they got WiFi. I know people who waited two months to find out if their relatives were alive.”

His family lives in Bayamón, on the northern coast. After a month, their electricity came on, but only from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. It’s off during the day so technicians can work on equipment.

“They prepared themselves,” Hyland says. “They had a lot of food, enough for a month and a half, and packs of water. Thank God—they were seven days without running water. Then they got water every three days. Now it’s back to normal, but there are suburbs and rural areas that still haven’t got any help.”

When Tomás Bruno in Facilities Maintenance reached his uncle in Caguas, the 90-year-old veteran, Juan Machado, told him the hurricane had been “a piece of cake.” But his aunt, Gladys, who’s 88, started crying, saying she was terrified listening to winds that sounded like they would blow the house away. The couple owns a little plot of land, but their banana trees, coffee trees, and chickens are all gone.

In the mountainous area where Bruno grew up, the rainforest has been devastated, and mountainside dirt roads have been wiped out by rock An Island in Need Nature’s Plus and its employees help Puerto Rico after a devastating storm. By Violet Snow Angel Hyland’s family in a restaurant called El Atilantado in Naranjito, Puerto Rico, which was destroyed during Hurricane Maria. 94 / DISCOVER LIFE / Winter 2018 Heroes.indd 94 1/18/2018 3:21:52 PM An Island in Need slides. “Most people there live off the land, and if the trees are gone, that’s it,” he says.

Bruno’s relatives have running water, but it’s not safe to drink, so they have to buy water. The US-based family members pooled their money and sent funds, via Western Union, and a package of canned food. “They received it,” Bruno said. “I was so glad. With all the corruption, I didn’t know if they were going to get it.”

But the Puerto Ricans are resourceful and optimistic. “They’re very positive they’ll get through this,” says Rivera. “There’s not a ‘woe is me’ type of attitude. It’s more like, ‘We got through this alive, so now we rebuild.’ You thank the Lord for giving strength, and you just go forward.”

Children suffer the most in emergencies, according to Save the Children, a non-profit founded in England in 1919 to aid children in war-ravaged central Europe. Today the group has branches around the world, addressing issues of poverty and springing into action when disasters strike. Susan Lange, Director of Human Resources at Nature’s Plus, said the company chose Save the Children because “they had a separate fund for the children of Puerto Rico, and we wanted to make sure the money was sent there. Save the Children is highly rated, and our company has a history of wanting to do something special for children in need.”

After Hurricane Maria, flooding and mudslides sent over 15,000 people into shelters, where children had to live alongside strangers. Erin Taylor of Save the Children says that three months later, hundreds of thousands of children were “still affected by unreliable water, electricity, roads, and access to school.” More than one-third of the island remained without electricity, and 14% of people were without water. Although many schools had opened, most were on abbreviated schedules, and few daycare facilities were functioning. Parents could not return to work without full school days, and roads in need of repair meant that schools were harder to access.

While other relief organizations address more general issues, Save the Children focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable family members. In Puerto Rico, Save the Children has distributed toys, diapers, blankets and lotions to families with children aged two and under. They have opened community-based children’s activity centers to take up the slack for closed or struggling daycare centers, and they have provided book bags with writing materials for children returning to school.

With the grid down, parents told relief workers it was hard to find recreational activities for their children. Therefore, the organization has been developing kits they can create to entertain kids while encouraging learning, exercise, and development of fine-motor skills.

“Emotional trauma, short-term and longer-term, is also a concern,” says Taylor. “The situation can be frightening. Children often have to leave their homes, are out of school and are ripped from their normal routines. We have been training teachers and caregivers to help children move beyond any trauma they’ve faced.”

Puerto Rico will recover, with the help of relief organizations, individuals who donate money or send supplies, and the grit and optimism of the Puerto Ricans themselves. One benefit emerging from the crisis is the development of solar power resources, which have helped hospitals and families who are unable to connect to the grid and will improve resilience in the future. But it may take a year or more for life there to return to normal.

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