Students Across America Want To Help Rebuild Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosselló is fed up with the inaccurate reporting surrounding the deaths that arose from Hurricane Maria.

Maria took an estimated 4,645 lives according to a Harvard University Study. The official estimate is 64.

Rosselló told CNN’s Anderson Cooper there will be “hell to pay” over the lack of transparency. According to him, the government has not/is not doing nearly enough to aid their Caribbean citizens. However, students all over America joined together this past year to make a difference.

Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos/PRNG-PAO)

Student Reactions

“I think that America has already forgotten about it even though it’s something that still affects people.”

Nadejda Dudkin, 18, of St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands said the above words while recounting one of her saddest memories. Her home was devastated by Hurricane Irma this past August, and the emotional toll is still present. Dudkin is currently a freshman at Columbia College Chicago, over 2,000 miles away from her friends and family.

“The first day of the semester was the day Irma hit back home. I didn’t know if my family was alive for five days,” said Dudkin, “The whole entire first week I didn’t know if they were alive. The last two days I was pretty sure that they were dead. Then they finally called me and they were alive. That kind of stress was definitely intense.”

While Hurricanes Maria and Irma have devastated populations throughout the Caribbean, international students from islands like Puerto Rico or The Virgin Islands are also dealing with the emotional distress. With the current U.S. administration doing little to aid the islands, citizens and student participation have increased to assist with relief efforts. Now that Hurricane Maria has occurred months ago and residents are still without the necessities, the future of Puerto Rican citizens remains uncertain.

What Are Students Doing to Help?

At Columbia College Chicago, there was a benefit concert called, Concert for a Cause, which was held on campus on Oct. 12. Students Paola Lizarraga Cuaron, 21 of Mexico City, Benjamin Ortiz, 21 of Mexico City and Sierra Pennala, 20, of Milwaukee helped organize the event. Cuaron explained that she felt as though the U.S. government was not doing enough in Puerto Rico, so she wanted to aid them [the Puerto Ricans] as much as she could.

“I don’t think they [the U.S. government] is handling it at all,” said Cuaron, “They just let the people die… They did not help them. They didn’t have light for many, many months.”

Pennala expressed that she had similar sentiments to Cuaron, which is why she chose to help with Concert for a Cause. The small, student-led concert raised $600 for hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and earthquake victims in Mexico. On the topic of how the government is handling the crisis, Pennala said:

“They aren’t doing enough in terms of power and infrastructure… I think that it wasn’t as highly publicized as inland disasters were, which is a shame.”

As Paola and Sierra expressed, the Trump administration has done little to help the millions of American citizens living in Puerto Rico who have been affected. That is why universities and students around the U.S. have been fundraising for the cause so that students like Dudkin can feel better about their family’s well-being.

At Northern Michigan University in Marquette, student journalist Kelsii Kyto, 19, of Green Bay gave information on what her college has done in response to Hurricane Maria. She said:

“Our school currently has a group called Relevant and they go to places that have been affected by severe natural disasters to promote relief efforts. They go there to donate and rebuild.”

Kyto goes on to give her own interpretation as to why the government assistance has been lacking in Puerto Rico, “I think that we are all distracted by less important stuff,” said Kyto, “Such as, the national anthem scandal and these recent sexual assault allegations, and I think the more important thing right now is that some people don’t even have electricity and no relief efforts are coming from the United States at this point that are going to benefit the millions of people in Puerto Rico.”

Is Assistance From Citizens Enough?

Some are wondering if the support from citizens without government assistance is going to be enough. Places affected by the recent natural disasters like the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Mexico have been operating heavily on help from everyday citizens. Still, the islands are lacking basic necessities. According to sources who have been affected by the devastations, it is too much of a burden to make the citizens rebuild their home themselves.

As Nadeja mentioned, for students who have been affected, they now have to deal with the regular stresses of school on top of emotional home-life stress. Because of the destruction that the hurricane has caused, Dudkin was unable to fly home for winter break.

Genetics student at UW-Madison, Mariana Garza, 19, of Sacramento who has family in Puerto Rico shared her views on the citizen versus government response rate.

“I remember getting emails about food drives, water drives,” said Garza, “ And that’s the thing! Like, schools all over the country are doing more to help Puerto Rico than our government did, which I think is not good.”

Garza goes on to speak about her great aunt who lives in San Juan, who they just recently were able to evacuate. She said:

“It was hard to get updates because there was no electricity. Fortunately, we were able to get her out of there to Florida with my cousins, but it did take us a while to get her out of there in the first place, but we were really lucky that there were no damages. We were lucky that she wasn’t in some of the rural parts of Puerto Rico. It’s a shame how so much of the territory is destroyed and not a lot of stuff was done to help the people there.”

According to Nadeja Dudkin, some of her friends back home did not have power for months. People are fleeing to the states from their islands as an attempt to salvage their lives. While the efforts of citizens are appreciated and helpful, it is not enough.

“The government didn’t come for about 2 weeks,” said Nadia, “The people that originally cleaned up the roads, got people out of houses and made sure people were alive was the actual Virgin Islands citizens.”


Featured Image via Wikimedia Commons

About Shelby Hawkins

AvatarMy name is Shelby, like the mustang, and I am an avid lover of photography, literature and desserts.
I identify as a proud feminist and Pan-Africanist; hopefully that manifests in my writing.

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