Mercy Corps in Puerto Rico: Rebuilding After Hurricane Maria
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 Jonathan Drake for Mercy Corps
From his neighbor’s rubble-filled yard, Luis, 54, peers over at the remains of his home, the place that had kept him safe through 10 other storms before Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico in September.
He was already in bed when Maria’s winds picked up that first night, rattling walls and tossing debris around like matchsticks. “A lot of people started screaming ‘Get out of there! The house will fall down!’” he recalls. “I had to get out.”
The only day I ever cried was that one.
Luis ran for cover in his neighbor’s garage. From there, he watched in horror as his home of more than three decades was split in half by 155-mph winds, pieces of nearby structures and fallen quenepa trees, and all his belongings were blown away.
“The only day that I ever cried was that one,” he says.
Months of recovery ahead
Nearly two months after the storm, the entire population of 3.4 million people has been affected. As of November 15, around 50 percent are still without power, 10 percent don't have access to clean water, hundreds of homes have been completely destroyed, and what remains is caked in the muddy remnants of contaminated flood water.
Luis is one of the people who was hit the hardest. Everything he owned — a bed, a TV, a fan and clothing — was taken by Maria. He’s been sleeping in his neighbor’s car while he tries to rebuild a small shelter near where his old house was, but progress is slow; he doesn’t have any money and can’t work right now.
For Luis and millions of others, the hurricane’s last winds weren’t the end, but the beginning — the first days of what will be months and years of rebuilding.
Mercy Corps knows from its experience responding to emergencies around the world that full recovery takes time, effort and coordination — and laying the foundation for rebuilding means ensuring people aren’t first struggling to meet their most basic needs.
Together with local organizations, Mercy Corps plans to distribute water filters, solar lamps and emergency cash to some of the island’s most vulnerable families, helping sustain them until they regain access to water and electricity. This assistance comes on the heels of nearly $50,000 in cash cards given to others in some of the most damaged neighborhoods to buy the things they need most.
The cash card was a lifeline for Luis, who purchased food and clothing with the money he received.
The spending allows individuals like him the opportunity to get the specific items they need to get back on their feet, while infusing money into the local economy — which helps restore jobs and jumpstart widespread community recovery.
Now that Luis is not worrying about where his next meal will come from, he can focus on what’s next: rebuilding his life.
“Thank you so much,” Luis says, as he once again scans the relics of his old house. The temporary room he’s building nearby — his first step toward recovery — is almost complete; he’ll move out of his neighbor’s car and into his new shelter tomorrow.
“Keep on coordinating and helping people,” he says. “You are truly helping people.”
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 make a difference this holiday season.