Click here for PDF Edition

2018-10-05 digital edition
ABOUT US   |   ADVERTISE   |   DEADLINES   |   PR INFO   |   SUBMIT   |   DELIVERY   |   CONTACT US  |  FEEDBACK
TODAY in the Jewish World:

Click on logo for link:



Click on logo for link:

The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved. 


 

October 5, 2018  RSS feed
World News

Text: T T T

Here’s how Israelis and local Jews are helping in Puerto Rico a year after Hurricane Maria

By MICHELE CHABIN JTA news service


A new gravitational sand water filtration system built by IsraAID and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico will be up and running this month in Barrio Real, a small rural community. 
Photos courtesy of IsraAID A new gravitational sand water filtration system built by IsraAID and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico will be up and running this month in Barrio Real, a small rural community. Photos courtesy of IsraAID Almost immediately after Hurricane Maria barreled into Puerto Rico a year ago, disaster relief groups rushed to the shattered island to help with rescue and cleanup.

The storm turned out to be the worst natural disaster ever recorded in the U.S. territory. The Category 4 hurricane caused catastrophic flooding that decimated 80 percent of the island’s crops, destroyed or damaged hundreds of thousands of homes and devastated the electrical grid.

Among the initial responders was the Israeli disaster response group IsraAID, which opened six mobile medical clinics on the island, distributed water filters in six remote communities, provided mental health support in storm shelters and trained staff at two hospitals in trauma response.


After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, IsraAID opened six mobile medical clinics on the island. After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September 2017, IsraAID opened six mobile medical clinics on the island. As the recovery and rebuilding effort stretched into weeks and months, most emergency response groups packed up and moved onto other disaster zones. But a year after the storm, IsraAID is still in Puerto Rico, and plans to stay for at least two more years.

“Following the earthquake in Haiti we stayed there for eight years,” said Yotam Polizer, IsraAID’s co- CEO. “Though being on the ground quickly saves lives, we’re realizing more and more that the initial emergency response doesn’t sustain the local population.”

Now, the group’s focus in Puerto Rico is helping communities still struggling with hurricane-related trauma and a dearth of clean drinking water. Needs are especially acute in rural villages cut off from the national water grid.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, especially in the mountainous areas,” said Haley Broder, IsraAID’s head of mission in Puerto Rico. “We’re working with a small community there that didn’t have electricity for more than eight months and whose clean drinking water is dependent on an electrical pump.”

Hurricane Maria is blamed for more than 3,000 deaths – not just those who died during the hurricane, but those who died from hurricane-caused illnesses and lack of treatment. Then there’s the additional collateral damage exacerbated by the storm, including deepening poverty and a spike in suicides. The storm’s psychological impact remains overwhelming.

“Our psychologists say it’s not PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] because people are still experiencing trauma every day,” Broder said. “There is nothing ‘post’ about it.”

Since ending its emergency response, IsraAID staffers – supplemented by trained volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community – have focused on programs that build resilience and foster self-sufficiency.

The group is working mostly in communities with high rates of elderly and low-income populations. Among the priorities: to create emergency operation plans to cope during the next crisis, whatever that may be. IsraAID is also working with teachers to build a resiliency curriculum to reduce levels of stress and trauma during and after an emergency.

A new gravitational sand water filtration system built by IsraAID and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico will be up and running this month in Barrio Real, one of the small rural communities where IsraAID went door to door delivering temporary household water filters right after the hurricane. The new filtration system does not require electricity to function. Volunteers from San Juan’s Jewish community have taught residents of Barrio Real how to keep their new water system safe from water-borne diseases and pollutants.

“The Jewish community is amazing. They’ve become strong activists. They’re eager to do other projects,” Broder said.

The Jewish volunteers include members of the local Chabad, the Conservative Jewish Community Center of Puerto Rico-Shaarei Zedek Synagogue and the Reform Temple Beth Shalom.

The continuing presence of the Israeli humanitarian organization in Puerto Rico “is a great source of pride for the Jews of Puerto Rico,” said Diego Mandelbaum, the religious director of the Jewish Community Center.

Hannah Gaventa, former IsraAID’s head of mission in Puerto Rico who helped formulate the organization’s long-term strategy there, said the goal is building sustainable programs that others could run even after IsraAID is no longer there.

While IsraAID’s piece of the overall aid effort is relatively small, it’s carefully planned to avoid waste and maximize impact.

“The process takes time but it’s worth it,” said IsraAID’s co-CEO Polizer.

“As IsraAID’s goal for an affected area changes from direct relief to capacity building, we identify and work with local groups, religious groups, and local NGOs. The idea is to provide them with the tools they need to support themselves.”

This article, sponsored by and produced in partnership with The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, is part of a series about how young Jews are transforming Jewish life in the 21st century.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
Click ads below for larger version