Solar Technology Alleviating PovertyGivePower, founded in 2013 by Hayes Barnard, is a nonprofit organization whose aim is to use solar technology in alleviating poverty worldwide. The United Nations reports that, as of 2019, “over two billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about four billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.” These water-related stress levels are expected to rise with increased population growth and global economic development. Ultimately, yielding a rise in poverty.

Solar Technology: A Solution to Poverty

Solar technology presents a solution to this growing, global, water crisis. This is because solar technology holds the power to supply clean water and efficient energy systems to communities located in virtually any part of the world. Since 2013, GivePower has worked to help some of the world’s poorest countries gain access to a source of clean, renewable and resilient energy. This has in turn allowed for more readily available, clean drinking water, agricultural production and self-sustaining communities. For example, in 2018 alone, GivePower granted access to clean water, electricity and food to more than 30,000 people in five countries. Since its founding, GivePower has completed projects in the following six countries:

  1. Nicaragua: Though education through the primary stages is mandatory for Nicaraguans, school enrollment numbers are low. During its first-ever, solar microgrid installation in 2014, GivePower, recognized the importance of education. In this vein, GivePower shifted its resources toward powering a school in El Islote, Nicaragua. The school’s enrollment has improved tremendously, now offering classes and resources for both children and adults.
  2. Nepal: In Nepal, access to electricity has increased by nearly 10% for the entire Nepalese population, since GivePower began installing solar microgrids in 2015. Installation occurred throughout various parts of the country. Rural villages now have access to electricity — allowing schools, businesses, healthcare services, agricultural production and other forms of technology to prosper. Part of GivePower’s work in Nepal includes installing a 6kW microgrid on a medical clinic in a rural community, ensuring essential services.
  3. Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): During 2016, the GivePower team reached the DRC, where civil war has ended in a struggle for both people and the country’s wildlife. The DRC is home to many of the world’s endangered species, making protection of the country’s wildlife essential. GivePower has successfully installed solar panels for ranger stations in one of Africa’s oldest national parks. In this way, wildlife thrives. This power provides a means for rangers to meet their basic needs and increases the likelihood that rangers can protect wildlife.
  4. Puerto Rico: In 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful category four hurricane, devastated Puerto Rico. The disaster left many without shelter, food, power or clean water for months. GivePower intervened, installing solar microgrids and reaching more than 23,000 people. The organization provided individual water purification systems to families without access to clean drinking water and installed solar microgrids. In this effort, the main goals were to restore and encourage more disaster relief, emergency and medical services. Furthermore, the refrigeration of food and medication and the continuation of educational services were paramount in these efforts.
  5. Kenya: Typically, only about 41% of Kenyans have access to clean water for fulfilling basic human needs. Notably, about 9.4 million Kenyans drink directly from contaminated surface water. During 2018, using solar technology in alleviating poverty, GivePower provided electricity to Kenyans living in Kiunga. Moreover, GivePower also increased access to clean water through a large-scale, microgrid water desalination farm. The water farm provides clean water for about 35,000 Kenyans, daily. The organization has also reached the Namunyak Wildlife Conservatory located in Samburu, Kenya. There, GivePower installed solar panels to ensure refrigeration and communications at the conservatory.
  6. Colombia: In 2019, GivePower installed solar microgrids in Colombia to preserve one of the country’s most famous cultural heritage sites. Moreover, the microgrids helped to support research conducted in the area. The grids installed have been able to sustain a 100-acre research field and cold storage units.

Solar Technology Alleviating Poverty: Today and Tomorrow

Renewable, clean and resilient energy has granted many populations the ability to innovate. In this way, other basic, yet vital human needs are met. Using solar technology alone in alleviating poverty has been enough to create water farms that provide clean water to thousands. With water and energy for innovation — agricultural production flourishes. This, in turn, addresses hunger issues while also working toward economic development. Having already touched the lives of more than 400,000 people, GivePower and solar technology present a promising solution in alleviating global poverty.

Stacy Moses
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and United States territory which has struggled with poverty long before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, of Puerto Rico’s 3.2 million people, 43.1% of the total population and 57% of children lived in poverty. For comparison, the U.S. national poverty rate was drastically lower at 13.1%. Poverty in Puerto Rico has become a chronic issue as a long-term recession resulted in massive debt. The island has also endured multiple disasters, the most recent being Hurricane Maria and COVID-19. These hardships have weakened Puerto Rico’s economy, infrastructure and health systems and have left vulnerable groups even more susceptible to poverty. However, Puerto Ricans have demonstrated remarkable resilience and current efforts are helping to improve this situation. Here are three factors perpetuating poverty and COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, and what some are doing to change these circumstances for the better.

