HOPE works in more than 35 countries worldwide. Please enjoy our blog as we document the successes and challenges of our work to provide Health Opportunities for People Everywhere.
Puerto Rico is starting to return to a sense of normalcy Hurricane Maria ravaged the island in late September. Electricity is slowing being restored throughout the island and schools have started reopening after being shuttered for over a month. Still, it’s a very different normal from what Puerto Ricans were accustomed to before the storm; a new normal that presents daily challenges to the health of many on the island.
Take Edgardo, a teacher in Ponce, a low-income community where resources are still scarce. He spends his days searching for clean water and gasoline, both of which are still in limited supply in many parts of the island. “Right now I worry about the health issues with the water,” he said, noting that he’s dealt with gastritis after the storm.
Getting food is still a challenge as well. Although most grocery stores are back in operation, challenges with distribution have driven up costs and made it more difficult to keep food fresh. “When I want to buy food on the supermarket there are a lot of empty shelves,” he said. “The produce in the stores are out of date in Ponce.”
Recently, Eduardo was able to visit Project HOPE’s Mobile Medical Unit to get treatment for his gastritis and hypertension. He was finally able to get medical care after weeks of struggling to find relief after the storm.
While he was able to find relief, he also has other people to worry about. His parents, who work as farmers, lost nearly everything in the storm. “Their house was completely ruined by the hurricane except for one room that is still standing,” he said. “They don’t want to leave their house because they have livestock.” His mother also faces challenges due to hypertension.
He also has concerns for his students, including those who are still at shelters because their houses were destroyed in the storm. The lack of clean water has contributed to conjunctivitis and scabies outbreaks, which are difficult to contain in the close quarters of a shelter.
Worries about his parents and students, on top of his own challenges, have made things stressful for Eduardo as well as many others struggling to cope with the new daily realities of life after Hurricane Maria. “I have a hard time sleeping,” he said.
Project HOPE is continuing to address the most pressing health needs in Puerto Rico. The team is using a mobile medical clinic model equipped with a stocked pharmacy and a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses and pharmacists to provide care to hard-to-reach areas of the island like Ponce. The team was also recently joined by a mental health professional to support the growing need for mental health services among clinic patients.
Edgardo, like many on the island, is eager to see things return to the way things were before the storm. While it will still take time for that to happen, he sees how HOPE’s response is helping accelerate the recovery process. “This makes people feel secure and gives inspiration to move forward and to help,” he said.
Arlene has been suffering from migraine headaches for three years. After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in September, the stress of coping with no electricity, rationed clean water and limited access to health care caused by the storm only exacerbated Arlene’s condition.
When Project HOPE volunteers brought medical services to her community through a weekend clinic, Arlene’s discomfort was dramatically lightened. “After the Hurricane, I have felt so isolated and alone,” she said. “The Project HOPE team listened, and provided me with quality care, with such warmth.”
“Our medical volunteers are going community to community, reaching isolated and hard to reach areas that have still received little help since Hurricane Maria,” said Andrea Dunne-Sosa, HOPE’s Regional Director of the Americas and Volunteer Programming. “We were able to provide Arlene with a consultation, medicines and a referral letter for additional medical care. But almost as importantly, we were able to let Arlene know that we have not forgotten her and others like her who still need medical support after Hurricane Maria."
"Arlene was so relieved to see us and receive care, she expressed her gratitude through a tearful hug.”
Project HOPE’s Medical team continues to set up clinics in the communities most hard hit and difficult to reach in Puerto Rico, providing children, women and families with needed medical and psychological care and critical medicines, all while also helping to restore a sense of HOPE.
Since arriving in Puerto Rico after the storm, Project HOPE volunteers have
- Treated more than 1,500 patients
- Distributed 1,500 vials of insulin
- Coordinated the delivery of 2,600 water purification kits
- Transported $500,000 of medicines and hygiene kits to regions in most need
Volunteers are scheduled to continue working in Puerto Rico at least through December or as long as they are needed. Please support Project HOPE’s continuing work in Puerto Rico.
Mirldred lives in Penelas bo Rucio Sector La Hayce, a rural mountainous region in the municipality of Ponce in Puerto Rico. She lives there with her father, mother-in-law, husband and daughter.
Because of their remote location, Mirldred and her family have seen little help since the hurricane.
When the Project HOPE medical team arrived in Bo Rucio Penuelas in late October, it was the first medical care her family had received since the storm.
“I have been taking insulin for diabetes and medicine for my thyroid," Mirldred said. "Before the hurricane I only had one vile of insulin. I am supposed to use insulin three times per day at 50 units each dose, but now I am only able to use 50 units of insulin at night. I also use metformin twice per day. Without the right amount of insulin I feel tired and my blood sugar was 200-250.”
