Recovery efforts will be ongoing for months and even years. Here’s how you can make a “volunteer vacation” part of your island itinerary.
I recently visited Puerto Rico to report on hurricane recovery efforts there (and to shoot the video featured above). I returned home with a very clear message: While the city of San Juan has bounced back along with many of the island’s beautiful beaches, our dear Puerto Rico still needs our help.
At this time, a handful of months after a natural disaster such as Hurricanes Maria and Irma, public attention may drift from the steady recovery effort. You might call it “natural disaster amnesia.”
“The initial generosity from both Puerto Ricans and mainland friends of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria was mind-boggling.” says Fernando Lloveras San Miguel, president of the nonprofit Para La Naturaleza. “Volunteers give continuity. It’s not going to be one year, not going to be two. It’s going to be five to 10 years for Puerto Rico to get back to how it was.”
You can help with Puerto Rico’s recovery by making a “volunteer vacation” part of your island itinerary this spring - or any time over the coming months and years of rebuilding. Here’s how:
1. PARA LA NATURALEZA: Get your hands dirty
Translated literally to “for nature”, Para La Naturaleza (paralanaturaleza.org) has set a goal to plant and maintain 1 million native trees throughout Puerto Rico in the next handful of years. That’s over 100,000 trees per year to help in recovery and reforestation of the island’s naturally protected lands.
How you can help: Participate in a hands-on activity at one of five tree nurseries on the island. You will learn about the importance of reforestation and aid in the process of nurturing dozens of tropical trees.
2. LUMINAID: Shine a light
Yes, there are still parts of Puerto Rico that have no electricity. While local organizations are aiming to sustainably rewire the island through solar power, in the meantime LuminAid (luminaid.com) accepts donations to send solar lanterns to areas still in need. Founded by two women architects during a project in graduate school, the successful company distributes solar lanterns and phone chargers for all types of natural disasters around the world.
How you can help: Through LuminAid’s Give Light Get Light Program (luminaid.com/give-light-get-light), for $30 you can buy a lantern for yourself while sponsoring a second lantern for a family in need.
3. AMERICARES: Multiply your donation x 20!
Donating money is a helpful feel-good way to contribute, but that cash goes even further through Americares (americares.org), a non-profit providing $20 worth of medical relief for every dollar it receives from donors. “Both the physical and psychological recovery after a disaster require sustained support over the long term,” informs Americares, “in the months to come, we plan to support health workers in disaster-affected communities in Puerto Rico with mental health programming, support groups and educational resources.”
How you can help: No donation is too small! Your $10 worth of weekend lattes could provide $200 worth of medical relief.
4. VISIT SAN JUAN: Your vacation dollars make a difference
If you plan on using your hard-earned PTO this year, like every corporate American should, consider going to a spot where your USD provides some TLC. Puerto Rico’s economy relies heavily on tourism and not many people know that its capital city, San Juan, is back up to speed post-hurricanes.
How you can help: Visit the brilliant beaches, treat yourself to local rums and pastelitos, and shop for souvenirs, like goods from Concalma (shopconcalma.com), that support local makers.