Recession

While external factors have exacerbated poverty in Puerto Rico, the current crisis has been building in conjunction with a decade-long recession. Economic growth fell by 10% between 2004 and 2018, with an unemployment rate above 8% and a declining population compounding this deficiency. Some elements such as the encouragement of Puerto Rico’s reliance on U.S. loans to fill federal funding gaps, a 1996 change that mandated Puerto Rican businesses begin paying taxesin contrast to their previous tax-free status under the Internal Revenue Code Section 936and the 2008 financial crisis, which further lowered tax revenues and caused large-scale unemployment, have mainly fueled this debt crisis. These issues have culminated to create massive debt and a chronic recession that has exacerbated poverty within the territory.

The most notable improvement effort occurred with the creation of the 2016 Puerto Rico Oversight, Management and Economic Sustainability Act (PROMESA), which oversees Puerto Rico’s finances and works to restructure its debt. In 2019, PROMESA announced a plan to reduce the island’s debt by one-third to enable it to function under less financial stress and better support people in need.

Hurricane Maria

In addition to this long-term recession, the country’s vulnerability to severe hurricanes has perpetuated poverty in Puerto Rico. The most recent hurricane was also the most destructive in nearly a century. Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, and its destruction created lasting consequences. In addition to destroying thousands of homes and causing $94.4 billion in infrastructural damage, Maria wiped out about 80% of the island’s agriculture. Immediately following the hurricane, 100% of the island lost power for months and lacked access to necessary items including water, food, medicine and fuel. Though the U.S. government has promised increased funding to help fix the island’s damaged infrastructure, repairs have been slow and people are advocating for increased disaster relief funding.

Puerto Rico has repaired much of its infrastructure and widely improved living conditions. Meanwhile, the return of tourism has helped boost the economy in the three years following Hurricane Maria. Efforts by nonprofits and citizen groups have also helped bring attention to the issues that remain and attract funding to transform temporary band-aids into long-term solutions.

COVID-19

Three years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is now facing a daunting new crisis: COVID-19. The declining population, a long-term recession and extensive hurricane damage have left Puerto Rico with a largely poor and elder population, both factors that increase vulnerability to the disease. Following Hurricane Maria, the portion of the population over age 65 increased from 14% in 2008 to 21% in 2018 as many working-age adults sought better employment opportunities in the U.S. mainland.

The high poverty level is affecting the quality of life during quarantine, as Puerto Rico has not rebuilt many homes following Hurricane Maria. Meanwhile, those who previously struggled financially are now jobless.

Due to its status as a territory, the U.S. federal government does not prioritize Puerto Rico in terms of crisis management. Although Puerto Rico receives federal funding to support critical programs such as Medicaid, this funding is insufficient under regular circumstances and does not adapt to meet Puerto Rico’s unique needs. Puerto Rico has received some extra provisions under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, however, including stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits and temporarily increased Medicaid funding. However, these funds comprise only a fraction of what states receive. Advocates for Puerto Rico urge policymakers to consider the fact that Puerto Rico entered the pandemic in a more vulnerable position than the U.S. when determining whether to extend funding.

Potential for a Better Future

Puerto Rico’s experience with frequent disasters has taught citizens to be self-sufficient and prepare for when disaster strikes. This silver lining helped the island quickly transition into lockdown in early March 2020, and citizens and organizations quickly acted in times of need to disburse basic necessities and medical supplies around the island to the sick and elderly.

The disasters that Puerto Rico continues to experience ravages the small island and further plunges residents into poverty. However, some are executing significant efforts to improve the territory’s infrastructure, health care systems and general living conditions. To effectively combat the factors perpetuating poverty and COVID-19 in Puerto Rico, plans to reduce debt and boost the economy are on the horizon.

– Angelica Smyrnios
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a United States territory located east of Cuba with the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea surrounding it. This beautiful tropical paradise is a land of wonder with picturesque landscapes for tourists and residents alike. However, behind this convincing guise is the reality of poverty and illness that plagues the country. With 43% of Puerto Rico living in poverty, the healthcare system is a system of great importance as it acts as a crutch to those living in poverty. Here is some information about healthcare in Puerto Rico.

Medicaid in Puerto Rico

Medicaid in Puerto Rico serves approximately half of Puerto Rico’s population of 3.2 million people. The Medicaid program in Puerto Rico is an outlier in comparison to other U.S. states, having to supply healthcare to those in need while facing shortages of doctors and funds. The annual healthcare budget in Puerto Rico is $367 million as of 2019, however, estimates determine that expenditures are closer to $2.8 billion.

