Mercy Corps in Puerto Rico: Giving survivors necessities for life
KEEN has paired up with global humanitarian organization Mercy Corps to make a difference in the lives of people in need around the world this holiday season. For every pair of shoes purchased at keenfootwear.com from November 20 to December 24, we’re donating $5 to help rebuild communities, transform lives, and create lasting change. Here is one of five stories highlighting the power of possibility and human potential, and how Mercy Corps empowers individuals by connecting them to the resources they need to build better, stronger lives.
Written by Mercy Corps staff
Photographed by Ezra Millstein of Mercy Corps, and Jonathan Drake for Mercy Corps
As mosquitos buzz around Aide’s dark, dank home, she breaks into tears. Piles of plastic bags stuffed with wet clothes are stacked in a corner, while jagged pieces of her broken roof sit against a yellow mildewed wall.
Aide cleans houses for a living, when she can find work. She is raising seven children on her own, ranging in age from 11 to 26, and five of them still live with her. Helping others has been an important part of her family’s life. They have lived in San Juan’s Caño Martín Peña community for 22 years, and they are well-known for helping homeless people and others in need.
Aide offers up the small space next to their house, covered by a bedraggled white tarp, for church services every Sunday. Situated next to a canal which floods often, she and her neighbors are regularly exposed to pollutants from contaminated water and are vulnerable to the effects of ongoing environmental degradation. But Aide isn’t one to complain.
“Before the hurricane our lives were alright,” she says. “We’re a humble family… poor, but humble.”
For the first time I was really scared of a hurricane. I tried to stay calm because I didn’t want to make my kids worry.
When Hurricane Maria started lashing Puerto Rico with 155 mile-per-hour winds on September 20, Aide knew this storm was different from all the others she had lived through in her 45 years.
“For the first time I was really scared of a hurricane,” she says. “I tried to stay calm because I didn’t want to make my kids worry.”
As the storm approached, she sent her youngest children to stay at their godmother’s house, while she and her two eldest sons stayed in their house. The wind started wailing outside at 1 a.m., and pieces of corrugated metal started clattering down as her roof blew off. Trees violently crashed against her walls. As she huddled downstairs, holding hands with her children and praying, the storm tore away the top floor of her home, and then raged for nine more hours.
When the winds finally subsided and Aide ventured outside, her yard was strewn with the debris of her neighborhood. Remnants of her neighbors’ lives—houses, clothes and furniture—had been scattered like a puzzle dumped into the street. Friends and neighbors walked the neighborhood, dazed, unable to hold back tears when they saw what had happened to their neighborhood.
A desperate situation
Since the storm, relief has been hard to find. Aide hasn’t been able to find work, and her family has been without electricity, just like 91 percent of the island. Her house had nearly four inches of standing water after Maria. Though it starts to dry out a bit when the sun shines, the constant rain storms leak through her damaged ceiling and fill it with rainwater again.
Aide’s family have been sleeping on moldy couch cushions and hammocks on their balcony. Three out of every four families in Caño Martín Peña experienced flooding after the hurricane, and more than 800 homes lost their roofs or were destroyed.
“I know we just lost everything,” Aide says, “but the important thing is we’re alive.”
People lost everything. A flood of contaminated water? You can’t clean that.
– Imirse Orrusti Ramos
Weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, signs of the storm remain everywhere—from the remains of ruined homes strewn in the streets, to families lined up for hours to buy the basic supplies they desperately need.
With thousands of Puerto Ricans still without power and clean water, Mercy Corps is working with local organizations like Project ENLACE in San Juan’s Caño Martín Peña community to provide emergency cash cards so people can buy what they need most.
“People lost everything. A flood of contaminated water? You can’t clean that,” says Imirse Orrusti Ramos, Community Organizer in Caño Martín Peña. “They lost their mattresses, they lost everything.”
Meeting urgent needs
Aide was cleaning up debris in her yard when Mercy Corps staff arrived to give her a $150 cash card, as part of a distribution that was implemented in partnership with ENLACE. Aide used the cash card to buy basic items, such as water, canned goods, cooking oil, rice, bread, juice, cereal, chicken, laundry detergent, mosquito repellent, and other food and supplies to keep her family going.
Giving people cash injects money into the local economy while ensuring that families are able to meet their most urgent needs. Mercy Corps’ first emergency cash card distribution was in Caño Martín Peña: 158 people received nearly $25,000 total.
“I have been able to buy things that I didn’t think I would be able to buy,” Aide says. “Even if we don’t have a bed, now we have food. Even if we don’t have electricity, we have food.”
Mercy Corps provides cash-based aid to the most vulnerable households after a disaster or in an emergency, because it helps to increase independence, dignity and well-being, and allows beneficiaries to meet their most immediate needs, whatever they may be.
As mosquitos buzz around Aide, and tears trickle down her cheeks, she watches her children playing outside. “We have a lot of challenges and tests in life,” she says, “like this one we’re going through right now. But there are always angels that help us. I thank God because I know that this is God helping me through you.”
“These are tears of joy.”
To learn more about our holiday campaign and partnership with Mercy Corps, visit our Pair With Purpose campaign site. Thanks for pairing up with us to build a better world.