Brethren Disaster Ministries, Puerto Rico District plan for long-term hurricane recovery

Church of the Brethren Newsline
March 9, 2018

Members of Puerto Rico District distribute food to people affected by the hurricanes. Photo by Jose Calleja Otero.

Brethren Disaster Ministries is working with Puerto Rico District to plan its response following last year’s hurricanes. An allocation of $200,000 from the Church of the Brethren’s Emergency Disaster Fund (EDF) has been approved by the denomination’s Mission and Ministry Board to provide funding for the effort.

Roy Winter, associate executive director of Brethren Disaster Ministries and Global Mission and Service, attended the Puerto Rico District conference in January, and held meetings with church leaders on the island to discuss the disaster recovery effort.

Puerto Rico has continued to suffer effects of last year’s hurricanes, including a continuing loss of population, according to the Washington Post on March 6. “Experts say the storm and its widespread devastation undoubtedly have sped up the pace of migration as residents have dealt with extended power outages, communication lapses, infrastructure failures and, in some cases, isolation.” However, the newspaper reported that “even before [Hurricane] Maria strafed the region, a record number of Puerto Ricans were realizing that the declining island might be where their heart is but cannot be where their feet stay. Nearly 500,000 people left Puerto Rico for the mainland during the past decade…. The government of Puerto Rico’s guess is that by the end of 2018, 200,000 more residents will have left the US territory for good.”

Brethren Disaster Ministries’ plan in coordination with the district include a focus on the island’s poorest residents who were disproportionately affected by the hurricanes. Those who have the fewest resources to rebuild experienced the most damage, and many of them live in rural communities and hard-to-reach areas of the mountains which are expected to be the last areas to regain access to water and electricity services. This area includes three of the seven Churches of the Bethren in Puerto Rico.

At this time, 34 homes of Brethren members–some from each congregation in Puerto Rico–are known to have suffered major damage or flooding. Other homes in the communities around all of the district churches also were damaged. Each congregation has completed assessments and has organized disaster assistance in their community and to affected members.

Brethren Disaster Ministries is supporting and partnering with the district to implement a long-term recovery program that will support the efforts of the congregations by providing funds, disaster response expertise, response planning, skilled labor, and a container of critical supplies.

Response programming through January

The response effort so far has included:

— Staff trips to Puerto Rico to work with district leaders in assessing, organizing, providing training, planning the response program, and attending and presenting at the district conference. In October, staff hand-carried cash, solar charging panels, flash lights, batteries, and food.

— Shipping of a container of supplies that included canned chicken, water filters, tarps, tools, generators, and solar lights. Total purchased supplies and shipping costs came to $31,658.

— Support for two volunteer work trips organized by volunteers with Caimito Church of the Brethren, including $10,700 in funds for building materials and volunteer support, and the sending of a trained project leader.

— Funding of $48,300 provided to the district for church-based relief programs including member support, community programs, pastor support, and other emergency needs such as feeding programs, food distributions, small grants for home repairs, water distributions, medical clinics, and related transportation and logistics.

Planning for long-term recovery

Long-term recovery will center on creation of a Puerto Rico District Recovery Committee and naming of a Puerto Rica-based response coordinator and related response staff. This group will carry out case management, funding approvals, volunteer management, and volunteer-based home repair and construction.

Brethren Disaster Ministries will work closely with these staff and the recovery committee to provide training, develop response guidelines, support with trained volunteers as needed, and provide coordination of volunteers from outside Puerto Rico and related efforts to support Puerto Rico.

The district conference in January supported this plan and asked the district board to appoint the Recovery Committee and response coordinators. Once case managers have been identified and trained, Brethren Disaster Ministries will set schedules for volunteer rebuilding programs led by trained construction managers.

To express interest in volunteering with Brethren Disaster Ministries, contact a district disaster coordinator or contact Terry Goodger in the Brethren Disaster Ministries office at tgoodger@brethren.org or 410-635-8730. Find out more about the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries at www.brethren.org/bdm .

— Roy Winter, associate executive director of Global Mission and Service and Brethren Disaster Ministries, and Jenn Dorsch-Messler, Brethren Disaster Ministries director, contributed to this report.

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