By Roy Winter, Brethren Disaster Ministries
Hurricane Maria recovery in Puerto Rico is slow, but there is progress. When a whole island has extensive damage to basic services like electricity, running water, and cellular communication, recovery is difficult and long. Power is returning to more areas, but less than half the residents have power. Cellular service is improving, and church leaders are able to communicate better.
Brethren Disaster Ministries continues to work closely with Puerto Rico District and district executive José Callejo Otero. In early December, he and I worked on developing a long-term recovery program, establishing relationship with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the Puerto Rico VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster) and planning for volunteer support of the recovery. He shared this planning information and many questions at the district board meeting on Dec. 9. This was the first meeting of the whole district board since Hurricane Maria changed everyone’s lives.
Grants from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF), and some received directly from other Church of the Brethren districts, have supported each Church of the Brethren congregation in Puerto Rico. The churches have been busy providing ministry in their communities, such as providing food, services, minor repairs, rent assistance, and other programs that meet people’s needs. Here are some examples: a Thanksgiving Day breakfast provided by the Vega Baja church caused traffic jams as families came to enjoy hot food; the Rio Pietro church has provided reoccurring medical clinics with staff from the Castañer Hospital providing the service; the recent clinic included food distributions to help struggling families living in this mountain region.
The long-delayed container of emergency supplies shipped from the Brethren Service Center, by the Church of the Brethren Material Resources program, has arrived in Puerto Rico. It is still clearing customs, but should be available for delivery soon--we pray before Christmas.
The road to recovery will be long for Puerto Rican families. Watch for more information on response plans and opportunities to support home repair in the coming months.
-- Roy Winter is associate executive director of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries. Find out more about Brethren Disaster Ministries at www.brethren.org/bdm . Support the work in Puerto Rico by donating to the Emergency Disaster Fund at www.brethren.org/edf .