“You know if you visit Puerto Rico once you’ll keep coming back,” Sacha said to me, “you just won’t be able to forget how beautiful it is.” The conviction in her statement was the same as her passion for helping others: unrelenting. Sacha is one of the social workers who works for Coalición de Coaliciones, spending her days trying to improve the lives of the homeless, addicted, and marginalized community in Puerto Rico. She’s right, too. I won’t be able to forget how beautiful this place is, but it might not be only for the reason Sacha cited.
From the pictures on the blog anyone can see that the beauty of this island is obvious. The mountain ranges pour deep green rainforest into a perfectly clear sea painted in different shades of blue. The brightly colored houses populate every ridge and valley seemingly as a natural part of the landscape. But this is not the beauty I will always remember from our journey here. It’s the beauty of the people we have had the privilege of the serving here and the workers who will continue to serve long after we are gone. The beauty is in the family who opened their homes to us and, while apologizing that they did not have enough chairs because they were lost during Hurricane Maria, told us that four of the surrounding families lived in the attic of their neighbor because their houses had completed flooded after the storm. The elderly women shrugged her shoulders as she described the feeling of huddling in the bathroom as the roof was quite literally ripped of their house. “We have our lives,” she said pointing at the empty house they had not been able to repair since the storm; “the rest is just stuff.”
By now if you’ve been reading the blog you’ve probably noticed the amazing amount of local organizations that are doing powerful service in Puerto Rico. Coalición de Coaliciones, P.E.C.E.S., and Intercambios Puerto Rico are filled with amazing people and it is only by their grace that we’ve been able to do the little amount that we have. Standing in Punto Santiago (the area hit hardest by the storm) with Felix, the supervisor of the P.E.C.E.S, he discussed his connection to the community. He explained how the army couldn’t reach the area on land so he gathered as much food and water he could and rode on helicopters that would drop the supplies over the town. Our group has been extraordinarily lucky to make connections to people like Felix. He is an integral part of this community and he has given us a pathway to help his community.
One of the men who spoke to us at the opioid rehabilitation clinic told us that he had finally entered the clinic because he simply felt “miserable.” He had stayed, however, because of the community he found within the center. He discussed the joy he felt helping other members navigate the journey to end their addiction. His positivity illustrates the beauty this community brings. The beauty stems from a connection these communities have with each other, forged in the despair of shared crisis in Maria and made unbreakable by the joint humanity they shared afterwards.
One night as we ate dinner, we discussed what it takes to serve a community well--I can see clearly now that it is the connections you develop. Whether it is connections to the under-served or connections to those within the community that have dedicated themselves to serve that purpose, their buy-in to our program is essential. Thinking of Felix, Francisco, and all the patients we have been lucky enough to serve, I believe we’ve made a good start.
-- John Larson, MS4