On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria, a powerful Category 4, hit the island of Puerto Rico causing catastrophic effects.
Over one week on from the hurricane, the island is still without power, with the exception of a few generators that are being used for high-priority buildings such as hospitals. Millions are left without drinking water and cannot bathe or flush toilets. The lack of water is leading to a serious lack of sanitization and this means that conditions are ripe for illness and disease to spread. The island is in desperate need of help from the international community. If you’re keen to volunteer, here’s how you can help:
1. Who should I volunteer with?
The American Red Cross is currently training volunteers who will be dispatched to Puerto Rico. The Red Cross is using Florida as a base to give initial training, whilst delegating volunteer roles. They are looking for volunteers with all sorts of different skills, from helping to rebuild houses, through to working with children affected by the hurricane. Find out more information or sign up to be a Red Cross volunteer.
Meanwhile, the organization Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) is responsible for coordinating relief efforts and delegating roles to volunteers. There are a lot of smaller organizations focusing on one specific area of the relief aid, and VOAD brings together the organizations so they can coordinate, collaborate and communicate. If you’re interested in volunteering with a smaller organization, you can contact VOAD who will help to put you in contact with relief efforts that are already underway. Volunteer with VOAD.
You can also volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, which is an organization that asses housing and shelter needs in some of the worst-hit areas. Habitat for Humanity is currently seeking volunteers for the recovery and rebuilding phase, which may last months or even years. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity.
2. What type of volunteer work is needed?
At the moment Puerto Rico is in a state of chaos. The streets are flooded, there is little-to-no electricity, homes have collapsed and there an estimated 1.5 million people are without drinking water. You should be prepared for difficult, and heart-wrenching conditions. Volunteers will be needed to help at one of the many shelters that are serving the community, load and unload trucks, serve food from the limited supplies, organize the volunteer and relief efforts and help build and set-up facilities.
3. What are the requirements?
If you want to help, you must be at least 16 years old to volunteer with the Red Cross, and for other organizations, you may need to be 18 years old. If you are between the ages of 16-18 and keen to volunteer, you will need parental consent. In order to volunteer, you will need to be fit and ready for manual tasks such as loading and unloading heavy objects bringing supplies and building shelters. Most organizations require that you work 8-12 hours a day, depending on the task at hand. If you are working with children, you will need to provide a background check.