It’s been a year since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, and Team Rubicon has been on the ground there ever since, first as disaster responders, doing assessments of damage to main infrastructures such as electricity and water supplies, and providing clean up and emergency medical help. And now, Team Rubicon is investing $4 million into the Puerto Rican economy by working with local contractors to rebuild roofs on houses in 22 cities.
In the past six months TR, working with St. Vincent de Paul and FEMA and local governments, has built more sturdy and hurricane-resistant structures and then reroofed more than 240 homes with another 165 in the queue, working on between 15 and 20 roofs per week, using 88 local contractors and only a handful of TR personnel.
But all of these numbers only tell part of the story. Hilda Vlachopoulou, TR program lead, has been in Puerto Rico for the past five months working on the project. She said, “We have a choice every day to assist with technical competency, radical love and perseverance, to find people who need help and to get them involved with the systems who can help them.” She referenced the extra efforts it takes to get people who may not have phones or transportation or access involved with the services that they desperately need, and she said she works closely with a case manager who determines if families meet both social and structural criteria. (One structural criterion is if the home in its current condition is strong enough to support a new, reinforced roof.)
During the time Vlachopoulou has been in Puerto Rico, she has watched people’s attitudes and understanding shift. She recalled a local leader driving her to some areas of the island and telling her how dangerous the area was, how she might be shot or her car might be broken into. Only a few months later, Vlachopoulou now is known in those neighborhoods as a person who is there to help. “I drive with my windows down and smile at people and they smile back,” she said. “A few weeks ago as I was walking through what had been referred to as a dangerous neighborhood to look at our projects, and a man and his son approached me. The man thrust a piece of paper at me and it turned out it was drawings for a new house. He wanted my opinion on the design.” She called the transition from being approached with fear and wariness to being identified as a helpful and a resource, “a blessing.”
And one little girl who Valchopoulou described as “super shy” but observed what the workers did while rebuilding her roof, and approached them on the last day and asked if they were done. Vlachopoulou said the girl wanted to know if she needed anything would they come back again, and if they did would they bring her a doll. Vlachopoulou said it was touching how much the little girl didn’t want to see them go.
TR’s Puerto Rico roof rebuild project is scheduled to last through the end of 2018, and the plan is to rebuild approximately 450 roofs. TR is launching a second phase of the rebuild project in mid-September and this phase will use local contractors to rebuild whole homes.