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The guagua arrived in Puerto Rico from Colorado

The guagua arrived in Puerto Rico from Colorado

The guagua arrived in Puerto Rico from Colorado
April 26
12:16 2018

Newsroom/El Comercio de Colorado

Before hoping on the plane that would take her from Denver to Puerto Rico, Irene Vilar already knew she would find her home town in the dark. Electricity throughout the island failed again due to the negligence of a contractor in the south of the island. The lack of electricity, together with other issues affecting Puerto Rico, don’t scare Vilar, they give her more reasons to push forward with projects that benefit Puerto Ricans. This is her second trip since hurricane Maria took place in September 2017. 

This Colorado resident launched the “Puerto Rico Resiliency Fund” as soon as she realized the grave consequences of the hurricane. From that time, all resources raised in Colorado and beyond by this fund have been used for the reconstruction of the small farms in the island. “Resources are being used to rebuild 200 small farms which also include urban farms and gardens in a period of 24 months. These are the farmers who don’t have the capital to survive the devastation and are mainly homesteads. We need to help prevent a second collapse of the food systems with these farmers packing up and moving to Orlando and Miami if we don’t help them,” explained Vilar.

  

The solidarity ‘guagua’

Vilar explains that the support given to the farmers is well rounded. “We provide our service in a guagua (bus). The guagua is a vehicle, in the literal and metaphorical sense, that brings a brigade of volunteers each week to a farm. They help in the areas of rain water catching systems, irrigation, solar energy, pollinators, and crop identification and reestablishment The team brings tents and a mobile kitchen and stay at the place for a few of days. With this intervention we promote food sovereignty,” explained Vilar.

The community leader revealed that the team also includes a vegetarian chef and cultural and healing facilitators.  “Our brigade not only rescues the soil and the environment. We are a vehicle for healing and liberation. The chef interacts with the farmers to guide them on how to maximize the use of the produce from the soil in healthy recipes. Volunteers host yoga, acupuncture, and relaxation sessions,” explained Vilar.

Other projects

Vilar emphasized that the mental health of Puerto Ricans has deteriorated. “Authorities have evidence of a high rate of post traumatic stress disorder. Suicide and depression rates have increased by 500 percent after the hurricane. Our brigade wants to bring back hope to a sector of the population that greatly contributes to the country and advances food sustainability for the island like no one else,” she explained. 

Vilar believes that the actions of her fund provide a model that can be replicated in new crisis that might happen in the Caribbean. “Puerto Rico and the Caribbean constitute the frontlines of climate change driven weather and what happens here is a cautionary tale for the fate of not only these island nations but the rest of the world,” she said.

She also mentioned other projects she plans to implement in the island. “I will be meeting with the leadership of the Department of Agriculture in Puerto Rico. This office wants to learn about our efforts and find ways of alignment to join forces in advancing food production from a terrifying current rate of 3 percent to 25 percent in eight years. Before hurricane Maria we produced only 15 percent of our food. We are perhaps in some ways the largest food desert of the hemisphere,” she said.

Vilar is seeking to participate in the process of reforestation and creation of food hubs in the Loiza watershed by creating a source to sea stewardship collaborative between municipalities, NGO’s, and citizens. This watershed is in a culturally rich region of the island and it feeds the water to the capital of San Juan. She is also working on a seed bank and urban farming projects that were launched at the end of 2017.

“Colorado residents who contributed to our fund can now see the value of solidarity and faith and the beauty that happens when Boricuas in the Diaspora work with fellow Puerto Ricans in the island,” concluded Vilar.

 

 

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Edición Virtual | #330 | 17 de Enero 2019

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