How do I help actually rebuild Puerto Rico, with my actual hands?
November 12, 2017 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I want to go help fix people's houses in Puerto Rico over the holidays. Will this really be helpful? If so, what organization can I volunteer with?

And before you say "Habitat for Humanity, duh," I've scoured their website and signed up both with my (NYC) local chapter and the one in San Juan, and there does not appear to be anything like this going on. Any other suggestions? Particularly for on-the-ground organizations?

I would be happy just to help people put roofs on their houses or clear brush (this dog was inspiring!) or dig sewer lines or anything that would be of use. I've already donated a good amount of cash and some stuff (water filters, clean underwear and socks) via NGOs' Amazon wish lists. I have enough market Spanish to get around in a borinquen/quisqueyan neighborhood in New York.

I'm assuming if I go down I will pay for my own flight and lodgings (I am figuring on a tent, let me know if that sounds dumb; I have good camping experience). Am I underestimating how having one more body will negatively impact available flights, or resources on the ground?
posted by gusandrews to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A former MetaFilter user named Dee Xtrovert lived in Sarajevo during the Bosnian war. When her city was torn apart, numerous volunteers came from overseas to try to help. Inadvertently, they burdened the local people and caused hardship to them.

In 2010, responding to a similar question from a would-be volunteer after the Haiti earthquake, she wrote an exceptionally clear and vivid account, from first-hand experience, of why Crisis Relief VolunTourism is a terrible idea.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:34 PM on November 12, 2017 [44 favorites]

This is not a good or helpful idea. Every new person on the ground who is there to rebuild is someone taking up resources that the people affected by the disaster need. Things like clean drinking water, food, tent space, and even airplane seats are all limited, and by going there you're downloading your material needs on to the region's stretched supply network. Not to mention, paid disaster work is one of the few jobs available in a devastated region. The very best thing you can do is donate money to an organization that is already doing work on the ground.
posted by Jairus at 12:36 PM on November 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

I volunteered with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance following Katrina, visiting the Gulf Coast 6 times. This early on after that storm, they had little need for volunteers, and that's without the huge difference in logistics problems for PR versus the continental US. Right now they're only accepting financial contributions for Irma and Maria recovery.

However, they welcome volunteers at a range of worksites all over the country. Folks in New Orleans will tell you that the Presbyterians kept coming and helping rebuild years after everyone else had forgotten about them.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:13 PM on November 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

Three Ways to Help After Hurricane Maria

You can register to volunteer later, when it gets to that point, but please don't jump the gun.

I heard a lot of Puerto Ricans have evacuated to Florida, so if you really want to do something hands-on try going there! This Orange County page says, in two spots, that Second Harvest needs volunteers. Wrassle those cans!!
posted by sacchan at 8:49 PM on November 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing people can do to help Puerto Rico is to go there for vacation.

This sounds strange, but lots of hotels and restaurants and casinos are open in San Juan, and tourism is a major source of income for the country.

the best way to help the Caribbean, is to visit the Caribbean

part of the recovery from the storm depends on how fast visitors reappear
posted by eye of newt at 10:16 PM on November 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Yes to what eye of newt said. Even before the this crisis, when you turned on the tv in Puerto Rico there was always someone talking about "How can we get people to come?"

Right now, United Airlines-- and maybe some others too-- are offering amazing free freight shipping there so that you can send generators and stuff. But, as people have already pointed out, the needs are varying and location-specific, so money is probably still best. I switched my modest donation from the Red Cross to this fund just because of Lin-Manuel Miranda's campaign.
posted by BibiRose at 8:13 AM on November 13, 2017

Mennonite Disaster Services is looking for five volunteers during the month of December:
posted by willF at 10:08 AM on November 13, 2017

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