A month has passed since Hurricane Maria wreaked devastation on Puerto Rico, thrusting the U.S. territory into an ongoing state of emergency.
Since then, thousands have left the crippled U.S. island of roughly 3.4 million people for the mainland. Haniel and Maegan Santiago, however, are holding out, helping family members and hoping that things will improve.
Maegan is the daughter of Russ and Priscilla Reid of Sicamous. The two are caretakers for the Mara Landing condominium complex. Familiar with the Reid’s, their family in Puerto Rico and the troubles that have continued there since Maria, Mara Landing resident Peter Moxness decided to see about helping out.
“I approached the rest of our strata council and said, ‘Are you guys all game, can we proceed?’” said Moxness. Soon after, a fundraising page was set up on gofundme, encouraging other Mara Landing property owners to lend a hand.
“They presently have food and water, their home was not destroyed, but all their employment income has stopped, and their money is running low,” states a letter to Mara Landing owners on the GoFundMe page. “Personal safety, basic infrastructure, and delays in restoring both are the current issue. Because Russ and Priscilla are employed by us, perhaps there is something that we can do!”
As of Monday afternoon, 31 people had donated more than $3,000 to the Santiagos. Russ said this generosity has given Maegan and Haniel something Puerto Ricans aren’t currently accustomed to receiving from the U.S. – hope.
“In the midst of all that’s going on, particularly with the Puerto Rican people – they’ve always felt they’re second-class American citizens – and the non-response of mainland America has reflected that that’s the truth…,” said Reid. “My children, who are fluent in both Spanish and English that live in Puerto Rico, they feel like no one cares. So when someone does something like a gofundme account, what it does is it gives them hope… somebody cares, that things could get better and that they’re going to be able to manage.”
Reid said Maegan, 30, moved to Puerto Rico six years ago. She and her husband, Haniel, 33, were both in the later stages of their post-secondary degrees when the island was impacted by back-to-back hurricanes. First there was Irma, which grazed the island but caused damage none the less. Then there was Maria, which resulted in 49 confirmed deaths, as well as mass devastation of homes and infrastructure, including the island’s power grid which remains inoperable.
Reid said Maegan is in her final year of a civil engineering degree, while Haniel has a year-and-a-half to go for a degree in architecture. They’re hoping the school they attend will be back in operation instead of facing the challenges of trying to continue their education on the mainland.
“When you’re a student, especially in your fourth year, you’re in the end of it and those courses are only offered at certain times,” said Reid. “For them to try to move back to the mainland and try to re-establish is crazy.”
Also, Reid said Maegan and Haniel are keeping busy helping other family members who live on the island whose lives were also turned upside down by the hurricanes.
“So this go-fundme account is basically helping them try to stay on the island as long as they can and if the school doesn’t open in the next four weeks, then they have to seriously consider what their future will hold,” said Reid.
Also grateful for the gofundme effort, Reid is dismayed by the U.S. response so far to provide aid to Puerto Rico.
“One of the sad things about the island is – they’re American citizens. To go to the grocery store, there’s no milk, there’s no eggs, there’s no meat, there’s no fresh produce. Nothing. Because there’s not power to keep things cool…,” said Reid, who describes Puerto Ricans as people who don’t complain, work very hard and are resourceful with very little.
“I think if the American government decided to say, ‘We’re out, you’re on your own,’ they would say, ‘Good, sign the papers and leave.’ Because they’re so limited with what they can and can’t do relative to bringing products to the island. It’s hard to believe but minimum wage in Puerto Rico is $7.25 an hour,” said Reid, adding 45 per cent of Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line. “We’re acutely aware of the relationship Puerto Rico has had and continues to have with mainland America. So much of it depends on their president and this president (Donald Trump) is – unique at best would be a polite way of putting it.”
The Mara Landing gofundme account is open to anyone, and Moxness and Reid welcome any help others might be willing and able to provide.