Several chapters of the student nonprofit organization Enactus focused their social entrepreneurial initiatives on providing solutions to the countless difficulties faced by groups and communities in the wake of the disaster.
A little over a dozen university student chapters from 10 colleges, including five campuses of the University of Puerto Rico, studied the needs of different groups and communities in Mayaguez, Humacao, Fajardo, Caguas and Cataño, among other towns, to draw up innovative solutions to their needs, explained Lola Yglesias, Executive Director of Enactus Puerto Rico.
Their projects were partially funded by two grants from United for Puerto Rico for a total of $263,320. Enactus is an international organization that connects student, academic and business leaders through entrepreneurial-based projects. Lola explained that Enactus projects in Puerto Rico need to generate social, economic as well as environmental benefits.
“Projects need to be sustainable,” said Lola. Once they are sustainable, they are capable of being transformative, she explained. And transformation takes place at two levels, in the community or group that is part of the initiative and among participating students who applied their knowledge in a real- life scenario and will become engaged and empathetic professionals with a better understanding of their reality, she added.
For example, student groups from the Bayamón Campus of the University of Puerto Rico came up with Bottles of Hope, a project to build homes that could endure a devastating storm while being ecologically sustainable. About 80,000 homes in Puerto Rico suffered significant damages or were destroyed by Hurricane María. Students identified two families in Fajardo. One of them is a couple over 55 in which the spouse is in a wheelchair. The second family they identified is a young mother living under a blue tarp with two children under 5.
By pooling resources with a large retailer and milk manufacturer as well as the Mayor’s office, they were able to draw up plans, obtain permits and design homes for these two families in Fajardo. Instead of cement blocks, they will use plastic bottles to build two, two- bedroom homes, which cost around $20,000 each. Lola explained that the students work hard to bring down the cost of the dwellings by forging alliances as well as in the materials that are used. In the case of the single-family home, 18,000 to 20,000 plastic bottles.
Difficulties with permits and the scarcity of some construction materials have delayed the building of the homes in some cases, but the projects are well under way.
The UPR-Bayamón group joined forces with the UPR-Carolina Campus chapter to build a center to be called Centro Artesanal Yuisa for the Yuisa Artisan Association Center for the municipality of Loíza. The group decided to also use plastic bottles in lieu of cement blocks to build the structure. It will require 80,000 to 100,000 plastic bottles. The rich African heritage of this community will have a center in which to display Vejigante masks and other crafts to enhance its cultural and tourist attractions.
Meanwhile, the Enactus chapter of the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez campus became aware that Voces-Topy Mamery Foundation and Hunger Corp were rebuilding homes for families who had lost everything. Yet, the organizations lacked funds to buy kitchen ranges or refrigerators, Enactus identified the neediest families and provided the funds to furnish the homes, explained Dr. Patricia Valentín, the professor who mentors the group.
“Our students identified a need and took action, which is always a priority in an Enactus project,” said the academic.
The Mayaguez chapter also provided courses for the hearing impaired to start a baking and chocolate confection business. Hannah Marrero, a cancer survivor whose home was destroyed by Hurricane Maria and is one of the beneficiaries of the workshops, has begun her business of vegan baking products.
The Enactus team from Columbia Central University focused on the needs of the people living in the Beatriz sector of Caguas, where 4,000 families live in the hills surrounding this town. Seven out of 10 residents are 60 years or older and 60% have health conditions. There they designed an initiative they called Lighthouse to create a multidisciplinary space that can serve as a warehouse for food and water in case of emergency, storing the equivalent of two weeks of supplies always. When the expiration date of the items nears, they can be sold to members of the community. The proceeds from these sales are used to replenish emergency supplies. In addition, there is a community kitchen where meals can be prepared and sold to generate funds to run the place, which also serves as a community and activity center for the residents.
“United for Puerto Rico saw that Enactus’ projects have a multiplier effect in the communities that we work with and trusted us with funding to carry out our projects,” said Lola.
For more information, please visit http://enactus.org/country/puerto-rico/ and for more information on United for Puerto Rico, visit www.unitedforpuertorico.com.