Casa Pueblo taps solar power, diaspora to help communities
In the mountainous town of Adjuntas the pitch black night is now broken, even if just slightly, by solar-powered lamps and bulbs which have been distributed to different households following the total collapse of the electric grid after Hurricane María passed over the island.
This initiative was coordinated and executed by the community and environmental entity Casa Pueblo and more help is to come. They hope to eventually extend their reach to neighboring Utuado and Jayuya, indicated its associated director Arturo Massol.
Residents of this municipality in the the central-southern portion of the island, which prior to the storm was known for its thriving coffee plantations, road-trip worthy restaurants and yearly Cold Festival, have taken it upon themselves to clear roads and help each other as no government brigades or agencies have reached them yet, revealed Massol.
In this community spirit, Casa Pueblo wasted no time tapping its friends in the diaspora, particularly the organization Texas United for Puerto Rico, the Sierra Club, several US universities, among others, to ship to the island 1,500 solar-powered lamps and light bulbs, solar and electric power generators, tarps, 20 wood cutting saws, as well as food and water.
Many of these donations reached Adjuntas last Thursday and Friday, brought into the island on four private flights organized by Marian Cabanilla of Texas United for Puerto Rico. And the donations, both monetary and in the form of supplies, keep coming. This week they will be receiving water filters with a capacity for 1,000 gallons.
“Donations are coming from the private sector, academia, and individuals in the diaspora. People that don’t trust the government but trust community initiative,” expressed Massol to Caribbean Business.
He hopes to eventually publish the names of all the organizations and people who have donated, as well as the products they have sent, particularly those that would encourage the use of solar power as an alternative energy source. “Its good business to be good and this is the type of entrepreneurship we want to promote,” he added.
Illuminating and communicating
For Massol, the solar-powered lamps and bulbs were critical after the hurricane passed, particularly for households with an elderly family member, in order to improve quality of life, avoid accidents, and curve criminality during the night. Massol projects that for most of the island, regular electric power is at least six months to a year away.
“The lighting project is emblematic because the country’s electric system is vulnerable, it collapses, and following the devastation left by Maria we have to look to the future with a different energetic logic. There is an element of education,” he added. The project has been christened Illuminating Puerto Rico with the Sun.
Casa Pueblo’s headquarters in the town of Adjuntas is solar powered and has become an energetic hub where residents come to charge their phones, seek information and look for help.
Along with working to normalize conditions in his municipality, Massol is also concerned with enabling family members in the United States to communicate with their loved ones on the south of the island, an area which still doesn’t have stable telecommunications. In order to do this he is accepting messages via Casa Pueblo’s Facebook page – Massol is currently working from San Juan – which are then transmitted on Radio Casa Pueblo 1020, a radio station that can be heard in Adjuntas, Jayuya, Utuado, northern Peñuelas and Ponce, and parts of Lares.
Another concern is safety. Massol was very critical of the government’s response, particularly now that food and supplies are dwindling and they lack enough police presence to ensure the safety of their residents. “Gangs are coming at night to vandalize and rob. We don’t think they’re from Adjuntas,” he declared, adding that they don’t need military presence, just a minimum of security from the state.
When asked how long it will take Adjuntas to return to something resembling normality, Massol’s response was “months.”
“Although we do have a certain level of normality thanks to the community’s response. We have a gasoline and food distribution system, which isn’t normalized but its normal considering the crisis. We passed the physical emergency, the hurricane passed. Now we are stabilizing the help and reaching a state of normality within the crisis. We are going to have to live with that and try to improve quality of life,” he concluded.