By Jisabelle Garcia-Pedroso, Food For The Poor GIK Procurement Manager
After I attended a wonderful family reunion in Juana Diaz, Puerto Rico over the New Year’s holiday and Three Kings Day, my family and I awoke on January 7 at 4:25 a.m. to a violent 6.8 magnitude earthquake that would imprint a feeling I would never forget.
Now, just 42 days after experiencing the earthquake, I returned to my homeland in February, not just as a daughter of the island that raised me, but as a humanitarian aid worker with Food For The Poor.
I can’t explain what it feels like for me to touch ground in Puerto Rico, but it’s as if memories flood my being when I breathe in the mix of earth and salt in the air with 100% humidity. It’s everything! But everything also comes with a bittersweet feeling of witnessing the trauma of those in the southwest part of the island affected by two major events: Hurricane Maria in 2017, and the earthquake earlier this year.
Food For The Poor’s February visit to Puerto Rico was led by Proyecto VIDAS Episcopal Social Services, one of our partners on the island, and our donor, MAP International. We distributed disaster hygiene kits, children’s pain relief medicine, food, baby diapers, water, and primary care supplies to three government shelters in Peñuelas, Yauco, and Guánica. We also visited an improvised medical tent in Guayanilla created by Dr. Enid Santos Cintron, a doctor who lost her home in the earthquake. Dr. Santos Cintron quickly found a way to continue to treat her patients and those in the surrounding community while she slept outside.
It wasn’t until we visited the final distribution site in Guánica that I really saw the extent of the trauma felt by so many, especially a woman named Cynthia.
Cynthia’s story is a common one. After the earthquake, she lived outside her home for days until a shelter became available. But soon after the earthquake, she mobilized to help others.
“I have always been a giving person. I put others before myself. But now, when things have calmed down, I see the reality that we are all living in and it’s hard to come to this reality,” says Cynthia.
Cynthia loves the home she created with her husband, son and dog. She has been given a temporary public housing apartment, but says, “Even though the apartment sustained minimal damages and it’s structurally okay, I am still terrified to step inside for fear of another tremor. Even taking a shower fills me with anxiety. So I go there during the day for limited periods at a time, but I come to the shelter to sleep.”
Cynthia lost not only her home, but her security, her safe place, and you can see it in her tears and her expression of how much she wanted to be home again. After she told us her story, God was pushing me to embrace her with love and a super tight hug and to confirm that God is good, all the time, and God provides.
Many of those affected, although they lost everything, need a listening ear and support to walk through the trauma of losing the structures they worked so hard to call home.
People are relocating from the shelters to public housing, or moving in with loved ones and friends. But the lasting trauma and effect on small businesses, government facilities and religious gathering places, including historical buildings, will be felt for decades to come.
After two devastating disasters in the span of two years, Puerto Rico will continue to need support around access to healthcare, sustainability and housing as they navigate their new normal with seismic activity in the area. But I can say one thing, my Puerto Rican people will find their firm ground once again because they are strong and they carry hope in their community, but most of all faith in God!