Additionally, the Medicaid program operates on a Managed Care system. This system helps to manage cost, utilization and quality, making healthcare in Puerto Rico more affordable and offering better utilization of health resources.

Additional Funding

The Affordable Care Act, section 2005, provided the Medicaid program in Puerto Rico with $5.4 billion in additional Medicaid funding from July 1, 2011, to Sept 30, 2019. Puerto Rico also received an additional $925 million in funds to establish a healthcare market. The country had to exhaust Previous Affordable Care Act funds before it could use additional funds. The Affordable Care Act is a health reform law that passed in March 2010. The law has three goals including increasing the availability of affordable health insurance, expanding the coverage of the Medicaid program to cover adults below 138% of the federal poverty line and supporting innovative methods of medical care delivery to decrease costs of healthcare.

Doctors Leaving the Country

While medical professions receive respect and high pay in the U.S., this is not necessarily true for Puerto Rico. In fact, many Puerto Ricans enter the medical field so they can one day migrate to the mainland U.S.A. According to the Economic Research Institute, the annual average income for a Family Doctor is $194,307, while the U.S. average is $237,000.

Another issue that doctors in Puerto Rico are facing is the scarcity of medical equipment and personnel, often resulting in prolonged waiting times for appointments. According to Vox, the waitlist can take “as long as four to six months to see professionals,” a direct result of Puerto Rico losing approximately 15% of all medical personnel on the island.

Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons

Shortages in medical personnel and lack of funding have increased wait times and created shortages of medical supplies in Puerto Rico. Thankfully, the Puerto Rico College of Physician and Surgeons is working to combat these challenges. This organization emerged through Law 77 in 1994 and is mandatory for all students pursuing a career in the medical field. The Puerto Rican government uses it to provide doctors where people need them most. The Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons ensures that doctors studying in Puerto Rico serve there for sometime before finding opportunities elsewhere. As of 2016, the organization has lost approximately 4,000 members to the “temptation in accepting one of those lucrative job offers,” shrinking the number of members from 14,000 to 10,000.

Jaideliz Moreno

The state and quality of healthcare in Puerto Rico have fallen as the years pass by, proving to negatively affect the population. On a seemingly average day in Vieques, a small island off the coast of mainland Puerto Rico, Jaideliz Moreno developed flu-like symptoms. This is a common issue that people face on the mainland U.S.A., but it was a life or death situation for Jaideliz. This was because Vieques, recovering from the destruction that Hurricane Maria caused in 2017, lacked a proper hospital. A small clinic for veterans alongside a labor and delivery room has replaced the hospital that Hurricane Maria destroyed. The small clinic named Susana Centeno Community Health Center lacked the medical supplies necessary to cure 13-year-old Jaideliz Moreno. A helicopter rushed her to mainland Puerto Rico but she died on the way there.

FEMA —Federal Emergency Management Agency— is an agency that strives to support citizens and first responders to show that as a nation we work better together in the face of adversity and disaster. As of January 2020, FEMA has approved $39.5 million to fund the Susana Centeno Community Health Center until a permanent hospital in Vieques is built. As of now, there is no projected completion date of the Vieques hospital.

Healthcare in Puerto Rico is a developing system in need of vital resources and proper funding. This kind of support is key to the growth and improvement of Puerto Rico’s medical work.

– Ernesto Gaytan
Photo: Flickr


As a global pandemic continues to impact the lives and safety of millions, many nations are working to prevent the spread of the virus. However, available resources differ across countries and regions. On March 12, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency, mandating an island curfew from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. This curfew was lifted on June 11 and shifted to 10:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. for two additional weeks. As of June 2020, there are approximately 6,500 cases in Puerto Rico, with the number of deaths resting at 149. Besides the imposed curfew, here are six ways Puerto Rico has handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

