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Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery

by Filantropía Puerto Rico
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Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Puerto Rico emergency relief / long-term recovery
Participants at civic capacities workshop
Participants at civic capacities workshop

Where is my money? Who is making decisions about my money? What is my money being used for?

These questions summarize the work being done by the nonprofit organization Espacios Abiertos, as described by its executive director, Cecille Blondet. The first question relates to government transparency, the second to government accountability, and the third to effective citizen participation.

"Espacios Abiertos's mission is to develop the civic capacities of Puerto Rico so that citizens can participate in the discussions and decision-making processes having to do with public assets, everything that the government manages in terms of money and resources," explains Blondet.

Espacios Abiertos is an untraditional nonprofit because beyond providing direct services to communities, their goal is to give people the tools to be informed, make decisions, and participate in the civic issues that affect them.

This effort begins with better access to information, particularly about the island's fiscal issues. In response to the fiscal crisis and the Fiscal Control Board imposed on Puerto Rico because of the government's $72 billion debt, Espacios Abiertos created a Digital Dictionary of the Debt. This tool translates the technical and legal language related to the debt in order to make the information more accessible. Additionally, Espacios Abiertos has taken cases to court, such as when the government published for public comment a plan for the use of the federal recovery funds after Hurricane Maria in English. The same plan states that 78% of people in Puerto Rico don't speak that language.

"This is another way of limiting access to information and citizen participation," points out Blondet. Espacios Abiertos took the government to court, forcing them to translate the 400-page document into Spanish and extend the time for citizens to comment. In addition, they held a workshop with 60 community leaders in which they had information tables covering the different topics in the plan, providing guidance on how to comment, and encouraging people to participate.

Espacios Abiertos has also served as an incubator for new organizations such as Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, focused on social justice and access to justice, and Kilómetro 0, which promotes a reduction in the power gap that facilitates the excesses of the State against citizens, especially those exercised by the Puerto Rico Police.

They also seek to promote changes in public policy through different means, from introducing bills to the Legislative Assembly, conducting investigations such as entrusting independent economists with an analysis of Puerto Rico's debt, to empowering community groups to participate in the decision-making process.

Currently, Espacios Abiertos is working with 15 community leaders, providing them with a set of tools for them to strengthen their communities. The Community Empowerment Project for Recovery and Sustainability, subsidized by Filantropía Puerto Rico’s FORWARD Fund, aims to promote transparency and create greater access to information within these communities. The leaders attend monthly workshops where they cover modules on different topics, including: identifying needs and strengths within the community; creating a map and directory of resources inside and outside the community; developing a disaster prevention plan; and a session on how to address fiscal issues and seek recovery funds. The modules are not passive classes, rather the community leaders are active participants.

"These modules are being refined and polished with input from the 15 communities; they have become co-authors. Our role isn't 'we know so much about this and we will teach you,' instead we recognize the knowledge of the communities and we balance it with some experts, whether they are planners, communicators, engineers," describes Mabel Román Padró, who is in charge of Community Outreach for Espacios Abiertos.

The leaders are being trained to give these same workshops in their communities and in other neighborhoods, focusing on these important issues and mobilizing citizen participation.

"Our aim is for them to be able to call out the government, make claims, advocate for their needs. This isn't just physical sustainability; they are able to participate in the recovery process and they have a voice. And it doesn't just stop at hurricane recovery, it's from now on," Blondet adds.

The project lasts two years, with two module cycles lasting one year each. After the modules conclude, there will be follow-up visits and they will provide any additional support in order for the communities to continue implementing what they have learned.

"We want to change paradigms, we want to change the basis on which decisions are made in this country, isolating citizens, (by making decisions) in dark rooms without citizen participation. We want to change the public policies that affect people, but we want the people to participate in these public policy changes because they are the ones who know what they need," affirms Blondet.

Participants at civic capacities workshop
Participants at civic capacities workshop
Participants at civic capacities workshop
Participants at civic capacities workshop

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Vila (right) at a hearing to request PREPA docs
Vila (right) at a hearing to request PREPA docs

Since Hurricane Maria, the issue of energy has been one of the main areas of focus for the non-profit organization Cambio, founded in 2015 by engineer Ingrid M. Vila Biaggi and professor and lawyer Luis Enrique Rodríguez Rivera.

