PR We Are 1: The Movement to Build PR Back
Puerto Rico is an US island of about 3.4 million citizens that is in the midst of a horrible natural disaster aftermath. It has been a little bit over a month since Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, swept through Puerto Rico. A month later, and the island still has very little power, very little access to drinkable water, and an extreme lack of resources to live off. Members of the blog have visited Puerto Rico many times and find the current state of the island something unbearable to think of. We don’t want to dive too deep into the politics of it because we want this post to be about action! We are aware that this is a mission that WE, us the people, need to take action on since the government is not reliable under current administration. (image source: CHRON)
This past weekend the blog made a donation to help those in Puerto Rico. As one of the members of the blog, I went down to the Bronx Native Pop Up Shop. The Bronx Native is a movement created by brother and sister duo, Amaurys and Roselyn, to make a difference in their community. I have been following them for a while on Instagram, and wanted to make time to support their cause. I went down on Saturday October 21st as they were holding a "Let's Talk Puerto Rico" event in which donations were being collected for those in need.
It was one of those instances you can say that I was at the right place at the right time. What I thought was going to be just a donation drop off became an empowering and inspiring touching moment. I walked in around 7pm and a radiant young lady began to speak. Amanda spoke openly about her life and the devastating impact this disaster has had. Unfortunately, she lost her aunt and has many family members of which are trying to rebuild their lives ever since Hurricane Maria. Instead of just watching the news and letting the narrative play out, Amanda took actions into her own hands.
Amanda started the movement PR WE ARE 1 to shed light to the devastating state Puerto Rico is in after the hurricane. PR WE ARE 1 is not just limited to Puerto Rico or Hurricane Irma. This is a way that people can get information on how to help out those affected by the disasters in recent months including Houston, Florida, and the US Virgin Islands. Amanda will use all her resources to get you in touch with local companies and non-profits so that you can take action in helping others. She helps you find donation drop offs, locations to volunteer, and companies accepting monetary donations.
We wanted to shed more light on the movement and asked Amanda a few questions on her mission. Here is Amanda and how we can help her build Puerto Rico again.
1. What has the reaction been like since you decided to create PR WE ARE 1? What was the concept behind the IG Banner post?
AMANDA: Well, it's been … I don’t know. I always wanted to do something like this, specifically towards the things I am passionate about. It was often when I was working that I wish I could help my community, my borough, my state, my country and so on, but I did not have as much time as I do now, #unemployed. Since I started the Facebook Page it is now my baby and now this Instagram will be, too. I guess what I am trying to say is that I have been so caught up with all this, because I’m constantly doing something on behalf of it I haven’t let the reactions around me sink in. I hear the reactions but that’s far as they go. The reactions have been very positive, so I at least know I’m doing something good. Also, at the same time, I’m very modest, and do not feel I’m doing anything beyond an expectation because there are other people doing way more than I am.
The concept behind the IG banner post is “I gotta make this a thing, like a social media thing, and take it as far as I can”. In my previous job, whenever we raised awareness on conservation and preservation related topics we used a cut out, like an IG board, to get people involved. It was captivating and fun, and I hope that it will be the same with my board. I want it to reach the masses and make the #howareyouhelping a trending topic. It is a bit of an optimistic goal but I’m down to see however far it can get.