6 Ways Puerto Rico Implemented COVID-19 Prevention Measures:

  1. On March 12, the Puerto Rican government banned social gatherings until further notice. Incoming travelers were immediately screened upon arrival. The first cases of COVID-19 were reported the day following the enforcement of these restrictions.
  2. Before social distancing guidelines were even established, Puerto Rico completely shut down everything except essential businesses. Additionally, even amid the gradual reopening strategies for businesses, the curfew remained. Travel to Puerto Rico was limited, and cruises were suspended. The territory was even granted permission to close airports and block flights.
  3. Through the Federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, Puerto Rico received approximately $2 billion. It was granted these payments for various anti-coronavirus purposes, including purchasing testing kits and sending stimulus checks to unemployed citizens during the lockdown.
  4. On April 30, a slow and gradual reopening procedure began. Face masks were required at any public location, regardless if it was outside or inside. On May 11, construction and public workers were able to return to work after being educated on safety protocols.
  5. On May 26, restaurants were able to open at 25% capacity. Salons and barbers were able to work by appointment only with strict safety guidelines. Retail stores were also able to open with strict guidelines such as restricting customers from trying on clothes. On June 8, malls were granted access to open at limited capacity.
  6. Also beginning May 26, beaches were permitted to open between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. with social distancing guidelines. Shortly afterward, on June 16, movie theaters and bars could open as well. Additionally, businesses were allowed to shift to 50% capacity. On June 15, flights to Puerto Rico opened back up while screening anyone who flies in.

Puerto Rico showed its strength as a nation by locking down earlier than other countries worldwide. Puerto Rico actively took preventative measures to provide its citizens with quick and efficient procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing panic. Because of state officials’ valiant efforts, the territory was able to reopen at an earlier date. The manner in which Puerto Rico handled the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic exemplifies how to implement COVID-19 prevention measures and reduce cases worldwide. With continued efforts such as these, Puerto Rico may be one of the leading nations in administrating anti-coronavirus steps.

Kimberly Elsey
Photo: Flickr

natural disastersWithin the past few years, natural disasters have been occurring more frequently with increasing intensity. Examples of natural disasters include hurricanes, floods, droughts, landslides and earthquakes. The greater the impact, the higher the mortality rate. This results in a higher level of destruction and trauma for those in the region. It is estimated that natural disasters cost the government around “a third of a trillion dollars” to rebuild communities and provide resources for the public.

Natural Disasters in Developing Countries

Natural disasters affect developing countries the most because many lack the resources and funding to protect their communities adequately. Families in developing countries do not live in homes prepared to withstand such disasters. As a result, many face displacement under these tragic circumstances.

Although natural disasters damage communities and put many people through challenging situations, several organizations prioritize bringing relief to these communities. UNICEF, Habitat for Humanity and International Relief Teams are some that focus on bringing resources to developing countries.

3 Organizations Bringing Aid to Developing Countries

  1. Habitat for Humanity: With more than 40 years of experience, Habitat for Humanity focuses on building safe and affordable housing for those affected by natural disasters. Its disaster preparation plan focuses on disaster risk reduction training, disaster-resistant construction and community preparation. In Puerto Rico, 99% of homes do not have flood insurance. In 2017, hurricanes destroyed 90% of the homes there. The organization created 2,000 solar panels, 2,000 solar lanterns and 2,000 shelter repair kits to provide residents with essential repairs. In a partnership with World Vision, Habitat for Humanity also repaired and built homes for 2oo families in the Dominican Republic.
  2. UNICEF: When natural disasters occur, UNICEF is one of the first responders. It provideswater purification tablets, vaccines and nutritional supplements for children and nursing mothers.” It also supplies school kits, temporary shelter and trauma counseling. The organization helps displaced children who may have lost their way looking for shelter reunite with their parents. After Mozambique’s country was swept over by a cyclone in March 2019, UNICEF assisted many families with urgent needs, focusing on malnutrition prevention and locating children who may have been left orphaned. It also helped get children back into school. Within a month, UNICEF gave cholera vaccinations to 900,000 people and restored Beira’s water supply for 500,00 people. It also helped fight malaria by providing 500,000 mosquito nets.
  3. International Relief Teams: In September 2019, category 5 hurricane Dorian devastated the Bahamas before heading towards the United States. In the Bahamas, 43 people died. During this time, the International Relief Teams provided the Bahamas with 5,000 tarps for temporary shelter, 21,024 ready-to-eat meals. It also set up 158 generators and 2,000 solar lights. The hurricane also destroyed around 45% of homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco. With the help of donations, however, the organization hired local laborers to help rebuild more than 100 homes.

During trying situations and natural disasters, humanity has a miraculous gift of coming together and taking care of one another. Whether providing critical resources or rebuilding homes, many organizations go out of their way to help others.

Paola Quezada
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of the Dominican Republic. A population of 3.194 million resides in Puerto Rico and represents more than 0.04% of the world population, yet many are living in severe levels of poverty to this day. Puerto Rico has been dynamic and competitive when it comes to its local economies until recent years. Its economy now relies mostly on aid from the United States government. Here are seven facts about poverty in Puerto Rico.

