Volunteers deliver aid at a community center in Juana Diaz's Cuevas sector

Relief4PR continues lifting up Puerto Rico - Part 1

Wallice J. de la Vega

JUANA DIAZ, Puerto Rico -- The extreme need Puerto Rico is going through after Hurricane Maria's impact is no longer breaking news. But that doesn't mean the material and human impacts Puerto Ricans have suffered have been healed.

Facing the complex bureaucracy of the governments of Puerto Rico and the United States in this tragedy, civilians have been the ones that have provided the strongest push to help those affected. In spite of government obstacles they have faced, tons of material aid have reached the island and have been distributed through civilian channels.

¿How does one manage to coordinate foreign material aid, transport it by land, sea, and air, receive it in San Juan and distribute it to the communities most in need in the island's central region? Betsilda "Besty" Collazo Batista, knows how, and she has done it for the three months after that fateful September 20th. Founder and president of Relief4PR Foundation, Collazo has been the dynamo keeping together and moving a coalition of organizations and volunteers in this effort.

Group prayer before heading out to deliver aid

A Bayamon, Puerto Rico, native, she worked 12 years in the communications field, cinematography and multicultural advertising in New York. Her skills managing material and financial resources took her through several international companies. These days she works freelance in that field, but facing the island's current needs, she has focused on humanitarian aid.

"For the hurricane (Irma) victims coming from the lesser islands, I wanted to set up a television and recreation room for the kids staying at the convention center … but that was closed down and it didn't happen," said Collazo about her new beginning.

After leaving the island for three weeks to take her sick mother to North Carolina, the idea turned toward a push to aid the most affected in Puerto Rico's poor communities.

Collazo had also commented on social media about her inclinations, and friends, people who just knew her, strangers and organizations in PR and the U.S. quickly showed an interest in giving and participating in what became her budding project. Then she decided to found Relief4PR.

One of those interested early through social media was Wings of Hope, a humanitarian organization that offered to donate air services carrying medical patients from Puerto Rico to Florida. With this connection, she coordinated transportation for several cancer patients and local elderly. Also important was Lizza Hernandez joining Collazo as Director of Corporate Relations in Miami. She coordinates U.S. donations, including the ships and airplanes that bring material aid.

A Vounteer shows a resident how to operate solar lamp

Collazo's key local connection has been with Centros Sor Isolina Ferré, one of the island's most respected and dynamic social services organizations. Joining was facilitated by a childhood friend of Collazo's who holds a top post at CSIF.

"Very proudly, I have to say that we have a very strong alliance," Collazo said, "to the point that it has allowed us to receive water filters through CSIF," and providing other types of aid and volunteers.

According to Collazo, alliances are key to humanitarian work. Other entities that joined the Relief4PR effort are Fundacion Stefano, Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP), Camp Iron Horse de Oklahoma, Helping Hands, MAVI (Movement for Reaching Independent Life), Festival de la Palabra, GI Jane, Somos Uno, Carlos Albizu University and Ministerio Sanador Church.

Ninety-eight days after Hurricane Maria tore the island, we found Collazo and her volunteers in Juana Diaz's, high sierra September 28. The community visited that day was Cuevas sector, which at this date had some public water service but no electric power.

The most difficult thing for Collazo in aid work after the hurricane has been receiving the goods to be delivered. "This thing of receiving the (shipping) containers and emptying them has been a fast track education, dealing with merchandise, inventory, etc.," she said. Unloading one of them by hand takes two days.

"We have visited between 15 and 20 communities," Collazo said. "Our focus is to bring them electricity, solar power, of all kinds, the physical electricity they need, and together with that comes food."

Developing small power generation systems in poor communities is part of Relief4PR's long term plan. The original plan is one year long, with a three to four years commitment if needed, until Puerto Rico is back to relative normalcy.

A woman of faith, Collazo credits God for her success helping others.

"God always has been at the helm of this boat," she said, "and he brings us people as we need them. I ask and, if it's possible it happens, and if it's is not, something else happens. I would not believe that I could do more myself than God can do through me."

For donations to Relief4PR:
United States: Lisa Hernandez (Miami) 786-459-0787.
Puerto Rico: Betsilda Collazo Batista: 787-649-8223 o betsy@relief4pr.org
Directly: relief4PR.org

 

PART 2 >

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© Wallice J. de la Vega 1995-2018
San Germán, Puerto Rico
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