USVI & BVI Field Update
Ben Bourgeois & Brent Lievsay
After a quick re-group on mainland USA we arrived back on St. Croix 10 days ago. Recovery and rebuilding is moving fast on the island and the clean up they did in the few days we were home blew us away. We hit the ground running, starting with assessments and, when needed, restock of our previous implementations during our first strike. The feedback was positive from everyone and it’s good to know our filters are getting put to good use.
Next was growing our network in Tortola and Jost Van Dyke. The logistics of moving 300 filters and 300 buckets from St. Croix to Tortola is extremely difficult. Since the storms hit it’s been tough to hire boats and the ferry system has been turned upside down. We connected with our contacts running the St. Croix/St. Thomas ferry, which has just started running again, and loaded up and set out for St. Thomas. When we arrived it was pouring rain and unfortunately our contact had car problems and was unable to make it. So, we loaded up a passenger van stuffed completely to the top and went on the hunt for a hotel in the torrential downpour. There was zero vacancy on the island and absolutely nowhere to stay. We were fortunate enough to cross paths with the local fire chief. He set us up at the local Firehouse for the night on cots with the rest of the crew, fed us and helped us along the way. The next morning we loaded up all our gear in a fire truck and made our way to Red Hook Marina where we took a private charter boat over to Tortola.
Upon our arrival at the west end of Tortola we wondered how customs would greet us. As soon as they knew we were there to help it we had no problems and went straight to work.. Both of our contacts arrived, we loaded up two trucks, and set out to Apple Bay on the north coast. First stop was Sebastian's By The Sea, a small hotel that has been a staple for traveling surfers and a local hang out. We quickly assembled a demo for the dozen or so people who work and live in the area. Moving along the coast we did another implementation in Carrot Bay, followed by a stop a Rudy’s Bar at the top of the hill. Rudy's is located at a popular intersection in the middle of the island where many people stop and chat. The training went great and Rudy himself was pumped on what we were doing and has plenty of cistern water on the property, so it was a win for everyone. The sun was setting and our local contacts had us set up with a great place to stay and one of the few houses left, with little damage. The next morning we set out to Road Town to implement filters at a preschool, orphanage, and a number of smaller sites around town. Day by day we made great ground, with our local contacts being truly instrumental in helping us get these filters in the hands of the right people.
One of our main goals was to get over to Jost Van Dyke. Jost is a smaller sister island of Tortola and is known for having some of the nicest people in all the Caribbean. We organized a boat from the west end of Tortola with our buckets and filters and set out for a day trip. As we pulled into Grand Harbor you could see the destruction of most of the bars and restaurants that usually line the bay. We set up a demo right off the dock at the local Police station. From there we jumped in a local truck to make our way over to White Bay. It’s world famous in the sailing community and travelers from around the globe. As we pulled into White Bay it was hard to even recognize the place I remembered. No trees left, hardly any structures still standing. We did a few small implementations and had a chat with a legendary local named Wendell. His attitude was great and he was confident that they will rebuild and things will return to normal. The journey back to St. Croix was a bit easier with less gear but the weather still was not on our side and we got stuck on St. Thomas for a night due to high seas. They just can't seem to catch a break down here. We have had a ton of rain since Maria hit causing flash floods and landslides. Also, there are so many homes without roofs it’s hard for anyone to stay dry.
We have now implemented over 500 clean water filtration systems throughout St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Tortola, and Jost Van Dyke. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The communities seem to be coming to terms with the challenges ahead and are all really working together to get the islands back in order. The power grids are all off-line and not expected to be back on-line anytime soon. Most main water sources have been compromised in varying degrees specific to each island (the main water company WAPA in St. Croix has been infected with E.Coli and has issued warnings to boil all water. There have also been confirmed cases of leptospirosis throughout many of the islands) This will take time as most of the infrastructure throughout all of the islands has been completely, or at least partially, destroyed but it’s always amazing to see the local people rising up to help their community, in the face of such adversity.
Puerto Rico Field Update
Jorge Quintana, Rob McQueen & Otto Flores
We started this week off in the West Coast of Puerto Rico, in the municipality of Aguadilla. Partnering with the team from Solar4PR, who added 1000 solar lights to our program, and working with Ricardo “Dickie” Villanueva, we focused our western efforts on Aguadilla, Añasco and Isabela. After closing out our supplies on the west coast we moved back east, with our eyes on the overlooked Central and South regions of the island. We’ve focused on activating networks of local NGOs, and with their support, we have implemented 250+ water filter systems in Utuado, Arecibo, Salinas, Guayama, Comerio, Rio Grande, Luquillo, Fajardo and Humacao.
Our attention then turned to the mountains as we launched Ethan Lovell and Jose Perez to train and activate a new network in the Barrio Borinquen Atravesado, an isolated barrio in the municipality of Caguas. As many of the mountain communities have been neglected during relief efforts we expanded our program to include the mountain municipalities of Barranquitas and Naranjito. Along the way we met numerous people collecting water from creeks and rivers with no way to know the contamination level so we quickly turned a challenging drive into multiple roadside implementations, reaching thousands of people. Realizing the scope of the need in the area we linked up with Salud Integral Para La Montaña Health System. Salud Integral manages health clinics, across 6 mountain municipalities that operate year-round and are located primarily rural areas. To maximize our impact we installed communal cisterns at 6 of their locations to provide potable water for patients, visitors and people from the community.
As our efforts moved forward we continued to gain momentum, improving our networks and increasing our effectiveness. Then reports of Leptospirosis drew our attention to the area, even further. Moving deeper into the central mountains, a region better known as “La Cordillera Central”, we confirmed reports in isolated areas where disease and illness are becoming a real threat. The reported cases of Leptospirosis were found in Cubuy, a sector of Canovanas and we were quick to answer the call as we met with community leaders, assessed the situation and quickly came up with a solution. Working with the Mayor we trained and activated a full staff of emergency management personnel who immediately took to our program and targeted the communities that are suffering from the outbreak. Working together we will expand that strike to include the surrounding municipalities to ensure no other communities feel the impact of Leptospirosis.
On Thursday we had one of the most rewarding activations to date. In Las Mareas in Salinas, a community which was severely impacted by Maria, we implemented a communal cistern with a total of 8 filters that will provide water to 300 families. Josue, an 8 year old boy, stepped up to helped us build the water depot, situated between two destroyed homes. This was particularly moving because the cistern was installed on part of the cement foundation that was once Josue’s family's home. The joy the people of Las Mareas have found in helping each other has highlighted the spirit that has made our response to Puerto Rico so rewarding.
To date, we have impacted an estimated 55,000 Puerto Ricans and we will continue to increase support, both through our water filter program and more key team members that come along with that.