7 Facts About Poverty in Puerto Rico

  1. More than 44% of the population of Puerto Rico lives in poverty, compared to the national U.S. average of approximately 12%. That is 1.4 million Puerto Rican citizens in comparison to 39.3 million U.S. citizens. Puerto Rico relies mainly on financial and federal aid from the U.S. government because it has ties to the U.S. as a U.S. colony. As a result, the country often struggles to independently support itself.
  2. Before the recent hurricanes, around 1.5 million of the Puerto Rican population suffered from food insecurity. The child food insecurity rate was 56%, which is 281,335 Puerto Rican children. The main reason for food insecurity is that hurricane season often hits Puerto Rico rather hard, and its access to imported goods only comes from the U.S. There are local countries and islands surrounding that are willing to help, but due to the ruling that Puerto Rico can only receive U.S. goods, these essential goods have higher tax rates. To improve this, the Puerto Rican governor organized committees to correspond with third party task forces in the U.S. to ship essential supplies over, especially after Hurricane Maria.
  3. Hurricane Maria, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, made landfall on September 20, 2017. It compounded the destruction that Hurricane Irma caused just weeks before, affecting residential living, wildlife and everything in between. For example, areas that Hurricane Maria hit left homes without a proper roof, even over 600 days after the hurricane. Infrastructure damage can only receive so many repairs, as when hurricane season returns less than a year later, Puerto Rico often lacks proper recovery and preparation. An NGO aid project called All Hands Volunteers kickstarted to gut and remove debris, as well as demolish unsafe structures and repair cement roofing. It operates out of two cities, Barranquitas and Yabucoa.
  4. A year after Hurricane Maria, 10s of thousands in Puerto Rico are still living under blue tarps, designed as temporary roofs. This is the result of a lack of funds, resources and helping hands to Puerto Rico during its greatest and most desperate time of need. To improve this, task forces in U.S. states like Florida have been using small charter planes to import essential goods and supplies to bring relief and rebuild as best as possible. This is necessary even years after the initial storm.
  5. Families are struggling to find work to afford food, water, shelter and resources to rebuild their homes. Whether families have a solid income or not, it is apparent that most are food insecure to this day as a result of the storm. This is especially accurate when 80% of the island or 2.5 million people were without electricity for over a year after the hurricane. People also only have employment from establishments that are still standing or that people rebuilt.
  6. Due to the living conditions of the island, several thousand citizens have moved out of Puerto Rico and have yet to return. This could mean that they flew to stay with family in the U.S. or had to find work and shelter elsewhere with short notice. Some left temporarily, and others have yet to return to their homes due to a lack of funds for repairs. Puerto Rico wants to avoid further devastation and harm to its citizens during the season.
  7. While Puerto Rico is still recovering, the damage it experienced could have been much worse. The citizens still living on the island have shown compassion, resilience and teamwork toward one another. Without water or power, the people have shown great strength and support through waiting for recovery assistance, both financially and physically. This shows that against all odds, the citizens of Puerto Rico have managed to come back with all the strength they could muster to rebuild and recover.

Poverty in Puerto Rico is minimizing gradually and it is thanks to the help and assistance from the citizens of the United States standing alongside the island. These seven facts about poverty in Puerto Rico have shown that hurricane season will always have a destructive impact, but with continued assistance, poverty in Puerto Rico can reduce.

– Kimberly Elsey
Photo: Flickr

How an Earthquake affected Homelessness in Puerto Rico
An earthquake registering at a 6.4 magnitude struck Puerto Rico on January 7, 2020. Consequently, families are still reeling from its destruction and records state that it was the strongest earthquake in a century. The aftermath of the earthquake has been unbelievable, causing the homelessness in Puerto Rico to spike. Currently, almost 5,000 residents had to move to homeless shelters. Also, there was at least $110 million worth of damage. In addition to the damage, a mass power outage occurred as a result of the earthquake. Reports indicated that nearly all of Puerto Rico did not have access to power.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the 6.4 Magnitude Earthquake

The last earthquake to register as strong as this one happened in October 1918. That earthquake registered at a magnitude of 7.3 and it took the lives of 116 people.

The latest earthquake has caused havoc throughout Puerto Rico. The aftermath led to 950 earthquakes and aftershocks throughout the area. This has caused even more issues for those who were already going through hardships. Moreover, these aftershocks caused people to evacuate from their homes and seek new places of shelter. Over 200 people took shelter in a nearby gym after an earthquake on Monday, January 6, 2020. However, the 6.4 magnitude earthquake damaged that building and the citizens had to evacuate again.

