La Torre, Lares and Mirasol, Lares
February 17th, 2018
As our work in the beautiful Island of Puerto Rico expands, we are combining distribution events with door to door deliveries in difficult to reach, remote areas. Our most recent adventure, which took us to the mountainous regions of La Torre and Mirasol, both in Lares, was all about “conquering mountains.”
It all began with our guide (firefighter/rescuer) telling me he had been summoned to participate in an event recognizing the labor of volunteers who worked non-stop for 20 days to clear the power lines. That event was at 2:00 PM which meant his time as a guide would be shortened, a luxury we could not afford when off into the mountains.
I quickly contacted Pastor Alejandra to see if Israel, a school bus driver, was willing to be our guide. To make things more interesting our driver, Héctor, had a last-minute situation and could not make it. Give up? Not a chance! I loaded our precious cargo in my car and told him “bluebird, tomorrow you will fly!”
And so, these two little determined ladies took off to meet with Israel and begin their journey into the mountains.
For security reasons, Pastor Alejandra told us to use one of the Church vans and we quickly transferred the cargo, which included the filters and personal hygiene care packs donated by other churches.
We also had another person accompanying us, Sammy, Pastor Alejandra’s son, who is a special young man. It was a delight to hear him explain, in his own particular way, the scenery that surrounded us and the difficulties the locals went thru with the lack of power and running water.
Israel became our guide/driver, and as we would soon learn, he turned out to be much more than we bargained for! His knowledge of the area, expertise as a driver and his wonderful sense of humor made this trip unique and quite a learning experience. Alida was so relaxed and comfortable that no sooner the van stopped she was out exploring!
We visited century old coffee processing facilities,
saw a “carbonera” (coal bunker) and spoke to the builder/owner, passed a bridge that was flooded by the river current during the hurricane,
and visited “los chorritos”; an area by the mountain side were residents have installed PVC piping to direct runoff water which they collect and use for their needs. For 150 days after María (February 17, 2018) they still lack the aqueduct potable water service.
However, nothing compared to the stories of the people we met in La Torre and Mirasol!
We were able to see their needs and feel their anguish! From meeting a housewife with only two buckets which she was using to collect rain water to meeting another with only one bucket which she joyfully stated: “lo trajo María” (María brought it).
We met a mother who had received a Sawyer filter but quickly passed it on to her daughter who has two children and did not have a filter. Thanks to Water Filters for Puerto Rico her clean water need is now met.
We witnessed firsthand how residents resort to different means of storing rainwater, be it a 1,000-gallon cistern or many 5-gallon buckets laid out in a row. They will do what it takes to meet their water needs, stating that it is difficult for them to make the long ride to the closest gas station to see if they had received bottled water and that they were not getting aid delivered to their homes.
A resident told us that the aqueduct service had been reestablished in a few houses in the area, but the water had debris and sediment and could not be used for drinking or cooking, and that although she had a cistern collecting rain water it is being used for cleaning the house and doing laundry because they cannot drink it or use it for cooking. I am at a loss of words for describing her happiness in receiving our filter and, after hearing our explanation of how it works, saying “definitivamente lo voy a usar!” (I will definitely use it!)
Surprisingly enough we came across a dear lady that heard our live radio interview on WGDL 1200 AM and stated she had wished we would reach her area. Her joy was contagious! We are grateful to Nadioshka and her program ‘Nadioshka te Escucha’ for allowing us to speak about Water Filters for Puerto Rico and the work being done on the Island.
Having been directed by a neighbor, our last stop at La Torre, Lares, put us face to face with the endearing story of survival of Doña Blanca and Don Juan, who kindly agreed that we share their story.
When we explained the purpose of our visit, Doña Blanca quickly set out to get a bucket. When she returned, I noticed she was having difficulty breathing. I told her to please get in the shade because she seemed to be out of breath and she responded, “that’s due to cancer taking one of my lungs.” And as her husband, Don Juan returned from an errand she said, “and now he is taking chemo.” Talk about the human spirit, about endurance, about conquering mountains! If Doña Blanca and Don Juan have stayed and fought on for 150 days, as of our visit, without electric power or potable water, we too can continue discovering new places, meeting new people, listening to their stories, embracing their cause; giving them the gift of having filtered water and letting the world know that Puerto Rico still needs help.
Doña Blanca gifted us with homegrown organic parsley to nourish our bodies, but her smile and her embrace nourished our souls.
Upon returning from our adventure, Pastor Alejandra set a table of typical “arroz con gandules” (rice with pigeon peas), roasted chicken and criollo bread. On departure she stated the Church’s position is to help us in the various parts of that region, allowing us to use their vehicle, arranging for the driver, Israel, and even putting together a small group of people to accompany us.
Water Filters for Puerto Rico is blessed to have partnered with First Presbyterian Church of Bonita Springs, North Point Bapitist Church, Evangelico de Amor, Iglesia Bautista Biblica, Misioneras de la Caridad, Iglesia de Dio Mission Board, Igleia La Milgrosa, Iglesias de Dios Defensores de la Verdad, Evangelico, Iglesia De Restauracion Filedelfia, Veteran Diaster Relief, The Anasco Expendables, U.S. Coast Guard, Mansfield University, Ramey Base High School Students, Girl Scoout Troop #387 Mayaguez, and now Iglesia Pentecostal Revelación Divina, Inc. who is passing the blessing and helping us reach those in need.
As I write this post and think of our most recent adventure, I realize how blessed we are to visit such beautiful places, meet such wonderful people and lend a helping hand where needed. But I also think of all the work that still needs to be done. Of the hundreds of thousands that still lack electric power and potable water, of the need to have clean drinking water and of the task ahead of us. The only way we can provide the service is by your continued support and contributions.
Alida Pagan and Carmen Carrero (our fearless mountain climbers)