In one week, Raquel Marti, M.A. ’99, went from helping Hurricane Irma refugees flowing into Puerto Rico from other Caribbean islands to becoming a refugee herself when she had to flee Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria.
“I heard on the radio the day before the hurricane hit that the governor said, ‘evacuate or die,’ ” Marti said. “My plane ticket to San Francisco, where my son lives, had been bought for the day later, when it was scheduled to hit. I was able to change it at the last minute to that day. I ran to the airport as soon as I could. I had to leave my suitcase at home and left Puerto Rico with my purse and the clothes on my back.”
Marti admits that she’s one of the lucky ones, though.
“Most people aren’t able to leave and they’re suffering in horrible conditions now,” she said. “There’s limited clean water, no gas, no power … I talked to my neighbor before it hit. Since then, I haven’t been able to connect with her. That was a week and a half ago. It’s the biggest natural disaster Puerto Rico has ever had, and it started a crisis so big. Nobody could have anticipated it.”
Being off the island has not stopped Marti from using her connections made through her work at the University of Puerto Rico and the Governor’s Office of Federal Affairs, as well as contacts with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and others on the mainland to spread the news about the disaster and explain the best ways to give back.
“I’ve been very active on social media and using other communication channels as much as I can,” Marti said. “I let people know how they can help by donating to United for Puerto Rico, which was started by the governor’s wife, and the local nonprofit ConPRmetidos. I’m familiar with those organizations and now they are helping people on the ground now.”
Marti worries daily about people on the island, especially children.
“There are so many families with small children; this is the biggest natural disaster in Puerto Rico’s history,” she said. “Beyond the basic needs that need to be restored, what will be the impact on these children and the future emotional stability of the country? You can’t prepare for something like this.”
However, Marti regularly continues to raise awareness among people on the mainland.
“Philanthropy is a big part of my life,” she said. “If I can help someone, I will. I never want to get through to a point where I sit down and cry. Instead, I stay active on social media in order to show how philanthropy can make a difference in general and how it’s desperately needed in Puerto Rico now.
“It’s important to serve the community when a disaster like this happens, but it’s also important to share these experiences with others around you. By doing so, you’re able to help more people and make a stronger impact.”
Abby Rolland is the blog content coordinator for the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.