Puerto Rico is no stranger to extreme weather. The small island has seen many destructive storms over the years. Each has offered the residents learning opportunities, a class session of sorts, to learn to be better prepared in the future. But even after years of careful observation and studying, Hurricane Maria proved there was still much to be learned. Now regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria destroyed homes throughout Lares, a small mountain municipality in the central-western part of Puerto Rico.
It was hard not to admire Elisa as she showed us around the commune she helped organize and establish. As a community leader, Elisa helped convince the local government to allow half a dozen households to live in an abandoned school to escape the hot, humid days and cold, windy nights of Lares. Elisa instituted a therapeutic art program that was critical to helping families overcome the stress and shock of hurricane Maria. The families cooked together, ate together, and slept under the same roof and become a family.
Elisa and her community became famous as their story was shared through the media. Donations poured in from people wanting to help. Overnight, the community received brand new furnishings like Viking stoves, stainless steel tables, and other equipment that were useless because there was no electricity at the school.
We expected our donated Kodiak solar kit would provide basic conveniences like charging phones and computers, and powering lights. I will never forget the excitement and joy when the Kodiak brought the refrigerator back to life. The donated refrigerator sat quietly in the corner of the room. It was being used as a storage space due to the lack of electricity. A round of applause could be heard throughout the kitchen when the refrigerator’s light came on. As we plugged the refrigerator into the Kodiak, I thought to myself: Was all this excitement and joy because they now have refrigeration again? What have they been doing for the past six months without a refrigerator? What were they eating? A thing as simple as a refrigerator turning on was a miracle to them. Electricity and the refrigerator once again allowed them to enjoy the foods they could not without power: eggs, milk, and other perishables. The community at the school was given power but I walked away with a profound lesson of my own, a lesson about how small conveniences such as refrigeration and lights make a huge difference when they’re taken away from you.