2. What are the best ways to help out? Should we focus on monetary donations or actual items? And why?
AMANDA: I say both... I say both as a skeptic to monetary and tangible donations; I worry where my money goes and how my tangible items are making it to people. This is where research comes into play, like “I won’t give up” research. For fundraising, I make sure that 100% of monetary proceeds are going to where they say they are going. I try to find that specific person’s profile to get a brief sense of who they are, and it helps if it’s a public page to but sometimes it isn’t. Then, I ask a series of questions about the fundraiser, what non-profit they want to give it to, why and how. I, unapologetically, yet professionally, ask them all that worries me, and those who support me. A lot of people understand where I’m coming from and others don’t, and that helps me choose. Plus, I search the overall non-profit that the fundraiser is giving the money to see if they are also 100% on proceeds. Puerto Rico needs SO much money for all levels of recovery, and I want to make sure, as best as I can, that they get everything they deserve. There are organizations like Direct Relief, Ricky Martin Foundation, Hispanic Federation, and a few others that I'm fond of. I even did a fundraiser in the early days of the page, and noted that there wasn't a location yet until there was a non-profit found that can be trusted. I have my moments where I hope I am not let down by who I have chosen, but like I said I had to let go of some of my skepticism. For tangible donations, I have seen a reporter talk about a cargo-like sized casing, holding food that was out in the sun and prone to rats and bacteria. I was ready to throw in the towel but I, and most definitely we, cannot do that because there are stories as well that food and tons of donation items make it. So donate those toiletries, first aid kits, water, canned goods, feminine hygiene products, and everything!! I am so happy to be a part of New York City because we have 18 Firehouses and EMS stations that are accepting donations, and though they are there I am getting ready to have alternative locations and methods because #cantstopwontstop.
After all of this very long explanation, I also say both because Puerto Ricans on that Island give me hope… Hope can get you pretty far.
3. From speaking to local Puerto Ricans what are the essentials needed that people should donate now?
AMANDA: With those in Puerto Rico, they mention water, generators, all forms of food (canned food/canned milk), pet food, baby wipes/diapers/food. These items are going to be on repeat until they are out of the emergency relief phase and even into the recovery phase. Now, the FDNY/EMS Stations say they are only accepting diapers, baby food, batteries, first-aid supplies and feminine hygiene products. However, I have gone with all those and then some, and informed it was for Puerto Rico and they accepted. The good thing about it is if they really cannot accept it, they can still donate it elsewhere to those in need, which as of now has been to Mexico.
4. With so much politics and restrictions how do we know our donations are getting to those in need? What do you recommend us to do when researching who to donate our money or time?
AMANDA: Look at that, I answered before I knew it was a question :). As I mentioned earlier, the solution [yet hardest thing] is hope in what you donate to and who you donate to. Skepticism is necessary but not to the point that you give up. Unfortunately, we live in a world where through personal experience and media, we cannot trust. At the same time we have examples through personal experience and media that gives us hope in humanity. So use that skepticism to be as vigilant as you can in how, who and what for your donations... AND even if your items/money were part of a situation that it didn't make it or it was used incorrectly, use it as a lesson learned to better your plan/goal to help again. This is also coming from someone, me, who has personal ties to the island; if you don’t have personal ties and your donations were misused just remember that we are all related through being human beings. Don’t give up!
5. What local companies do you feel are best to work with in this time?
AMANDA: Companies that are willing to help are the best to work with and the way you find out is by asking/bringing forth a plan that they can work with. There are two local companies who helped me immensely and I found them because I knew them previously through years of service. The Bronx Native was new to me but I LOVE what they are about. They were the first local company, who I never knew before then, where I brought forth my idea and they agreed to help. I was scared of it being a hit or miss but it worked. However, there are other local businesses I emailed and called that didn’t respond or did not have the means/time to help. It does help that I like talking to people, have patience and at the same time impatient. Being able to talk to people is great for networking, having patience helps me not give up, and then being impatient gets me to go talk to people sooner than later. Needless to say, I don't have a direct answer to this other than just talk to any local business you support personally.
6. Have you been receiving help from any of our local politicians or organizations?
AMANDA: Nah, my goal was to help Puerto Ricans on the island and try to use local businesses as support. I wanted that whichever local business helped me, I would promote them in return because I can’t offer anything monetary or tangible.
7. During the talk at Bronx Native you mentioned your aunt’s passing and we want to give our condolences. How is your family in PR doing now? Have they received any help from US organizations like FEMA?