The storm left the island without a functioning electric grid for months, making it abundantly clear that the island needs a new system, preferably one based on renewable energy. Two years after the hurricane, Cambio has developed concrete alternatives to the current system that emphasize efficiency and conservation, proposing innovative solutions that apply not only to energy technology but also the public policy that governs the implementation of the island's energy system.

For this reason, Cambio is part of the multisectoral effort called Queremos Sol (We Want Sun), developed in 2018 by numerous environmental organizations, community groups, experts, academics and other sectors. Queremos Sol is a proposal to transform the current energy system into a distributed generation platform of rooftop photovoltaic systems. This means that the electrical system would cease to be centralized, energy sources would be close to the areas that receive the service, and by installing solar panels on their own roofs, individuals and private businesses would become active participants in the system.

According to Vila Biaggi, this model would increase citizen participation in the energy sector, so instead of seeking to increase profits, the system would be designed to generate energy efficiently. One of the goals of the proposal is for 50% of electricity generation to come from renewable sources by 2035 and 100% by 2050.

This goes hand in hand with the Integrated Resource Plan (PIR, in Spanish) of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) which is being evaluated by the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau since August 2019. This document must be approved in February 2020 and it outlines how PREPA will develop the energy system of Puerto Rico and where it will invest its capital over the next 20 years. Currently, PREPA favors changing the system from one based on oil to one based on natural gas. Cambio supports Queremos Sol's proposal and has been in legal disputes for several months with PREPA for it to disclose public documents both to justify Cambio’s position against changing the system to natural gas and to know the infrastructure of the current system. With the information on the electrical infrastructure, Cambio will be able to develop an alternative model based on distributed renewable energy, such as that proposed by Queremos Sol.

“This model will help us present and prove that the transformation of the system based on distributed renewable energy is possible. It will also serve to influence the various decision-making processes about the future of energy (in Puerto Rico), including the PIR," explains the engineer.

Along with the legal process that has led to document disclosure by PREPA, Cambio also launched a public education campaign for citizens to learn about PIR, why it's important that citizens participate in the hearings, and how the decisions made there will affect them. "For example, if the Authority decides to make substantial investments in natural gas infrastructure, this will have an impact on health due to emissions, as well as on the power bill," points out Vila Biaggi.

“We must continue to insist that renewable energy is a priority. It seems to me that both through the process of auditing (PREPA) before the Energy Bureau and through the process of citizen education, it is possible to move that compass so that what ends up in the PIR is what the public wants,” she says.

Thanks to a grant from Filantropía Puerto Rico, Cambio has been able to develop an effective public outreach campaign making documents and information publicly available, as well as launching the campaign "PIR Has to Do With You" which seeks to encourage citizens to be informed, analyze, and participate in the evaluation of this document.

“We know of people who have been using the public information that we have received from PREPA because they have written to us directly through our website. For example, people from Vieques who were not aware of the Authority's plans for energy infrastructure development for the island municipality, now with the documents have a better idea of what is being planned, ” she says.

Cambio has also reinforced its social media presence to more effectively spread information about the PIR that is sometimes inaccessible to the general public because it's written in very technical language or because it's in English. Through posts, tweets, and graphic media, Cambio clearly and concisely explains a highly technical document that traces the energy route and its repercussions.

"We have live-tweeted all the technical hearings and we have developed summaries that we have provided through email blasts and social media," she adds.

Another component of this educational effort is to create a series of modules illustrating how individuals and communities can begin to adopt the efficiency and conservation measures and implement the renewable technologies proposed in Queremos Sol. Thus, that initiative does not depend exclusively on the government.

“This transformation is from the bottom up. The purpose is for communities to become empowered, for the individual to be empowered, for small businesses to adopt (the model proposed in Queremos Sol). Although it would be convenient to have the endorsement of the government, implementing Queremos Sol does not depend on it to move forward. We continue moving towards the implementation of the proposal creating models that are accessible to people,” says Vila Biaggi.

Social media campaign image
Social media campaign image
Social media campaign image
Social media campaign image
Social media campaign image
Social media campaign image

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The CPI team
The CPI team

Since its founding eleven years ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) operates differently from the rest of the local media. It uses journalistic research and litigation as tools to promote and defend the right to information access in Puerto Rico. Being a non-profit organization, CPI is free from corporate or political ties, allowing it to oversee the work of public and private entities, demanding greater transparency and open communication with citizens.

