Nonprofits support boosts Puerto Rico earthquake recovery efforts

The humanitarian crisis is an opportunity for the philanthropic sector to show how much it can lead in supporting marginalized communities. 

Written by: Adam Fishbein

Date: January 30, 2020

In the aftermath of this year’s series of devastating earthquakes in Puerto Rico, local nonprofits across the island are providing crucial services to thousands of affected Puerto Ricans. 

Current and former NCRP nonprofit members and coalition partners supporting recovery efforts include Taller Salud, The Center for Popular Democracy’s (CPD) Maria Fund and coalition partner Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP). 

Nonprofits launch major campaigns to support earthquake recovery 

Taller Salud’s work is threefold. It is raising money for organizations working in the impacted communities; setting up a fund to cover reproductive justice services and accepting donations for women’s health needs; and co-creating a public pressure advocacy campaign to allow Puerto Ricans to speak out in their time of crisis. 

Meanwhile, HIP is on the ground in Puerto Rico andis organizing its networkto direct resources to grassroots organizations and identify where to best drive support. Itsurgent campaign goalis to raise $15,000 by Feb. 3. 

“If you have been wondering how to help, this is the moment. Now, more than ever, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico need our help. Help us meet our $15,000 goal by the end of the week so we can get immediate support to our partners on the ground,” HIP President and CEO Ana Marie Argilagos wrote in an email to supporters. 

CPD is also using its Maria Fund, started in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017, to mobilize long-term support for groups working on the island. 

CPD’s Julio Lopez Varona says that these natural disasters would have a less devastating impact on the Puerto Rican people if greater investment was made in the island’s physical and social infrastructure.  

“In order to ensure that Puerto Ricans achieve a just recovery, we must address the root of the issue,” said Lopez Varona, co-director of community dignity campaigns at CPD. “Long-term investments in infrastructure, including building schools and shelters up to code, solidifying the power and water grids, securing hospitals and roads, protecting pensions, and providing safe housing alternatives for low-income families, are just a few of the basic needs that should be immediately championed.”  

Addressing the physical and social toll on the island 

On Dec. 28, 2019, the first of a series of massive earthquakes hit the southern portion of Puerto Rico, coming in at a magnitude of 5.4, killing at least one person, causing numerous injuries and destroying countless buildings. The devastation has continued in subsequent weeks, with 5.8 and 6.4 magnitude earthquakes and dozens of aftershocks. Amid the crisis, federal assistance came weeks after the initial disaster, further worsening already-dire circumstances.  

“The federal government needs to immediately release the billions of dollars in relief money it has on hold since hurricane Maria,” said Lopez Varona. “At the same time, the governor of Puerto Rico and the Fiscal Oversight Management Board need to put forward policies that allow the government to access billions of dollars in funds destined to pay debt so that they are allocated for the reconstruction of the island.” 

Along with the physical destruction of buildings and loss of lives also comes a social, emotional and psychological difficulties for Puerto Ricans. The earthquakes displaced more than 4,000 people with many scared to return to their homes for fear of more to come. Only 20% of schools in Puerto Rico have reopened due to safety concerns, denying children a crucial part of their childhood: education.  

To address this social turmoil, one NCRP member, Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción, has activated its civic engagement for disaster response strategy.

They have taken mental health and recreation professionals to tent cities and affected communities as an immediate response, although Executive Director Alejandro Silva Diaz is also thinking about long-term solutions.

“In the long term, we’re matching citizens with reconstruction projects in the south,” Silva Diaz said. “We’re seeking community-based organizations with long-term projects in the south who need interns during the summer to accelerate their projects.”

The current humanitarian crisis is yet another opportunity for the philanthropic sector to show how much it can lead in supporting impacted marginalized communities.

“From Hurricane Maria to these recent earthquakes, the Puerto Rican community has shown a resolve and resiliency that defies imagination. But they shouldn’t have to go it alone,” says NCRP Director of Marketing and Membership Janay Richmond. “When I think of the types of response we’ve seen for other events, like the rebuilding of the famed Notre Dame Cathedral, it makes me dream of a world where not only is the preservation of a beloved church building important, but also where we can’t imagine allowing the kind of prolonged suffering that we are seeing in Puerto Rico. And philanthropy has an opportunity to show us right now that that type of world can exist.” 

Adam Fishbein is NCRP’s membership intern.