Our Humanitarian Mission in Puerto Rico

Following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Zakat Foundation of America mobilized a team of medical and disaster relief professionals for a week long aid distribution and medical effort in eight Puerto Rico communities that were hit hardest by the storm.

The seven-person team, including two RNs, delivered prepaid debit cards, safe water, water filters, food, lanterns, and offered free medical screening to needy victims of Hurricane Maria in Coamo, Arecibo, Guyama, Barranquitas, and Utuado, for American citizens still suffering aid deprivation a shocking three months after the Category 5 storm ripped the island.

“There are still a lot of places without electricity or water—even in the Capitol San Juan but more pronounced in the rural and interior areas,” said Leticia Escamilla, Zakat Foundation program coordinator.

The relief mission, begun December 5, followed a lengthy bureaucratic delay to approve urgently needed aid shipments to the devastated American territory from the mainland and delivered 950 food packages and nearly 2,000 liters of drinking water to afflicted families, in addition to emergency appliances and medical supplies.

“It’s now 82 days since I do not have electricity or water in my home,” said a security guard there, excusing his wrinkled shirt to team members. “I cannot iron it.”

In Coamo, 90 minutes from San Juan, the relief team participated in the last day of an electronic cash transfer for two stricken communities, loading debit cards for needy beneficiaries pre-selected by Zakat Foundation of America partner Mercy Corps.

One recipient said her entire neighborhood still had no electricity or running water, including the school she works in, which opened daily from 2:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. “so the children can get a meal and have a place to go in the day.” By 7:00 p.m., “everyone’s forced to go to bed since there is no light.”

In addition to the cash transfers, the aid team handed out lanterns for those without electricity and water filters so families with running water could purify it for drinking. They also met with local community leaders and about two dozen governmental and nonprofit organizations to coordinate their medical response.

Some 280 families received food packages while Zakat Foundation of America’s much-welcomed nurses screened 100 people for blood pressure health and other assessments, also giving out 80 first-aid kits.

“Even before we could finish setting up, people started lining up for medical screenings from our team,” said Donna Demir, Zakat Foundation health advisor. “We worked three hours straight, stopping only because of the push by organizers to end the fair due to time.”

In a moving moment, one woman presented the team with an heirloom doll, her way of saying thank you to Zakat Foundation’s donors.

“People’s need is not always visible,” Escamilla said. “One man in a suit that you might assume is fine based on outward appearance told us that his home was destroyed and that his family is now living with two other families.

“He explained that while he is in a suit, that is his uniform. He cannot iron or wash at home. His children just returned to school a couple weeks ago, and the mental stress of not being able to cook or live as before is something they must deal with daily. Many people shared similar thoughts.”

The relief mission bore fruit in other ways, establishing contacts with local leaders, social service organizers, and other relief agencies interested in partnering with Zakat Foundation, as well as providing leads on free office and storage space for future aid shipments.

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