Homelessness in Puerto Rico After the Hurricanes

The aftermath of Hurricane Maria in September 2017 placed 10,000 people in shelters all across Puerto Rico. The island is still reeling from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, as thousands are still homeless and struggling as a result of it. The total damage after Hurricane Maria was around $100 billion.

After the earthquake in early 2020, 5,000 residents remained in homeless shelters even after Puerto Rico restored power. In addition, there are still others who choose to sleep outside of their homes, in order to avoid the damage from aftershocks.

Tourism

The country is planning to use tourism to get the economy back on track and reduce the alarming rate of homelessness in Puerto Rico. Ricardo Rossello and his administration are attempting to encourage visitors to continue to visit the island. They want visitors to continue to show their support for the Island as tourism is vital to recovering the economy.

IsraAID

IsraAID came to the rescue to provide aid for those homeless due to the damage of the 6.4 magnitude earthquake in Puerto Rico in early 2020. This organization has been assisting and helping around Puerto Rico since the devastation that Hurricane Maria caused in 2017. Some teams have been in Puerto Rico since the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

In early 2020, IsraAID initially went to the heart of the damage that the 6.4 magnitude earthquake caused to evaluate and determine what its first steps of assistance should be. It determined where teams should go to provide first aid, clean water, sanitation and psychological assistance.

In the case of Hurricane Maria, IsraAID and other volunteers provided food and water to over 6,000 citizens in six different communities throughout Puerto Rico. The organization set up its own mobile clinics and assisted hundreds of citizens in the poorest areas throughout Puerto Rico. Since this was one of the most catastrophic storms in history, there were a lot of mental health issues related to this event. IsraAID provided mental health treatments and psychological support and assistance to citizens.

Initially, IsraAID set out to assist and help in any way that it could. Since then, its efforts have extended into maintaining resiliency against natural disasters. The organization started working on two projects after Hurricane Maria to ensure and create resilience, working with nearby schools and creating a clean water filtration system in the remote community of El Real.

The current 6.4 magnitude earthquake caused chaos adding up to $110 million worth of damage along with increasing homelessness to 5,000 residents. Tourism could help the economy of Puerto Rico recover while Israeli nonprofit organization IsraAID has been of huge assistance to the residents of Puerto Rico. With continued support, Puerto Rico should be able to reduce its homelessness and improve its economy in the aftermath of its most recent devastating earthquakes.

Jamal Patterson
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Puerto Rico
Mental health is at the forefront with many other illnesses and disabilities. It can in many ways be just as dangerous if not more dangerous than physical disabilities or illnesses if it does not receive treatment. Mental health issues do not only affect the individual suffering from the illness but also the family and loved ones around. Many countries experience high levels of mental illness in all of its extremities. Mental health in Puerto Rico has become a serious conversation among the island’s people.

Mental Health in Puerto Rico

A study published in April 2019, determined the ongoing mental health impact that Hurricane Maria had on the island’s children. Much of the talk about mental health on the island is closely related to the storm. Researchers from the Puerto Rico Department of Education and the Medical University of South Carolina collaborated to study and examine the storm’s effects on the people’s well-being. A significant amount of public school students ranging from third grade to twelfth grade and lived through the storm participated in the study. About 7.2 percent of them showed clinical symptoms of PTSD.

Many regard the mental state of a country’s youth as crucial. For this reason, a group of volunteers from Fundacion Pro Ayuda de Puerto Rico or the Puerto Rico Help Foundation allied with Departamento de la Familia (Family Department) and started a project in 1997. The project’s name was Hogar Santa Maria de Los Angeles or Santa Maria de Los Angeles House.

Fundacion Santa Maria de Los Angeles (FSMA)

The Foundation’s original purpose was to give housing to young pregnant girls who lacked family support and socioeconomic resources. The name of the organization later changed to Fundacion Santa Maria de Los Angeles (FSMA). It reflects that the organization intends to provide help and care as a nonprofit organization and not just by providing housing.

FSMA benefits from donations that private organizations and the government of Puerto Rico make. It also receives individual or personal donations. Throughout the years, FSMA has adjusted to the times and necessities of youth. It offers new services to new communities with at-risk kids. It is one of the most trusted centers with the most complete help, prevention, training and therapy programs on the island.

FSMA’s Success

One of the greatest achievements that the Foundation has had is the decrease of teenage pregnancies at three schools in San Juan. Executive Director, Jose A Benitez-Gorbea states that “these three schools had an average of six pregnancies per year.” The organization made a module for every school semester centered on safe sex.

