I was sitting in our office in Brooklyn short before Christmas with no affordable flight ticket to Europe in sight and decided with our new volunteering startup Kindly in mind to spend the holidays 2018 more purposeful in the best Christmas meaning.Still in Brooklyn, I started looking into Puerto Rico and its situation. Some years ago I thankfully learned the basics of surfing there, its the Caribbean, an easy domestic flight and during my recent trips, I enjoyed the warm welcoming people there a lot.
Hurricane Maria, a bit longer than a year ago was the worst natural disaster on record in the area, and also the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Jeanne in 2004.Some immediate responses of philanthropists and helpers like Jack Brewer Foundation brought attention, helping hands and needed equipment, water, and medicine to PR and eventually inspired me and the Kindly team to build a volunteer platform that engages and organizes boots on the ground and converts them into donors.I was starting to find out about the current situation in PR, 15months after the hurricane.
The lessons learned about emergency response and politics alone is worth another blog post. The Puerto Ricans suffered (and still do) with catastrophic catastrophe responses, if from the mainland or locally that many describe as corrupt, misleading and worse. Heres a link to the still ongoing push to investigate what went wrong.
Bottom line is there are still areas without electricity and water, hospitals not working and basics needed to get a decent life back for thousands of families across the islands.So I started to try to find out if my individual help and volunteering would still be needed. There are many amazing initiatives, nonprofits and volunteering pages available but most of them arent providing easy guidance for Sign up and Show up opportunities to volunteer, usually providing web applications that didnt look promising to find something for me within the 4 days left until my travels.
Especially with my short term planning and the holidays: how to find something reasonable at least to make a small impact. Based on my volunteering experiences in mainland US and the necessary training sessions, waivers, background checks, etc. for most of the volunteering jobs: Would I be even allowed to help?
Ive learned that the barrier to access the right people to help is very difficult especially for a foreigner short term and around holidays its almost impossible. Mailboxes and emails stayed unanswered, the forms I filled out went through a slow bureaucratic response process and all of them were definitely too late for my schedule.What helped was eventually the old networking game: asking friends for help, references, and recommendations.
I focused on the local area around Rinon where at least I am familiar with people and location. Facebook pages like Volunteer Rincon or ARF | Animal Rescue Foundation of Rincon Puerto Rico led me to local neighbors who were organizing hands-on help for the local community after Maria and other affected areas that are still in a bad shape.Collecting toys for Tots (I never asked about the real name since it felt so right:) told me hes collecting toys for local kids the 2nd year in a row and asked if I could help.
Ive posted the request to donate toys via Facebook and local apps like Nextdoor, I asked my friends with kids and local toy stores for help. Theres so much availability especially in a dense urban city like NY where young families simply dont have room to store the kids clothing, toys, etc. when they are growing up.
and most of it gets thrown away! I know now with more time in advance and some organization for instance with localized apps like Kindly I believe I could have collected a huge load.The kids in Rincon received a truckload with the help of the Navy Corps (these guys have the logistics!
) and eventually, my toys went to the mountains in areas without a lot of help. Thanks especially to Smoochie Baby Brooklyn for the cute toys they donated and Vivienne at El Studio at Centro La Paz. Vivienne and Shane are helping the most affected communities in the mountains.
Hands-onDifferent to the volunteering organization in big US cities, in PR I didnt need any proof of official trustworthiness or background checks. I felt blessed to groom and feed abandoned horses, a deeply calming experience people usually pay money for. Many Puertoricans have had horses and after Maria human lives became the priority and thousands of animals are suffering since then.
The initiative led by Defensa Animal de Rincon Puerto Rico is collecting funds and help. My friend Julie introduced me to another initiative that planted seeds and small vegetation where the storm blew all life out of the ground. Its almost a spiritual connection to plant and feed some little trees that symbolize new life and hope.
Steve from the Fundacion Surfrider Rincn is organizing regular beach cleanings; an effort Id suggest all surfers and water tourists should do regularly. Shane referred me to Naomi and Carlos at the Earthship project Puerto Rico to help out before around 40 volunteers arrived from all over the world the week after.I have to admit; helping feels so rewarding that I felt bad leaving and not have done more.
but some Home Depot Vouchers went to TainaSoy Apiario, the property donors for the local Earthship project, and farmers in the mountains to buy needed tools like wheat whackers to fight the aftermath of Maria. Bottom line: A key to happinessHelping others is the guaranteed first step to feeling rewarded and human. Going a little extra mile and donating something valuable or money or helping another is making our world better.
The improvement of lives that these small efforts are impacting impacts my very own life and feel much more rewarding than most activities compared to the rest of the time spent on a normal busy day. It feels like a key to happiness to help others. Not a new learning but sometimes hard to do the first step!