AMANDA: Well a few aunts and cousins are together in a house where they have a generator. They bought a new one and gave their old one to a neighbor to use, who in turn fixed it to work more efficiently. Their neighbors were helping them to get some wifi to call and contact us. My mom is sending what she can them to help with the fact that generators cost so much and it cost to travel to buy anything. Some cousins are moving to the mainland and an aunt is in Hawaii. During the first two weeks, FEMA was not there yet. Recently, I did get in contact with my loved ones, who have noted that FEMA has gone to them with food and water.
8. You also mentioned the significance on how the deaths are being counted and categorized. What have you noticed has been the biggest difference in how this disaster has been handled than others?
AMANDA: I’m not an expert so the following is my opinion. Being that it is 33 days after the hurricane AND the island is still is emergency relief status, which means they do not have and are still in major need of basic necessities, their death was either immanent from the hurricane or is preventable death. It is not like its two months after and they are in recovery relief, because that is when it is more difficult to determine if a heart attack was due to what happened or it was from a preexisting condition. As Americans, this is embarrassing! We know how to help the mainland and actually seem like we care more about the mainland than we do anywhere else that’s a US territory. Then it’s a whole other story on the Puerto Rican government itself that makes me want to … ugh. I even wonder what would they do if this happened to Hawaii, how would they respond, like a Puerto Rico relief response or a US mainland response. Even with Hurricane Katrina, which I think was handled poorly, had double the military response than Hurricane Maria for Puerto Rico, which is approximately 14,600 military feet on the ground; just a visual for readers Katrina had approximately 1 million victims in Louisiana and Maria has approximately 3.5 million victims just in Puerto Rico. People are dehydrated , drinking and bathing in polluted water, and are around bad air quality - depending on location - with inconsistent access to medical services. Hospitals have generators not meant for the duration its been through and diesel service comes about every three days. Last I heard, 87% of the beds in the Navy Ship (Floating Hospital) , “Comfort”, was not in use. There are people, because of the lack of access roads, who buried their loved ones in the backyard. Now, the Comfort is approx 70% occupied so, that is good however it’s now ported at San Juan and not easily accessible to many on the island. Though the Comfort is providing walk-ins, you can see where that’s a problem. Centro Medico, a Moakler hospital in San Juan, just received, 4 weeks after, new top notch generators. So, when you read there are 138 bodies that still need an autopsy to confirm if it was a related death … no s*** it was because there is no consistency in a disaster filled island. Yes, pre-existing conditions can be a catalyst to their death but I feel like during these circumstances, they were all a direct cause from the hurricane and have a huge potential to be a preventable death. Also, there has been 900+ cremations since the hurricane labeled as “natural deaths” and locals don’t believe the toll is only 51. Oh, and I remember watching on the news about a Bronx Puerto Rican who went to the island and got stuck while the hurricane passed. She was able to share a video 8 days after the hurricane to say she was ok … she was hospitalized after and 4 days later she passed away due to respiratory distress and dehydration. So many of us have a reason to still be scared and frustrated a month after the hurricane hit.
9. How long do you foresee this movement to go on for? How long do you think it will take to get PR back on its feet?
AMANDA: “Foreva” - Cardi B; I hope the movement lasts for a long time. I don't want it to stop, and even after Puerto Rico is ok, I don't want to stop. I fear for them to get screwed over in a loophole that occured because of now. I hope that I, and others, can get more involved hands-on and maybe get more involved in the relationship between the government and the island. I can already see big companies taking over the island and turning it into Hawaii; Hawaii is resort filled with much of its culture lost or ignored. People visit to enjoy a beach, drinks, and to get lei’d, instead of understand and appreciate the culture that bred the beauty of what they see there. I honestly don't know how long it will take for Puerto Rico to get back on its feet ... I don't doubt they will get back on their feet but I'm doubtful on the duration. I think it will take too long but I’m here for the long run.