FSMA taught about protection, the risks and consequences of actions. The three schools began to have positive results and attained the goal of complete eradication of teenage pregnancies. The seminars also encouraged pregnant adolescents and motivated many away from depression. Today, none of the schools that participated in the Foundation’s program have a single occurrence of teenage pregnancy.

In the year 2018, FSMA helped 9,800 people that hurricanes Irma and Maria affected. It also provided aid to 500 people a month through its seminars. Its goal is to create a better standard of life for all and awareness of mental health throughout Puerto Rico.

FSMA’s Services

There is a necessity to create awareness regarding mental health in Puerto Rico. Some communities are vulnerable to mental illnesses because they do not have the resources to pay for medical services and psychological therapy. FSMA’s mission is to help and offer a safe place with room and board. It provides “food, objects of primary necessity, medical and psychological assistance and love,” said Jose A Benitez Gorbea.

Schools, public housing and other communities hold seminars on prevention and education on subjects that affect today’s youth. The subject matters that the seminars cover include bullying, suicide, depression, anxiety, self-esteem, self-care, responsible sex, management of emotions and how to maintain a healthy social life among others.

FSMA’s Team

The team includes a group of professionals dedicated to mental health. Two psychologists are responsible for clinical supervision and the coordination of the other positions. There is also one social worker in charge of the records who also helps with crisis intervention. FSMA collaborates with the Universidades Interamericana and Carlos Albizu of San Juan. There is a training clinic center where 15 students from these universities do their clinical practice to obtain their doctorates. Theses students offer seminars and work every day with patients in therapy.

In the administrative sector, there is an executive director, an assistant administrator and a service helper. “There is also a huge help which also comes from fifteen volunteers. Eleven belong to the union of directors and four are individual volunteers. These volunteers are in charge of making fundraising activities possible,” said Jose A Benitez-Gorbea.

The Future

FSMA is one of many organizations that is aware of the importance of mental health in Puerto Rico. It began assisting the physical, emotional and psychological needs of pregnant adolescents over 20 years ago. Today, it continues to provide support and care. FSMA eradicates teenage pregnancies in lower-income public schools in San Juan. It also facilitates the improvement of the emotional and psychological conditions of many kids. FSMA puts a stop to suicide, mutilation and risky behavior. The Foundation supports encourages and influences the island’s youth. FSMA believes that the youth of the country relies on the future.

Francisco Benitez
Photo: Flickr

IsraAID Responds to Global Crises
Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, the nonprofit organization IsraAID responds to global crises, such as natural disasters and poverty, and sends teams of volunteers to help those in need. After its founding in 2001, IsraAID responded to crises in over 50 different countries. Its expertise in crisis relief includes emergency aid distributions, pinpoint trauma support and prevention training for local government and non-government professionals. These are some of the global crises IsraAID has responded to:

Typhoon Ketsana in the Philippines

IsraAID sent its first mission to the Philippines after Typhoon Ketsana in 2009. Working in collaboration with local partner Operation Blessing International, IsraAID dispatched a team of nurses and doctors to assist in the emergency medical operations. In 2013, another typhoon devastated the Philippines, killing over 6,000 people, injuring more than 28,000 and affecting over 16 million people overall. IsraAID responded within 48 hours with its medical team on the ground less than four days after the event. It spent the first three days of its efforts assisting the local health workers in one of the many hospitals the typhoon had destroyed. After that, IsraAID spent the next two years operating with the local government, instigating programs in medical support, psychotherapy and the rebuilding of the fallen cities.

Earthquake in Nepal

After a major earthquake left Nepal in ruins back in 2015, IsraAID sent a team to help the local police force locate survivors and provide emergency medical treatment. This was a relief to the local authorities and medical personnel outnumbered by the number of injuries and the chaos that ensued. Working alongside the authorities and an emergency response from the Israeli Defense Forces, IsraAID volunteers risked their lives to save and treat the survivors who the rubble had trapped. IsraAID not only provided the immediate essentials of food, water, shelter and medical aid to the Nepalese but also focused its efforts on long-term recovery via farming, fishing and a new supply of clean water. It also provided psychosocial services to the victims, helping them cope with and build resilience in the wake of the tragedy.

The Dadaab Refugee Camp and Famine in Kenya

Since 2007, IsraAID has been sending emergency relief teams to the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya—the largest refugee camp in the world—to aid the victims running from violence and famine. Later in 2011, when a drought caused one of the worst famines to ever strike the Horn of Africa, IsraAID returned to Kenya with a distribution of food and relief items for the refugees and locals still suffering from hunger and chaos. It also offered that same assistance to the people of Turkana, Kenya’s poorest county. IsraAID has maintained a steady presence in Kenya since 2013, helping those in poverty and the refugee camp with medical treatment, water management and psychosocial support.

