Sunday, March 25 – As we mentioned in yesterday’s post, we recently made contact with a community organizer, Edith, who is working with four different communities in the areas most affected by the hurricane. At our request, Edith had sent a list of the things that her communities need most. So yesterday, we stopped by the local Home Depot and Wal-Mart to pick up some supplies to add to the many donations that had been contributed by all of our donors.

This morning, after breakfast, each of the backpackers pitched in to sort and pack the supplies that we would be donating – water filters, solar chargers, folding tables, shoes, bed sheets, wipes, diapers (for babies and seniors), school supplies… By the time we were ready to go, all three vans were packed to overflowing with the supplies that many of you have donated and continue to donate. (We can never say thanks enough to each of you.)

As we wound through the tropical rain forest to our destination, the effects of Hurricane Maria became increasing apparent. It was quite sobering. One member of our team who has lived through a civil war commented, “This is what [my home] looked like after the war.”

Power lines were down everywhere. We saw entire homes that had been blown away. Cars that had been tossed about, mangled and destroyed, were clumped together near the highway. People had collected their entire homes’ furniture that had been destroyed and left it by the roadside, but no one was collecting. At one intersection, we encountered a handmade sign that read, “No electricity from 1 kilometer that way – until Adjuntas (a municipality dozens of miles the other way).” And this is six months after the hurricane!

About 20 minutes before we arrived at our destination, the heavens opened and it began to rain – and wow, can it rain in the rain forest!

Nevertheless, we reached our destination – Bartolo de Castañer – and our contact, Edith. She led us to one of her community centers, and what we found there broke our hearts.

After the hurricane, there were many families whose homes were completely destroyed and they had nowhere to go. Seeking refuge, they broke the chains at an old school that had been closed three years prior. These six months later, many families remain. They have turned classrooms into apartments and have furnished them as best they can. They have organized themselves into a commune and help each other. They receive food donations from other areas, but they are working to become self-sufficient. There is an artist among them who sells her paintings to help purchase supplies. They have also begun to sell baked goods and cold beverages to raise money. They truly are using their entrepreneurial spirit to take care of themselves. We were glad to be able to support them and we are grateful for all of the generous donations that continue to make this possible!

We returned to our home base with our hearts filled, but with the keen sense that there is so much more to do. At our evening reflection, everyone commented on how moving the day was; how connected we all felt to each other, those we were helping; and the world community; and how inspired we all felt.

As always, thank you to all of you who have partnered with us to make this journey possible. You truly have spread hope where it is much needed.

Visit the Cultural Bridges Facebook page for additional photos.