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Puerto Rican students feel Hurricane Maria’s impact, hope to help with relief

Puerto Rican students organize the group Terriers for Puerto Rico to support each other after Hurricane Maria and raise donations for the United States territory. PHOTO COURTESY ALONDRA CONCEPCIÓN

After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last week, many Puerto Rican Boston University students and their families are left devastated and looking for solutions.

The hurricane caused extensive physical and emotional damage throughout the island territory, obliterating villages, destroying the electrical grid and leaving residents to scavenge for essential resources, said Rady Roldan-Figueroa, a religious history professor from Puerto Rico.

Some students who left Puerto Rico to attend BU said they have struggled to contact their relatives in the aftermath of the hurricane, but those who were able to reach their family have discovered a grim reality that has taken over the Caribbean island.

Sofia Cintron-Schroeder, a Puerto Rican student, said many of the key aspects of her life back home were destroyed, leaving her devastated.

Her grandmother’s garden in the coastal capital city of San Juan evokes the happiest childhood memories for the College of Arts and Sciences junior. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, however, Cintron-Schroeder said the garden was no longer recognizable.

“Her garden was my happy place,” Cintron-Schroeder said, “until about a week ago … I wasn’t able to get out of bed that day. There’s no worse feeling than knowing something terrible is happening to your loved ones, and you can’t help because you’re stuck somewhere else.”

Alexander Diaz, a junior in CAS, said he felt frustrated by the worsening medical conditions that resulted from the lack of water and other crucial resources in his area of the island. He said he fears for the safety of his family in his small western hometown of Mayagüez because he believes the U.S. government sees his town as too insignificant to warrant proper aid.

“She’s starting to get sick,” Diaz said of his mother, a nephrologist at a hospital in Mayagüez, “and she’s having a hard time finding antibiotics, even as a physician.”

Diaz explained that shortages of water, food and gas across the island are preventing physicians like his mother from performing their procedures, among other things, and causing illnesses to affect entire towns like his own.

Some students expressed frustration with the perceived lack of support from the university.

Despite the gravity of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, Diaz said he doesn’t think BU’s administration is doing enough to support affected students and their families.

“There hasn’t been a response by the school community,” Diaz said, “so what me and my friends are doing is we’re collecting supplies.”

Andrea Hernandez, another Puerto Rican student, said she felt a lot of stress when the hurricane cut off her communication with her family in San Juan, and she felt lost when neither the BU administration nor the student body reached out.

“I was heartbroken,” Hernandez said, “that all my friends were receiving support at different universities and I wasn’t getting that from BU.”

Hernandez, a sophomore in the School of Education, said her friends at other universities received emails from their deans offering support and good wishes to their families. The students were also provided free therapy sessions and immediate faculty involvement in planning bake sales and drives.

“BU is our second home,” Hernandez said, “and an email knowing [members of the administration] were conscious of what we were going through would’ve been nice. It would’ve felt like our extended family here was there for us.”

A group of Puerto Rican students made it their responsibility to comfort one another and coordinate relief efforts, according to Cintron-Schroeder.

The students organized under the name Terriers for Puerto Rico, through which they planned a supply drive that will run in the George Sherman Union on Oct. 2 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The group is asking students to donate toiletries, batteries and non-perishable foods.

Roldan-Figueroa realized the need for Puerto Rican students to verbalize their emotions in wake of the tragedy. He organized a meeting on Sept. 26 where Puerto Rican students gathered to discuss their concerns and plans of action.

Roldan-Figueroa said he was impressed by the undergraduates who organized the supply drive and helped out by emailing Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore to discuss promotion for the drive and funding for supply transportation. Roldán-Figueroa also conveyed the students’ feelings to the administration.

“The faculty who became aware of the situation were very responsive,” Roldan-Figueroa said. “I think the university can show its support now by making sure people are aware of the drive. Then, it falls on the student community to collect as many supplies as we can send to the island.”

Elmore said the Dean of Students office is prepared to help affected students in any way they can.

“We reached out to [affected students] to say, ‘Hey, we feel it, we understand. Let us know if we can be of help,’” he said. “We’ll support students in whatever way they think they want to be able to provide that kind of relief.”

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