-by Nicholas Maya
I was on my way to the gym when I received a phone call from Kenan. I thought to myself, "Why is Kenan calling me?? " -because it was so puzzling I decided to pick up. He asked me if I was interested in going down to Puerto Rico to help with Hurricane Maria relief. He also explained that by accepting the invitation I would be foregoing my holiday break. There was zero hesitation with my answer. I told him that I was honored to be asked and that I would absolutely be available to go to PR. I had a week till my departure. During that time, I felt nervous as I had never been to a disaster zone. I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I was ready to help people in serious need.
On Friday, December, 1st I boarded a plane to San Juan with three other Corps members. During the flight my mind raced with numerous thoughts. I tried to picture what Puerto Rico looked like. What was the damage? What would my living situation would be? What would I eat? Would I need to speak Spanish? The thoughts never seemed to end. Finally, after a full day of traveling, I touched down in San Juan. My first thought was that it did not look like a Category 5 hurricane had just hit the Island a few months prior. There were a few downed trees and power lines, but the city looked to be fully functional. It would be a few days later till I truly experienced the true destruction of Maria.
The first couple of days were spent at the JFO getting briefed on our mission in PR. Once I had been fully brought up to speed, I was sent out into the field with a Washington Conservation Corps team. Our task was to remove trees that had fallen on survivors' homes in the rural municipalities of Puerto Rico, which were hit the hardest. It was on this day that I saw firsthand how much damage the island and its residents had sustained. I saw houses that were missing roofs, I saw houses that only had one wall standing, and I saw power lines strewn across streets. The destruction I witnessed was unfathomable, and words cannot really describe what I saw. Nothing can prepare you for entering a disaster zone.
As days have become weeks, I continue to see the damage sustained by the people of Puerto Rico. All I can keep thinking is that it is incredible that in thirty-six hours an entire island can be destroyed and set back five years; but what has amazed me most about this island is the people who call it home. They are some of the kindest people I have ever met. Their spirit is strong. They love their island, and they are all so grateful for the help we are providing. It is the people that get me up in the morning ready to help in any way I can. In their darkest hour, they can still see the light. FUERZA PUERTO RICO.