Tainas Unidas Fundraise for Puerto Rico

(Tainas Unidas Facebook page)

By Emmy Pena

Hurricane Maria is the worst natural disaster to affect Puerto Rico to date and is also the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Jeanne in 2004. It was a category 5 storm which also devastated the islands of Dominica and the U.S Virgin Islands.

Grizel “Chachi” Del Valle, 33, is a Puerto Rican singer and dancer. She and eight women from Newark created the organization Tainas Unidas on September 21, 2017, to help the island recover from the catastrophic storm.

The non-profit organization is dedicated to providing Hurricane Maria relief. Members collect, transport and distribute items to those in need. “We started Tainas Unidas because we knew that the island of Puerto Rico would need all the help it could possibly get,” said Del Valle. “Seeing the aftermath devastated us, we knew we had to act fast. Everyone made sure to put their resources on the table and together as a unit we were able to move mountains.”

The organization raises funds and works with local on-the-ground partners in affected areas to ensure efficient use of funds and support to the refugees who have been relocated due to the disaster. “As Puerto Rican women, our maternal instinct kicked in, and we knew we had to take matters into our own hands, and Tainas Unidas was created,” said Del Valle. “I was the face of the organization for the first year.”

The entire population of Puerto Rico was affected by this hurricane but the government’s relief efforts were slow and insufficient. Congress approved $5 billion in the fall of 2017 out of $94 billion that the authorities had requested. Irregular electricity and cellphone service plagued the island for months. Villages were cut off from all types of services and many houses were completely destroyed. The two main drivers of the economy in the country, agriculture and tourism, were devastated. When Hurricane Irma hit the island, it damaged 70 percent of the of the power grid. After Maria hit, it put the territory in complete and absolute blackout, according to government officials.

Today, Puerto Rico’s electrical utility says it is operating at 69 percent of normal capacity, but that figure doesn’t indicate how many of the island’s residents are actually receiving power. The system that monitors the extent of distribution is not working.

“Not being able to speak to your family because there is no power, that’s when you truly experience what pain is,” said Ana Campos, a Puerto Rican native that lives in the Bronx.

Days before the hurricane, Del Valle recorded an emotional video singing the traditional bomba ‘Campo’. In the video she is wet, covered with the Puerto Rican flag, swinging herself in a swing while singing a capella “Campo yo vivo triste, cada día sufriendo más, ay Dios que será de mi, si no bailo esta bomba me voy a morir.”

She did the photo shoot in Puerto Rican flag the Friday before Hurricane Maria. “After the hurricane, it went viral because people found solidarity in the photo,” said Del Valle. “My following grew with more than 20,000 people in less than 48 hours, so I decided to use my platform to gain awareness for the island but also to ask for donations.”

Many families were forced to evacuate because their homes were completely destroyed. The Campos family farm was destroyed. “Growing up in the town of Peñuelas, everybody knows each other and I grew up in a community where we all helped each other to the point that all parents had the right to reprimand each other’s kids,” said Josefina Campos, 39. “After hurricane Maria, everybody just started fighting for survival and it was so sad to see my people fighting with each other for supplies.”

The Campos family is known in the town of Peñuelas for its shoemaking family business which had been passed down for generations. “It hurts to see that our patrimony is gone and now is all in our memories, my father is devastated,” said Ana Campos, 28. “Up to this date Puerto Ricans are still being forced to use cash due to the fact credit card transactions are not being processed at many stores and restaurants.”

Tainas Unidas shipped over 250,000 pounds of food, water, medicine, hygiene products, batteries, flashlights, and aid to the island in just three weeks after the hurricane. The group traveled to Puerto Rico to deliver the donations personally, something other organizations failed to do, leaving their goods in the wrong hands. “Most of the donations never got to the people of the island, many containers were stopped at the port and never distributed, a real shame,” said Del Valle.

Currently Tainas Unidas is only accepting monetary donations and the organization has moved on to the second phase of the mission, focusing on repairing homes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) left thousands of families without necessary aid, according to government officials. Citizens protested in the streets against cuts to public schools and pensions for the elderly.

“We are now focusing on repairing homes, because a blue tarp over a house with no roof does not qualify as help” said Del Valle.

Researchers at the University of George Washington Milken Institute say that there were 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico, mostly from the poorest towns in the country. Some of these included Jayuya, Las Marías, Comerío, Cabo Rojo, Naranjito, Yauco, Morovis, Loíza, Peñuelas and San Sebastián.

“We can’t be forgotten, without the access to power many lives are at risk,” said Rafael Gonzales, 47, who lives in Cabo Rojo. Gonzales lost his mother and is now taking care of his father who is very old and suffers from high blood pressure. “My parents already struggled with medical service because they were poor. I would often have to send money for medicines,” said Gonzales.

Grizel del Valle will be performing at the Puerto Rock Steady music festival June 21 to the 23 in Isabela, Puerto Rico. The organizers of the festival have partnered with Tainas Unidas to do community work on June 20.

“Puerto Rico will rise, even if the government turns their back on us, we have hope and we know that slowly but surely we will come back up,” says Josefina Campos.

You can find out more information about upcoming events via Instagram @tainasunidas or help by donating to Tainasunidas.org/donate.

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