In the last two years, CPI established its reputation locally and internationally for two investigations in particular. CPI's reporters were the first to call attention to the actual death toll of Hurricane Maria, when the government still claimed an unrealistically low number of official deaths. This gave way to several independent investigations and forced the local government to revise the official numbers. More recently, CPI published the controversial Telegram chat which resulted in mass demonstrations leading to the resignation of former Governor Ricardo Rosselló and most of his cabinet.

Last month, CPI launched a new and important project, made possible thanks to a grant from Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico. On September 23rd, a symbolic date because of its proximity to the second anniversary of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, CPI launched the website LosChavosdeMaria.com, containing databases, news stories, and investigations about the disbursement and management of the hurricane recovery funds. In the months before the launch, CPI published some stories on their official website (http://periodismoinvestigativo.com/) under the tag Los Chavos de María.

"Some stories are more explanatory about how the recovery process works, others are more expository, such as the article exposing the deficiencies of the houses reconstructed by the (Department of Housing's) program Tu Hogar Renace which many non-profit organizations have had to fix, the lack of transparency involving contracts granted by the government to private contractors, the revolving door of FEMA officials, there's a bit of everything," explains CPI's executive director Carla Minet.

The idea for LosChavosdeMaria.com came about because the website where the government was supposed to publish information related to the use of recovery funds (recovery.pr) turned out to be very deficient and the information was difficult to understand. To address this issue, CPI created a team of journalists dedicated exclusively to covering topics related to hurricane recovery. For almost two years, this team conducted research and wrote stories that explain in a concise manner how the recovery process is taking place and the problems certain populations are facing. On the new website there is also a section where citizens can report any type of fraud.

In addition, there are stories related to vulnerable groups and specific topics not being covered in mainstream media outlets which are also being underserved by the government; for example, the transgender population, coastal communities and fishermen, and poor communities, particularly in terms of home reconstruction efforts.

The purpose of this project is to give citizens the tools and the knowledge that will empower them to make effective use of the recovery funds and play an active role in the recovery process. "There is a lot of information which, as I understand it, could result in a better quality of life for people, and above all participation, because if people don't know what's happening, they don't participate, and if they don't understand the recovery process, then it's also much harder to participate," points out Minet.

As they've proven before, information is power and can be a catalyst for major social change. "When we do these investigations, we expect changes in public policy, that things will change," concludes Minet.

A demonstrator at a march thanks the CPI
A demonstrator at a march thanks the CPI

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Reforestation efforts by Para la Naturaleza
Reforestation efforts by Para la Naturaleza

Dear donor, 

Red de Fundaciones de Puerto Rico (La Red) would like to thank you for your recurring contributions to the FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund through GlobalGiving. Since we established the Fund in 2017, donors like you have given us the ability to continue working towards a fair and equitable reconstruction of Puerto Rico in the midst of a double crisis: an ongoing economic depression and the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. 

How your donation helps Puerto Rico 

Your contribution helps us promote government transparency and accountability regarding the use of recovery funds to ensure they target the most vulnerable populations. It also helps us strengthen local nonprofit organizations that day after day face innumerable challenges to achieve this goal.

To date we have:  

  • Supported 24 local nonprofits in their emergency relief work, which included collecting and distributing provisions for basic needs; promoting safety and public health; repairing and rebuilding of houses; promoting energy autonomy and related equipment installations; supporting the country’s cultural resources; and reforestation and habitat restoration, among other actions. 100,000+ people received immediate assistance through these grants.  
  • Created a pioneering initiative to support the establishment of emergency reserve funds for 15 local nonprofits. Supporting the creation of reserve funds is part of La Red’s efforts to bolster fiscal stability of the island’s nonprofit sector. Extremely few groups have any sort of reserve funds for emergencies. After the hurricanes, the need for this kind of financial cushion became even more apparent.   
  • Supported 6 local nonprofits that are advocating for more extensive and equitable disaster recovery and fiscal crisis relief efforts. These investments are of significant size and multi-year to enhance their potential impact. They support investigative journalism that tracks and publicizes the distribution of federal disaster aid dollars; help communities understand how to access these funds; track the changes and impacts of childhood poverty; help understand barriers and develop policy recommendations to advance land security; and support research and advocacy efforts to inform the public debate on public education and the transformation of the island’s electrical system. More grants like these are currently in the works.