Like many, Mirldred’s family is still facing a long road to recovery. The hurricane ripped off part of the roof of her house - her family’s beds, clothes and documents have all been destroyed from continuing rains. Her water system was also ruined from the raging storm, forcing her to make difficult choices. “I started drinking both river water and filtered water because the municipality isn’t providing enough water for my family. I give the bottled water to my daughter and I drink the filtered water,” she said.
Her father has Alzheimer’s and his mental health is deteriorating even more since the hurricane. “I have a lot of stress now and I cry a lot and I don’t have time to rest. However, I consider myself somewhat fortunate, because some people lost their house entirely,” she said.
Mirldred is grateful for the health support provided by Project HOPE. Keeping her blood sugar level is one less worry. “There hasn’t been anybody to help us since the hurricane before Project HOPE arrived.”
“People should donate to Project HOPE,” she said. “We had been for weeks without medical care until Project HOPE reached our community. Donations are helping my people return to their normal life and providing primary health care to hard to reach communities like mine.”
Elsa Castro lost her home in the rural community of Punto Oro because of Hurricane Maria, but rebuilding after the storm was the least of her worries.
The storm cut her community off from aid in the days after the storm, making it difficult for her to get food and water. More importantly, it made it difficult for her and her family to get medical care.
“I worry about my sister who has cancer,” she said.
“This is my main concern since I am her main caregiver.”
Elsa also faces her own challenges. She’s 76, and suffers from has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Hurricane Maria made it more challenging for her to get the care and medicines she needs in order to keep her blood sugar and hypertension in check.
Her challenge is not uncommon in Puerto Rico. Many who live on the interior of the island have had limited access to medical care due to damaged roads, limited communication and other challenges caused by Hurricane Maria’s destruction. Project HOPE has responded to these challenges by setting up a mobile medical clinic in Puerto Rico, visiting hard-to-reach parts of the island that have not received care since the storm struck.
Recently the clinic, staffed with three nurse practitioners, two medical practitioners and a doctor, set up at a food and water distribution center near Elsa’s home. The team was able to provide Elsa with the care and medicines she needed to get her diabetes and heart issues back under control, so she could get back to focusing on her sister’s needs.
“I hope for a better world and that families can find sufficient food and water in the immediate future,” she said. “Project HOPE’s mobile clinic provided fantastic services!”
HOPE for Mother and Son
Mariza is one of many mothers whose life has changed after Hurricane Maria raged through Puerto Rico in September. Mariza, afraid her wooden house wasn’t stable enough to survive the hurricane, took her three sons to weather the storm with her sister in Ponce. After the storm passed, she returned to her home to find the storm had taken the roof off of the house and all of the household items were ruined by the water. To make things worse, fallen trees had crushed her car.
Since the hurricane, Mariza and her sons have had little access to food, water and phone reception.
“This has affected my life emotionally, physically and financially,” she said. “I feel desperate and shocked, and I am trying to adjust to this new life." There was no help and she felt very isolated and unadjusted. "I felt fear of the unknown because I have children and I felt very insecure,” she added.
Her 8-year-old son, James, felt the insecurity the most. He started to get sick after the storm, and he was afraid of returning home because he was afraid the storm would come back and take what little was left of the house.
Recently, Mariza and her family were able to reach a food and water distribution center, where Project HOPE was also hosting a medical clinic. Mariza received the supplies she desperately needed for her family and at the same time, she was also able to seek medical care for her son James. Kelly, a member of HOPE’s medical team, diagnosed James with upper respiratory problems caused by the after-effects of the storm. Rotting hurricane debris and other challenges from storm cleanup have presented issues for many in the weeks following Hurricane Maria.
To help alleviate James’ symptoms, HOPE provided James with new medication to help better treat and manage his asthma and allergies.
“You could see the relief in his body language when he was given the medications,” Kelly said.
For Kelly, helping James get the treatment he needed was a powerful reminder about the importance of providing care to families in need after a crisis. “The families of Puerto Rico have no idea how much they changed me. James' family story helped me remember that life is precious and that we must continue take care of one another. We are their chance of feeling hope again, and shining a light at the end of the tunnel. They need us, and they deserve all we have to offer.”
In spite of all Mariza has lost during the storm, she hasn’t lost hope. “I feel very appreciative and hopeful,” she said. “After receiving our food and water at the distribution point, Project HOPE provided my son with medical services. It is the only organization that I have been able to get medicine from since the hurricane. Project HOPE has been very loving and kind. There is a lot to be grateful for.”
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