When Community Leaders Dream - San Juan
On the night of March 1st, rather than driving to Lares for the night, Lorna Baez from Pontificia Catholic University of Puerto Rico invited our team to Hotel Melia to stay the night free of charge. The hotel is a historic building at the city center, the oldest continuous operating hotel in the Caribbean, allowing us to explore Ponce at night.
We ended up at the Cultural Museum of Ponce and bumped into Melvin’s cousin Lourdes Soto and her husband Ramon Caliz. Lourdes is a former teacher and has previously helped us store and distribute twenty generators, among other supplies. Her husband Ramon was the former Director of Arts and Culture for the City of Ponce. Ramon had an art exhibit at the museum and gave us a very special tour.
There, we also met with Luis Rey Quinones Soto, the community leader that has organized 24 local artists to create 26 murals around the city that show the struggles Puerto Ricans face today, especially post-Maria. These are located on Calle Trujillo, the same street where Melvin lived as a child. The murals will be completed in the coming weeks and the inauguration is scheduled for March 31st.
The next morning, we made our way to San Juan. As we had some down time, we made sure to explored Old San Juan by the water and through the town, before heading to our workshop location. We held the dream workshop at Piloto 151, a collaborative workspace in Old San Juan. The original location of Carlos Albizu University was changed, because Puerto Rico was observing a new local government holiday and the university was closed.
The people that attended our workshop were key community leaders that have a deep commitment to their communities and have been actively involved since the catastrophic damage caused by Hurricane Maria. A couple of those in attendance were the likes of former Major League Baseball player Armando Rios from the San Francisco Giants; Javier Jimenez, who has been working with a network of 90 hospitals; and Betsy Collazo, who works in public relations at Carlos Albizu University.
These proactive leaders had a deeper knowledge and understanding of the situation and greatest needs of the community. They shared important information with us on who in the island oversees different projects and who to contact for additional information. Since then, Javier Jimenez reached out to the team with pictures and videos of what he has seen trough his work with hospitals and surrounding communities. Armando is focused on vocational education to help personnel develop skills to become a positive member of the community and lower crime. This includes personnel that transitions from serving jail sentences with a light criminal background.
Working through this session, the structure ended up much more like a group conversation and sharing of knowledge of each other’s experiences. Here are some of the most prominent answers below:
1. What is it that you love about living here?
El Morro, Old San Juan, the people, the climate, the beaches, our communities.
2. What happened here after the storm? What are the current challenges?
Government inaction, education system weakening, loss of communications with family and other communities, lack of access to basic needs (water, food, gas, power).
3. What kind of people and talents are in the community?
Armando Rios’ foundation “Rompiendo Cadenas”, mental health resources, Operation Blessing, Relief 4 PR.
Over all, this workshop was one in which the participants were local citizens interested in bringing to the community the help they need by pulling resources from different private/ public establishments. They understand that in every disaster, there is a lifecycle. There is a time for immediate life-saving response activities, which, include search and rescue, distribution of food and water and any other critical resources needed by the impacted population. There is also a natural point in this cycle when external aid becomes more detrimental than positively impactful. The overall consensus is that the best thing that can be done for a heavily impacted region is to build indigenous capacity and to let the local economy heal itself.
Unfortunately, the current paradigm, while incredibly well intentioned, pertaining to “aid” is predicated on donations . What is often not seen by many, other than those on the ground, is the capacity for the local population, with strategic support, to address and solve many of the primary challenges themselves. This reality of the actual situation is called “ground truth” and is often not adequately conveyed to the public.
The Internet presents a unique opportunity to leverage this powerful technology to provide unprecedented access to education, medical assistance, economic opportunity, and community services to damaged areas. The communities seek global collaboration of government, industry, and academia. Our vision for Puerto Rico is to foster innovation, provide tools and knowledge, and to experiment with network oriented models that will enable and empower communities to rise from poverty, resulting in job creation and economic growth.