UC Berkeley students travel to Puerto Rico to aid in disaster relief

Sherry Mariel Raimundi/Courtesy

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Boricuas, a UC Berkeley-based Puerto Rican student group created in response to Hurricane Maria, sent students to the island territory after the hurricane hit in September.

Betsabé Castro Escobar, a Puerto Rican UC Berkeley graduate student, returned from the first of many brigades that are part of Boricuas’ assistance. Relief efforts will continue to provide monetary donations and basic needs items to communities identified in Puerto Rico.

Escobar and her husband stayed in Puerto Rico from Nov. 2-8, visiting family members and providing supplies to disaster-ridden areas throughout the island. Representing Boricuas, she brought with her 200 pounds of supplies and $2,000 to purchase food and water at local grocery stores for distribution.

The last time Escobar saw her home island was in December 2016.

“I had to do a lot of emotional build-up in order to go to the island,” Escobar said. “I was very nervous.”

Upon her arrival, Escobar encountered debris gathered by the side of the roads. Her first day was shocking, she said, because of the lack of electricity and flooded streets.

Escobar visited two communities, Las Palmas in Utuado and Comunidad Villas Hugo in Canóvanas, with the help of about 10 friends and family members. Going door to door, they distributed items such as food, batteries, water purification tablets, insect repellant and tarps for shelter.

Escobar said she met an elderly man and his son living in a car. They had lived there for more than 60 days after most of their house was destroyed in the hurricane. According to Escobar, many people had their homes destroyed.

“After a certain amount of time, they have started to lose patience,” Escobar said, referring to the lack of government support. “As I was there interacting, not just with my loved ones, but with the people in the streets, in the community — you could see the pain and suffering in their eyes. … That was hard.”

While the community continues to endure the aftermath of the hurricane, Escobar said she is hopeful after leaving the island. She said community members remained strong despite their situation.

“I believe in our people,” Escobar said. “Really, it all came down to interacting with our people — just seeing the resilience in them.”

Boricuas will continue sending members to Puerto Rico with supplies. Escobar’s brigade was the first, after a fundraiser in October that raised about $7,000. Pablo Paredes, a Boricuas member, is currently in Puerto Rico assisting with relief efforts and representing the organization.

Next month, club member Jesyka Melendez-Rosa will take part in a third brigade after a donation drive Dec. 17 at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley.

“There is still so much work to do,” Escobar added. “Our work continues. As a student group, we’ll be continuing to provide relief efforts.”

Contact Adrianna Buenviaje at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @adriannaDC.