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With the power out in Adjuntas, Puerto Ricans rely on the sun to light their community at night

By Oxfam
Arturo Massol displays one of the solar-powered light bulbs that are helping to light Adjuntas. Photo by Ruben Salgado Escudero

Electricity might be in short supply in this mountain community, but Hurricane Maria untapped a torrent of ingenuity in Casa Pubelo, a local non-profit group.

Before Hurricane Maria hit, Adjuntas, a small municipality tucked into the mountains of central midwest Puerto Rico, sparkled at night. Now, with much of the island still without electricity save for what generators can produce, darkness swallows the community when day ends.

But Casa Pueblo, a non-profit organization that has worked for years to help Adjuntas protect its natural and cultural resources, has been scrambling to bring back the light--bulb by solar-powered bulb. Many of the solar lightbulbs--along with other essentials such as generators, food, medicine, and water--have come to Casa Pubelo from Puerto Ricans now living on the US mainland. Though the organization emphasizes that it is not a distribution center, people in need are continuing to turn to it for help, and Casa Pueblo is doing what it can.

Typical of the inventiveness Puerto Ricans resorted to after  the storm knocked out their power grid and destabilized their telecommunications system, Casa Pueblo quickly figured out a way to help families get news of each other. With the support of a small diesel generator, the organization powered up its radio station for a couple of hours a day. Then, using messages posted on its  Facebook page by family members on the mainland, the station broadcast those updates across Adjuntas and other nearby communities--until cell phone connections were restored.

But some initiatives require a certain kind of energy that neither the sun nor generators can provide. When Casa Pueblo Director Arturo Massol  travels back from San Juan, where he has been working, to Adjuntas, he doesn’t come empty-handed: On a recent visit, he carried medicine from the capital for families in need.

With help from local groups like Casa Pueblo, communities are striving to get back on track. But as Massol told Caribbean Business  recently, Adjuntas has a long way to go.

“Although we do have a certain level of normality thanks to the community’s response, we have a gasoline and food distribution system, which isn’t normalized but it’s normal considering the crisis,” said Massol. “We passed the physical emergency, the hurricane passed. Now we are stabilizing the help and reaching a state of normality within the crisis. We are going to have to live with that and try to improve quality of life.”

Oxfam, together with its local partners, is working with other hard-hit communities to help people meet some of their basic needs. In San Juan, where we are supporting the work of the office of the mayor, we are funding the distribution of butane stoves to enable low-income households to boil drinking water, and we are helping to provide essential goods to nursing homes. We are working with the Foundation for Puerto Rico to help low-income elderly people meet urgent needs for food, diapers, batteries, and other essentials. And we are supporting the Foundation Fund for Access to Justice to help families fill out forms from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, so they can apply for assistance.

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