Puerto Rican youth find hope in the dark

It’s been nearly four months since Hurricane Maria plummeted onto the island of Puerto Rico during the most expensive hurricane season in history.

Four months since the the most intense tropical cyclone of 2017 blew 155 mph winds over 3.4 million American homes.

Four months since Puerto Rico experienced the largest power outage in history and it will likely be a total of eight months before power is restored in many of the remote mountain communities.

ACE has always identified climate change as a justice issue.

But let’s not demonize hurricanes. Hurricanes, as with all storms, are natural phenomena that form when the conditions are just right. There’s no doubt that man-made climate change has created the “right” environment for bigger and stronger storms (see the image below). 

ACE has always identified climate change as a justice issue and in alignment with ACE’s new strategic plan, we are working to better support educators and young people in communicating climate science and climate justice by creating resources for the classroom and beyond. Shortly after Maria hit Puerto Rico, we created a new lesson plan aimed to help teachers guide their students to cope with the trauma and build resilience after the devastating hurricanes.

This exercise, called #HopeAfterHurricanes, takes elements of trauma pedagogy, psychological debriefing, and critical incident debriefing to help support those affected by hurricanes through discussion, writing, and storytelling. Since its launch, the Puerto Rican Department of Health has delivered the lesson in over 70 public schools through the SISA program (Programa de Servicios Integrales de Salud al Adolescente).

ACE had the opportunity to visit Puerto Rico to see the lesson plan in action and to hear stories from young people across the island finding hope after this climate disaster. Read on to see how youth in Puerto Rico are coping with the impacts of Hurricane Maria and how they are finding hope to move forward:

Escuela Marcelino Canino Canino, Dorado, PR
Students at Escuela Marcelino Canino Canino were out of school for two months due to flooding, power outages, and loss of resources. Prior to initial rebuilding, water lines were visible just about a foot below the ceilings of the library and classrooms. Sixth grade SISA students participated in the #HopeAfterHurricanes activity preceded by a meditation exercise and followed by a creative activity where students painted a rock with a word of hope.
 

Escuela Segunda Unidad de José Celso Barbosa, Aibonito, PR
Aibonito is a small mountain town. It faces the southeastern side of the island, setting the city up to receive a direct blow from Hurricane Maria. Classes at Escuela Segunda Unidad de José Celso Barbosa were out for three months but the facility was opened up after just one month to provide a communal space for students to socialize and to escape demolished homes. Seventh grade students participated in ACE’s activity and organized each class in the grade to share messages of hope written on paper Christmas tree ornaments. Each class representative read their message aloud before adding them to the Christmas trees alongside the school courtyard.

Amira Odeh
Amira resides in Bayamon, a city located in the northern coast of Puerto Rico just south of San Juan. She has dedicated herself to environmental justice, serving as a Sierra Club Student Coalition Youth Leader and as a Regional Lead with the Caribbean Youth Environmental Network. Just a week after Hurricane Maria, Amira gathered a group of volunteers to hand out fruit trees and seeds to low-income families impacted in the rural Barranquitas region. With an estimated 80% of crops lost in the storm, Amira hopes planting fruit trees now will assist in rebuilding food security in the most impacted communities. Amira lives with her grandmother and both are grateful to have both power and running water.

Keishla Negron
Keishla is also a Youth Leader with the Sierra Club Student Coalition. She lives in Manatí and visits her grandmother in nearby Carolina almost daily. Her grandmother’s home is still without power. They use a propane tank to cook and a portable cooler as a refrigerator. Keishla is currently studying law and has plans to use her law degree to tackle environmental justice issues in her communities. Keishla’s grandmother will be moving to Florida by January 2018 due to the impacts of the storm.

What you can do:

  • Donate to Amira’s tree-giving initiative. Give to "Reverdece Puerto Rico/ReGreen Puerto Rico" to help communities create a future of food sovereignty in Puerto Rico.
  • Take action with #OurPowerPR. Find ways to contribute and take action with Our Power Puerto Rico’s grassroots efforts to support local communities.
  • Support ACE. Help us provide young people in climate-impacted communities with climate justice education and the hope and tools to become climate leaders in the footsteps of Amira and Keishla.
  • Sign up for Our Climate Our Future. Learn more about climate impacts and youth like Amira and Keishla by signing up for Our Climate Our Future, an award-winning climate education resource for teachers and students, equipped with videos, interactive trivia questions, lesson plans and more.