Refugee Crisis in Greece

During the refugee crisis in 2015, IsraAID responded by sending a team of volunteers to Greece. Special mobile units provided immediate medical and psychosocial aid, distributed supplies and identified particularly vulnerable groups, such as children. IsraAID volunteers also rescued refugees whose boats had capsized and provided sleeping bags to anyone who had to sleep on the ground. Throughout the crisis, the volunteers provided food, clothing, medicine and hygiene kits to the refugees, as well as psychotherapy training to the local government and non-government professionals so that it could better care for the traumatized population.

Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

After Hurricane Maria devastated the Puerto Rican population in 2017, IsraAID responded with a Spanish-fluent team of psychosocial and medical support, as well as experts in water and sanitation. At the time, the country’s poverty rate was 43.5 percent and the unemployment rate at 10.3 percent, on top of 95 percent of the populace losing electricity as a result of the storm. IsraAID provided emergency relief programs in the distribution of food, water and basic supplies, medical treatment and mental support. The team then shifted focus to long-term recovery and implemented a system to provide water and sanitation to the people of Puerto Rico.

The aforementioned countries and many others have benefitted greatly from IsraAID’s support, and IsraAID responds to global crises to this day. The organization has even established ongoing training programs for water management, psychosocial services and other relief efforts in the countries listed above, as well as in Japan, South Korea, Haiti, Jordan and South Sudan. As IsraAID responds to global crises, those in need have a chance to lead better lives.

– Yael Litenatsky
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in the Puerto Rican Government
On July 10, 2019, Puerto Ricans had proof that their government was as corrupt as they suspected. The Center of Investigative Journalism leaked a chat from the Telegram app between the governor, Ricardo Rossello, and some of his past and current members of staff. With hundreds of pages as evidence, the people of Puerto Rico found the group making vulgar, racist and homophobic comments towards several people. Although some say the corruption has been years in the making, it was the leaked 889 pages of content that took down the Rossello administration. Most of all, the corruption scheme that led to millions of dollars of the public’s funds going to the administration’s personal bank accounts became known, showing the corruption in the Puerto Rican government.

The Situation

The conversations between Elias Sanchez, Edwin Miranda and Carlos Bermudez in the chat reveal that a multimillionaire network of corruption had taken place. On paper, they operated as private citizens and contractors, but in reality, they hold more power than any of the secretaries in the constitutional government, according to the Center of Investigative Journalism.

Along with different companies and institutions, they managed to keep the country in poverty. One example is Unidos Por Puerto Rico, an organization that Rossello’s administration created. It seeks to find hurricane relief aid after the past natural disasters. The organization obtained $14 million in aid but no one really knows how the organization spent that money. Whenever someone made a donation, they would get a receipt from a company that Edwin Miranda, one of the men behind the corruption, owns.

After two hurricanes, there was a recession economically. A lot of companies, local businesses and schools closed down due to lack of funds and supplies. Puerto Ricans had to turn their attention to their own survival. Despite the people’s endurance, several compartments full of supplies sat untouched and covered in rat excrement, according to Radio Isla. Among the reported expired supplies were water, medicines, baby food and others. Although Rossello’s administration did not confirm it, locals believe that La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion, held compartments for themselves. One of the main causes for the sudden death toll was because of the lack of supplies and aid the people of Puerto Rico received.

The Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

In early December 2017, a few months after Hurricane Maria, the government’s official death count was 64 people. The chat leak revealed that they were manipulating the media with a very low death count, another fact that shows the corruption in the Puerto Rican government. However, eventually, independent researchers started to question the official death count. The New England Journal of Medicine estimated 4,645 excess deaths following the natural disaster, but it could not confirm this because of the lack of forensic scientists. To this day, there are cadavers still in forensics because the government has not been able to get the resources to properly examine them.

The Puerto Rican Protests

Through the reveal of all the injustice, the people of Puerto Rico have protested, and after almost four weeks, their efforts produced results. On August 2, 2019, Ricardo Rossello resigned his post as governor and the other members of the chat have either resigned their post in government or taken some time off. The Secretary of Justice, Wanda Vazquez, has since become the governor. The people of Puerto Rico cheered to their victory with a new hope of ending the corruption in the Puerto Rican government and to reduce the poverty.

– Andrea Viera
Photo: Flickr