With support from UNICEF USA, teams of student volunteers from New York were in Puerto Rico this summer helping to repair homes that were damaged during Hurricane Maria.
The rebuilding was part of UNICEF USA's ongoing recovery assistance efforts launched in the wake of the storm, which ravaged the island over two days last September, destroying buildings, flooding roads and knocking out the power grid. An estimated 1 million people were left without safe drinking water. In the immediate aftermath, UNICEF USA coordinated with UPS and other partners on the ground to deliver clean water and emergency supplies to affected families. UNICEF USA's Bridge Fund provided the funding needed to support a swift response.
One of the main tasks the students helped out with: roof replacement and reinforcement. The Andelis family, for example, got a new roof for their home in Isla Verde near San Juan. "Things are bad in Puerto Rico, but I'm very thankful that the students are here helping," says Yovany Andelis, a father of two.
When 6-year-old Kayli learned about the effort, she asked if she could help. Her father, Guillermo, accompanied her to Guaynabo so she could work side by side with the students.
Angel, 11, and Jodalis, 13, live in Barrangquitas. When Hurricane Maria ripped the roof off the family's two-story home, they lost everything that was on the second floor. Now their home has a new roof — which, without help from UNICEF USA and the students and other volunteers, the kids' mother Adaliz says they would not have been able to afford.
Teams of a couple dozen or more spent two weeks each on the job, embedded with one of three nonprofit partners who are already active on the ground: All Hands and Hearts — Smart Response, Nechama and Heart 9/11.
Students said the experience has been deeply fulfilling. "It's been an enlightening, self-affirming experience for sure," said Sadie Foster, 25, a student at City University of New York. Brooklyn College student Jonathan Cabral, 24, pointed to his grandmother as his inspiration. "She lives alone with her sister in the Dominican Republic. If something similar happened there, I would want others to help," he said.
"As a New Yorker and a child of Jamaican immigrants, I felt drawn to come help," said Oneika Pryce, a 19-year-old student at The City College of New York and one of the first to participate in the effort. "Being here has really opened my eyes to Puerto Rico's strength, resilience and rich culture. It is truly an honor to be a part of this experience."
President and CEO of UNICEF USA Caryl Stern called the project empowering for young people. "It is the ultimate 'kids helping kids' solution, which is at the heart of what UNICEF is all about," Stern said.
It is the ultimate 'kids helping kids' solution, which is at the heart of what UNICEF is all about.
UNICEF USA and New York State, through the NY Stands With Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, were co-funders of the deployment, which concluded last month. A total of 500 student volunteers and 20 skilled labor volunteers participated.
Every year, UNICEF responds to more than 250 emergencies—from conflicts to natural disasters. Read more about how UNICEF works in emergencies.
Top photo: UNICEF USA's post-Hurricane Maria recovery assistance efforts include helping families in Puerto Rico rebuild homes that were damaged during the storm. Student volunteers from State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools are spending the summer working alongside professional carpenters and contractors to replace or reinforce roofs, among other structural repairs. © Edison Sabala for UNICEF USA