In this edition of Notes of the Field, we discuss how Iniciativa Comunitaria has brought much-needed light to Puerto Rican communities affected by Hurricane Maria.
Last month, Team LuminAID paid a visit to Iniciativa Comunitaria, a Puerto Rican nonprofit that has provided medical care and social services to marginalized groups for over twenty years. The organization develops health service programs for the prevention of HIV/AIDS in greatly affected groups, such as sex workers, people with substance abuse issues, and the homeless. In addition, Iniciativa Comunitaria operates rehabilitation centers, educational programs, and general health clinics in communities around Puerto Rico.
The devastating impacts of Hurricane Maria, which struck the island in 2017, left these populations especially vulnerable. Many families couldn’t afford to rebuild their homes after the hurricane, and those who lost their birth certificates or property titles in the storm have had trouble qualifying for new housing. As a result, many of the at-risk groups served by Iniciativa Comunitaria face a new problem - access to shelter, clean water, and safe light.
In the wake of this damage, Iniciativa Comunitaria began to incorporate emergency preparedness and disaster relief programs into their existing services. When the organization first received LuminAID solar lanterns and phone chargers, they began integrating solar technology into these new curriculums. They distributed these solar phone chargers among the vulnerable populations they serve, particularly the elderly. We visited their San Juan office and spoke with Yorelys Rivera, the Executive Director of Iniciativa Comunitaria, to learn more about the impact that LuminAID lanterns have had on the communities they serve.
Yorelys recounted the story of an elderly woman who lacked access to running water after Hurricane Maria. At night, this woman had to traverse a rocky and muddy slope to obtain clean water from a nearby river, and often struggled to carry both her traditional lantern and a full jug of water. Yorelys recalled that, after receiving a LuminAID solar lantern from Iniciativa Comunitaria, the woman could slip her hand through the strap and safely bring water back to her house with ease, as LuminAID inflatable lights are much lighter than traditional lanterns. Reflecting on the story of this elderly woman, and those of almost one hundred other Puerto Ricans who received LuminAID lanterns, Yorelys said:
“We were greatly blessed to have the help of the folks at LuminAID, and I know that everyone who received these lights is also incredibly grateful… they knew that everything was okay when they could bring the lights to their team at their work and walk down the streets safely, able to see everything.”
A year later, Iniciativa Comunitaria realized that their team, who had recently constructed and staffed a shelter for those affected by the hurricane, were themselves vulnerable to being left without power at home in the case of another hurricane. In order to ensure the personal emergency preparedness of their staff, Iniciativa Comunitaria provided them with LuminAID solar lanterns and phone chargers as holiday gifts. These volunteers are now better equipped to protect their own families, in addition to those of the community at large.
Today, Iniciativa Comunitaria continues to lend a helping hand to some of the most vulnerable populations of Puerto Rico, including HIV/AIDS patients and homeless youth. Hurricane Maria added yet another obstacle to the lives of the disadvantaged - but, the nonprofit is working tirelessly to ensure their safety.
About LuminAID's Give Light, Get Light Program
1.6 billion people around the world lack proper access to electricity. Many of these people are forced to rely upon dangerous, toxic, and expensive kerosene lanterns as their primary source of light. Through our Give Light, Get Light program, we partner with NGOs and nonprofits all over the world to distribute LuminAID lights to individuals who will greatly benefit from a safe, rechargeable light source. Including lights distributed through Give Light Get Light program, LuminAID has worked with charitable partners to put solar lights and phone chargers on-the-ground in projects in more than 100 countries. In addition to disaster relief aid, LuminAID lights have been used in schools, orphanages, and hospitals in off-grid areas.