“I want to help. What more can I do?”
Those words ring in my ears like a gunshot. It has only been 12 days since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico - my island home since 2012 – and, once again, I am astounded by the generosity and selflessness of the people here. They look for any opportunity to help, setting aside personal struggles to help their island community.
Those who have just lost their homes offer their neighbors the last of their drinking water; someone with only 1/8 tank of gas offers to wait in 10-hour fuel lines to help an elderly friend, forgoing their turn; and the lucky few fortunate enough to have their roofs spared from the destruction of 140+ mile per hour winds, have graciously taken in many more hurricane-displaced friends than their homes allow.
And, amidst all this, they think to call me and ask how they can help. Time and time again Puerto Rico’s openness, kindness, and sense of community leave me speechless. The response to Hurricane Maria is no exception.
This is not to say that we have the situation completely under control; we don’t. We need help right now, and cannot wait on bureaucratic delays or partisan politics. The clock is ticking. It is a matter of life and death as our infrastructure fails, our ill and elderly run out of medication, and vital drinking water and food remains stranded on shipping containers in docks across the island.
Those of us in Puerto Rico who lost our homes, our businesses, or even loved ones are frustrated by the federal governmental response to Maria. While Fortaleza’s (Puerto Rico’s territorial government) response was swift, local resources are profoundly inadequate to respond to a crisis of this magnitude. Puerto Rico’s government is doing as much as they can with the resources available, but it simply isn’t enough.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, recently appointed by the Pentagon to run point between Puerto Rico, FEMA, and the DOD should be commended – although he’s only been on the job for a few days, the improvements are evident. But this doesn’t make up for the slow initial response by the federal government; Puerto Rico was forgotten in the critical hours following Maria.
Sadly, while we await a relief bill in Congress, some elected leaders have chosen to waste valuable time and energy bickering on social media. We don’t have time for partisan politicking and petty insults. Our leaders will be judged by what they do to help Puerto Rico, much more than by what they say or tweet. Just like the people of this island, our elected leaders must come together as a community, set aside their differences, and figure out how they can help. Too many lives depend upon it.
Rebuilding Puerto Rico is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I remain hopeful that, just like the people of this beautiful island, America’s political leadership will view this crisis not as an opportunity to divide us or score small political points, but as an opportunity to come together and help.
And although we are all busy repairing our homes, tending to our families, and getting back to work, let us be driven by my neighbors’ examples, and ask Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, and President Donald Trump:
“I want to help. What more can I do?”
*Mark E. Curry is a leading entrepreneur, philanthropist and impact investor. Curry founded SOL Partners in Puerto Rico in 2012, and in January 2017 completed acquisition of NotiCel. As Chair of the Mark E. Curry Family Foundation, he invests in critical community charitable organizations such as San Jorge Children’s Foundation. He is currently donating all proceeds from his charitable organization (mecff.org) to help Puerto Ricans impacted by Hurricane Maria.