Editors Note: Jorge Martinez, Regional COO of the American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio, deployed to Puerto Rico in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
By Jorge Martinez, COO, Red Cross, Northeast Ohio Region
So how is Puerto Rico doing one year after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria? The short answer is, “Well, I really don’t know. But I think do!”
When I came back last October, having spent a few weeks on the ground in Puerto Rico, I shared a story about a wonderful lady who had welcomed her neighbor into her humble home and simply wanted some tarps to protect her elderly neighbor’s belongings, since the house had no roof. In that story I also mentioned my friend Brad and the many other Red Cross volunteers like him who were serving with so much compassion and love… always putting the needs of others before self. (Click here for a link to that story.) This helps answer the question, “How is Puerto Rico doing?” The story that follows also helps answer that question.
On October 8th last year, I was in a hot, destroyed place called Ensenada, Puerto Rico. Ensenada is on the southern coast of the southwest corner of the island… and like every other place on the island, it had been devastated. There were a lot of people with a lot of need in the area who hadn’t been helped yet, so we brought two crews and two large trucks full of supplies. We set up shop in a large government convention center and delivered supplies to hundreds of families. And of course, the temperature felt like a thousand degrees!
I was carrying some supplies for a sweet old lady to her car so that she could sustain herself, for a few days anyway. She reminded me a lot of my own grandmother, who had passed away many years before. We were chatting on the walk to her car; it’s amazing how you can connect with people when you strip away all the artificial barriers we create. It’s beautiful! As we were approaching her car she said, “You know, mijo (ME-HO – Spanish for “my son”), God tests us. But any time he does, he sends an angel and today you’re my angel.”
Fortunately, I was wearing sunglasses.
When I landed in Puerto Rico on September 28, 2017 we were on one of the first flights following the hurricane. At that point, planes could only land during the day because there were no navigational instruments since there was no power. As you could imagine, the dark, steamy airport was full of people who were trying to get out. As we came through the jetway, the crowd started clapping and thanking us. It was a humbling moment but it speaks to the power of our brand… what we stand for… what we represent. And at that particular point it was hope! And that matters. In times of need, hope matters.
I read the news and see the advances that are happening in Puerto Rico. I also note the setbacks. The truth is, at least how I see it, Puerto Rico will not be back to “normal” for many years. But that’s OK. Puerto Ricans are resilient, warm, caring and extremely communal. And so is the Red Cross. I haven’t been back, but I know that our long-term recovery teams, comprised primarily of volunteers, are on the ground humbly carrying out the king’s work and will be there for quite some time. That’s hopeful; that’s comforting.
So, how’s Puerto Rico doing? Well, probably not so good. But they’re doing great!