We first had contact with the community in Peñuelas, where we found families with small children who had received little support due to being in the periphery of the affected areas.
The rural area called Arenas in Guánica, where part of the community leadership has a close relationship with Nuestra Escuela, determined they would organize themselves to prepare for a future emergency, which would continue the labor of forming a structure that can address the needs of the region. The communities they serve have a population of mostly aging adults, supported by younger leaders that collaborated in the organization of the social fabric that today forms the Red Comunitaria de Respuesta (Community Response Network) and the organization Unidos por la Comunidad Arenas (United for the Arenas Community).
Aware of the difficult moments these communities experienced during and after the earthquakes, we were especially careful when taking photographs, so as not to add any more stressors or uncomfortable experiences to the daily lives of these families.
Upon visiting the communities in the south and through our contact with the community leadership, we soon understood that, amidst the commotion of the losses caused by the earthquakes, socioemotional support was fundamental. To meet this need, along with providing supplies, we were present in Peñuelas to support families and children with our biopsychosocial teams. With the help of our social workers along with art specialists, a large portion of our staff arrived at the community to work with the children affected by the earthquakes.
The majority of the children were terrified of being inside their homes, so we worked with them outdoors. They colored mandalas, which helps to balance the body, mind, and spirit, promotes reaching deep levels of meditation, relieves stress, clears the mind, providing peace and serenity and transmitting a sense of equilibrium. Additionally, through this contact with art and their own bodies, these children were able to connect with us and feel supported, both in community and in communion with us. This process, aided by our support team, significantly contributed towards beginning to rebuild their emotional stability by helping them feel accompanied.
Through aromatherapy we were also able to support the families of these children. We offered trainings in their homes about the benefits of essential oils, such as how lavender helps calm anxiety and promotes better sleep. We provided small vials of these oils so they could continue the process daily and alleviate their stress. We also worked with young people, teaching them to weave yarn mandalas, which brings a feeling of peace and started calming the anguish they experienced as a result of their losses and sudden vulnerability.
After this initial approach to the community, we focused our efforts on serving as a point of contact with the community leadership in order to serve as a community link. During entire days, we organized tours through the community to evaluate possible courses of action. Through our alliance with VAMOS, we launched a community assembly, which functioned as the motor for future transformation. In that moment, the priority was meeting the needs of a community in anguish due to natural disasters, where they lived each day anxiously and in fear of losing everything.
Even though we had diagnosed beforehand that the socioemotional support workshops and the rebuilding of homes would be most necessary, as we began our assemblies in the community of Arenas in Guánica, the members of that community were able to identify that their stress and anxiety were directly related to the lack of information and the need for a community organization for emergency preparedness. Because of this, we deemed it necessary to redirect resources from this project to accompany the community organization they needed and to support the creation of a resilient center in the community, channeling the real needs of our people and producing innovative solutions that integrate the decisions of the community and the support of the public, private, and non-profit sectors.
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