Friday, 17 November 2017 07:16

U of L students, faculty band to help Puerto Rico

Written by  Demi Knight
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After a devastating hurricane ravaged through the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico in September and left the nation overcome with disaster, the small community of Lethbridge banded together to help raise donations for the island struggling through a humanitarian crisis.

Over the first week of November, student volunteers from the university of Lethbridge set up donation tables throughout Markin Hall and the Students’ Union building for six hours on a daily basis.
These tables were available until Nov. 3 to collect money for P.E.C.E.S, which fosters social, economic and educational development of people and communities in social disadvantage within Puerto Rico.
Although this week-long fundraiser addresses a global issue that many feel strongly about helping, there’s one University of Lethbridge Doctoral student in particular involved with this local fundraiser that the issue hits home with so deeply.
“A lot of people have lost everything, their families, their houses and their Businesses. We just want to help in any way we can. There’s a big humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico,” says Francisco Gomez Jimenez, a native to the island, who grew up in the once tropical paradise before coming to Canada. After re-visiting the place that he used to call home and being hit with the reality of the crisis that the once beautiful island was in, Gomez Jimenez says it was shocking how devastating the storm really was to the small nation.
“Puerto Rico was brown. There were no leaves on the trees. It looked like a completely different place from the one I last visited in June,” he says. “It’s always this lush, green island. Now it’s barren. It’s just devastated.”
As the powerful Category 4 hurricane Maria blew through the island with 150mph winds and heavy rainfall, the island is still suffering over a month later with little power, water shortages and limited food and cell services across the whole area. In fact, over 1 million people were initially affected at the time of the hurricane with no power, and at least 60,000 residents are still suffering from these outages and may continue to struggle in the upcoming weeks or even months to come thanks to the critically crippled infrastructure that will cost billions to repair.
With the sad reality that the people of Puerto Rico are still facing right now, more than a month after the hurricane has hit, Lethbridge community members got together to make a difference to the island over 5,000-km away.
Dr. David Logue, a psychology professor at the University of Lethbridge who once taught at the Universidad de Puerto Rico for a few years and a student named Karen Pinto-Larsen teamed up to contact the former resident of the nation, Gomez Jimenez and together they set up the week-long fundraiser.
“Helping others brings our community together, reminds us that in spite of the difficulties
we face in our own communities, we are fortunate to live in a peaceful, safe, and affluent country, and spreads the message that Albertans care enough to help our brothers and sisters when they are in need,” says Logue of his want to bring this fundraiser to life and show how small communities can make a difference when they come together, even if it’s in the smallest of ways.
However, it wasn’t only the three individuals that ultimately wanted to help, but many other campus groups including the Spanish club and the African Caribbean Student Association. These clubs along with and many more at the University of Lethbridge got together to form the Students United for Puerto Rico (SUPR) and host this week-long event to raise as many funds as possible for the cause. The fundraiser even got the help of local artist April Matisz to make greeting cards featuring Puerto Rico beach scenes for all people who donate throughout the week.
Although Lethbridge is not the only community banding together to help the nation in need thousands of miles away, the humanitarian efforts made by small communities near and far, no matter how big or small, will all ultimately work to help rebuild the beautiful nation and let those in need know they are never alone in this world, says Gomez Jimenez on a final note as to why fundraisers like this one are so desperately needed at this hard time.
“Despite everything Hurricane Maria took from us, we will rise up from this as a community, I could also see determination in people’s faces. They’re still looking forward to the future, knowing things will get better,” says Gomez Jimenez.
“They still need all the help they can get, and I hope this fundraiser will demonstrate that they’re not alone and that we’re thinking of them.”

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