Puerto Rico, Maria, and the Long Journey Toward Recovery

Over the last several days, I have attended a social sciences conference in San Diego, California. During this conference, I unveiled my plan to assess the needs of Puerto Rican women, as they have experienced a large percentage of the burden for recovery after Hurricane Maria, without the opportunity for respite or other self-care. It is simultaneously necessary to consider how to help Puerto Rican women to rebuild their lives in the wake of Maria

and to ensure that Puerto Rican infrastructure is strengthened so that in the event of a future storm, the people have some recourse to help themselves recover more quickly, efficiently, and self-sufficiently. This can happen with the combined and continued efforts of the United States government and non-government organizations, the people of Puerto Rico, and international entities which recognize the current and future consequences of the hurricane and its aftermath on the social, economic, and environmental status of the colony.

Puerto Rican women are often the heart of the family; they tend to be expected to care for children and spouses, family, and the community, with little regard for their own needs. It is important that social workers, researchers, and interdisciplinary professionals recognize that the women of Puerto Rico could be holding in their feelings and experiences due to traditional gender role expectations. It is, therefore, quite possible that these women are internalizing and silently suffering continued trauma since Hurricane Maria. While it may be difficult to tease out the feelings of such individuals, the attempt to do so is imperative if social welfare professionals are to adequately and accurately address the distance between the needs and the resources available.

Recovery from a catastrophe such as that which has been experienced by the people of Puerto Rico will take a long time, possibly multiple decades. Over time, needs will possibly change, though such change will likely be slower and less sustaining for more vulnerable populations. Helping to stabilize the status of women in Puerto Rico will in turn strengthen the foundation of Puerto Rican life in general.

Puerto Rican hope and resilience must be considered in the recovery process. Puerto Ricans use music, food, community support, and ingenuity to help themselves in the wake of disasters such as Maria. We who seek to help them must remember the influence of the wonderful and rich culture of Puerto Rico on its own recovery, and should therefore ensure that such elements are interwoven with the efforts to move residents of the colony toward a more secure and sustainable future.

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