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Stony Brook Stands with Puerto Rico

 by Yamela Cando

Yamela Cando Volunteering in Puerto RicoAs a Latina woman, I always try to find ways to give back to my community because I have always believed in the notion of placing service before self. On campus, I am involved through the Latin American Student Organization and am active within my sorority, Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority Inc. Growing up in Ecuador I was taught the value of doing all the good you can for the community and people around you. Puerto Rican culture is something that is prominent in the Bronx, and now that I have been living here for almost 15 years, in a way, it has become a part of who I am. When the opportunity came up to help the people of Puerto Rico I knew it was my calling to do my part to push their community forward. That’s the notion of placing service before self and putting people first.

After Hurricane Maria, there hasn't been much reporting on the recovery efforts and how the community has come together to uplift the island. If anything, the number of lives that have been lost does not come close to what has been reported. However, after arriving on the island it was clear that the resilience of Puerto Ricans to rise above any devastation helped the island pull through. From numerous conversations with the families of the houses I worked on, I could tell that they remained positive and humble. They took advantage of the little things that they did have and came together as a community to push each other through. Some even said that it was not until after the hurricane that they experienced the biggest sense of community.

As I was landing I expected a vast amount of families and homes to still not have full power restored. Yes, large rural communities in Puerto Rico are in dire need of electricity and clean running water, but with the help of disaster response groups and the unity of the people themselves, much of the island has recovered electricity to communities in cities and towns. The organization that I participated through was called All Hands and Hearts and they were amazing. Not only do they provide the tools and assistance to help restore homes, but they follow up with the families to make sure that the houses are still up and running.

My experience in Puerto Rico was nothing short of phenomenal. Being a humanitarian doesn't require any political affiliation or skill set pertaining to construction work. It just requires you to have a good heart, be a good person, have a passion for standing up for what’s right, and go where the people need you most. We spent two weeks working on the home of a family comprised of three empowered women: a grandmother with Alzheimer’s, a mother and a daughter. Hearing their stories and knowing I could only imagine the devastation they had gone through to rise up from the hurricanes was heartbreaking. But understanding that through the venture of fixing a leaking roof and sharing a meal with the family, I was doing my little part in connecting with the family and understanding their experience.

Therefore, my time in Puerto Rico will always be defined by the island’s motto of “Fuerza” which means strength and force. This was something that was spray painted in a lot of the homes that have crumbled and in evacuated building. If there is anything I’ve learned, it that Puerto Ricans have a strong sense of community. They took the devastation from the hurricane and fostered it into a lesson of remaining resilient, driven and determined. I am glad that New York State and Stony Brook answered the island’s call for assistance and I am so grateful to have been a part of this mission.

This opportunity was not only imperative to rebuilding Puerto Rico, but to empowering the people of Puerto Rico too. People from all over the world noticed the help needed despite the shortage media coverage and took a stand to help. I hope I left an impact on the community, as it did on me. An impact of pushing our communities forward regardless of the challenges we all face, to touch hearts, and share a vision of a stronger tomorrow and a stronger Puerto Rico, to do the most good in all the ways you can for all the people you can is what I bring back with me to New York State.
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