“Puerto Rico Rises”: Q&A with Outreach Coordinator After Humanitarian Mission

While balancing graduate school and a full-time job at Zakat Foundation of America as an Outreach Coordinator, Abdelhamid already had a lot on his plate before being asked to accompany the most recent humanitarian mission to Puerto Rico. However, he did not hesitate to join other aid workers in distributing relief packages to communities in need across Puerto Rico. Although he was only on the island for a week, the journey helped Abdelhamid realize the impact of Zakat Foundation of America’s emergency response, as well as what else needed to be done to help the people of Puerto Rico overcome this disaster.  

Q: How did you prepare for the trip to Puerto Rico?

A: We wanted to make sure our supplies reached the island and were cleared before we landed. Leticia, our programs coordinator, overlooked all our distributions for the trip: where to go, on what date, what we would be doing. She worked very hard to make sure the trip ran properly and smoothly.

Personally, how I prepared was I made sure I was going with the right intentions, which was to ultimately serve the people. I was constantly reminding myself why I’m going and that the reason is bigger than me.

Q: Last year, you visited Zakat Foundation of America-sponsored programs in Turkey and Jordan. How was this different?

This trip is different because that was essentially a programs visit to see the status of Zakat Foundation of America projects. This was a relief aid trip where we were on the ground in a disaster zone distributing aid. In comparison, the trip to Turkey was nice and comfortable, whereas this could be long and tiring.

Q: How exactly did Zakat Foundation of America provide humanitarian assistance to the beneficiaries?

We shipped a container that included 1,000 food packages, distributed fresh water bottles, water filters, solar powered lamps, first aid kits, and organized free medical screenings.

Abdelhamid helps unload a truck carrying humanitarian aid.

Q: Where in Puerto Rico did you deliver aid?

A few major towns such as Arecibo, Carolina, and Barranquitas, as well as rural areas that were largely underserved and forgotten.

Q: Can you provide some background information on the beneficiaries – in terms of demographics, social class, age group, gender, etc?

It’s interesting to see it was a problem affecting all classes. It doesn’t matter how much wealth and status you have. If your bank system is down, you can’t access your money. If you do not have access to electricity or water, you can’t cook. This disaster really leveled everybody to the same socioeconomic status. Everyone is struggling with the same issues, and it’s most urgent in rural areas that are already poor.

Leticia (right), Programs Coordinator at Zakat Foundation of America, speaks with a beneficiary (right), who gifted her the doll as a token of her thankfulness.

Q: What was the reaction from the beneficiaries? Can you remember a specific moment or story that really touched you?

Everybody was just genuine. People were honestly very happy with us being there and us distributing any aid. They weren’t asking “what else do you have?” and were content and grateful for what we could provide.

I really felt a strong spirit of selflessness from the people. There’s a popular trending hashtag “#PuertoRicoSeLevanta” which means Puerto Rico rises. One of the restaurants I went into, I saw the uniforms of the workers there and it said that on their shirts.

Q: What do you believe is the most urgent need for Puerto Ricans?

Electricity and water are the two main things people have inconsistent access to, or no access at all.

Aid workers distribute fresh water to rural communities in Puerto Rico.

Q: If you could tell the international community one thing about Puerto Rico, what would it be?

That these people are suffering in silence, and suffering in a way that isn’t so apparent. It’s not easy to tell they’re in need because they’ve pulled together so well. They look like they moved on, but they haven’t. Imagine one or two days without water or electricity – how hard would that be for you?

Q: What is the best way for someone to support relief efforts in Puerto Rico?

To pray for our organization and the success of our relief efforts. Spreading the word about the crisis and what’s happening. Donating to our cause so we can consistently deliver humanitarian aid to those most in need.  

Abdelhamid poses with a young beneficiary on the last day of the trip.