[Saturday, February 9th] we had the opportunity to visit the Citizen Transformation Center. This is a citizen led, local government supported initiative that was developed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The Center is located in a building that used to be a police station before the storm. The residents came together and turned it into a community center. It runs totally on solar power and they have their own well and filtration system for water.
When you walk inside, it is extraordinary. They have a fridge so they can store medicine like insulin for local residents. They have first aid supplies. They have a generator, chain saws, a raft, and other emergency supplies. They have a small kitchen so if someone loses power, they can come here and cook – for themselves but also for the community.
The strong and savvy women who help lead the Center and who shared the story with us - via Jenniffer M. Santos Hernández’s graceful and beautiful bilingual translation – let us know that they have distributed small lights to each home so the 250 or so residents can say whether or not they are safe in a disaster. If someone puts a red light out and needs help, they will send one of the 25 trained Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members from the local community.
This community faces many social and economic justice challenges. There are many low-income elderly in the community. The community is in a flood area, and so they are constantly at risk of being pushed out by unscrupulous developers who want the valuable land by the beach and near the airport. They are separated from a nearby community where health services exist, and they need the pedestrian bridge to be repaired and so they are working carefully and thoughtfully with the community across the way.
Our gracious hosts were able to tell us of each of these very real challenges and vulnerabilities, while also speaking of the creative ways they are working together to tackle a number of issues in a forward thinking manner. The Puerto Rican government is looking to replicate this model across dozens more communities. With this kind of local leadership and inspired vision, it seems that anything is truly possible.
All the thanks in the world to Jenniffer for bringing the SURGE Disasters group to this place to bring so much inspiration to us all.