Other efforts undertaken by La Red 

La Red is the island’s first and only philanthropy serving organization (PSO). We bring together organizations that make grants in Puerto Rico for joint learning and action, including collaborative and aligned grant making. We also undertake research on issues relevant to philanthropy to better understand the impact of our collective effort and identify key areas to support. Finally, we advocate for the strengthening of the nonprofit sector in order to enhance its ability to improve the lives of vulnerable populations on the island by advancing equity and social and environmental justice.  

Again, we are grateful for your continued support. You may find more info on our work in our website or by contacting us through our email or social media platforms.

We’d love to hear from you!  

All the best, 

La Red's Team: Anja, Annette, Glenisse, María Cristina and Rebeca 

Solar-powered fridge installation by Casa Pueblo
Solar-powered fridge installation by Casa Pueblo
Civic capacity summit by Espacios Abiertos
Civic capacity summit by Espacios Abiertos
FFAJ presents report on land tenure
FFAJ presents report on land tenure

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Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico
Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico

Many people take for granted their right to have a home, a community, access to schools and hospitals. However, there are thousands of people who do not have that security because their ability to repair or rebuild their houses depends on the assistance they receive from the state, their rent is subject to private entities that can speculate with the land or if the public school closes, forcing the family to move so their children can have an education. Because the right to a roof is not just the house or the property, it is the human right to decent housing.

"A decent home is a home that is adequate, affordable and accessible for people with functional diversity, for example. We say that it's a dwelling with secure ownership, that is, nobody can take it away from you arbitrarily, but it also protects a social fabric. It's not just a house, it's part of a community," explains Ariadna Godreau-Aubert, executive director of Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization that advocates for social justice and changes to public policy surrounding issues such as decent housing. While they don't offer direct services, they work with collaborators, free legal service providers, and community-based organizations such as Taller Salud, Proyecto Matria and IDEBAJO.

In the months after Hurricane Maria, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico visited more than 70 communities around the island, and in the process, they realized that Puerto Rico is experiencing a housing crisis. They've since focused their efforts on legal projects involving the right to a roof, among other social justice projects. 

"As lawyers and as social justice activists, we believe that if you defend the right to housing, you protect other fundamental rights," expressed Godreau-Aubert.

Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico received a grant from the Funder's Network through the FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund with the objective of developing a campaign supporting education, advocacy, and community legal assistance for vulnerable communities to secure government resources in order to conserve and rebuild homes damaged or destroyed by hurricanes Irma and María. The project, entitled Recuperación Justa (Fair Recovery), focuses on the issue of the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program (CDBG-DR), provided by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The interest of Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico is to avoid the forced displacement of vulnerable communities through the misuse of these funds.

"CDBG-DR funds have more to do with long-term reoccupation, and as the government has said, approximately $20 billion is expected for Puerto Rico and if this money is used well, it could be the only injection of capital that these communities will see for many years for economic rehabilitation, infrastructure, and housing," affirmed Godreau-Aubert.

"If they are misused, it'll be like New Orleans, it'll serve as a pretext to remove people, to speculate on the ground, and money will never get where it's needed," she warns. 

Recuperación Justa seeks to encourage the participation of the very people who would be affected by this process and the organizations that defend them by influencing public policy, defending the right to decent housing, and ensuring that recovery plans respond to the real needs of the people.

This comes in response to the discrimination experienced by certain communities, such as when FEMA demanded property titles as a condition for granting rebuilding funds when federal and local laws do not require that, something that harmed low-income communities where residences have been passed down generation after generation and the original titles don't exist. Additionally, the possible displacement or expropriation of the homes of people living in low-income communities can only be addressed through changes to public policy and awareness of the measures taken by the government that harm the most vulnerable while benefiting private interests. Both examples are evident in the Action Plan designed by HUD that establishes how CDBG-DR funds will be used to address the humanitarian crisis and reconstruction after the hurricanes.

"For example, right now there is a prohibition in the Action Plan that establishes that properties that are in floodable zones or areas susceptible to landslides will not qualify to be repaired or reconstructed. The new maps establish that more than 40% of the surface of Puerto Rico is either floodable or susceptible to landslides, so it would prevent people who need the money to repair or rebuild, presumably poor people who have not been able to repair or rebuild two years after the hurricane, but could allow private money, through 'opportunity zones,' to build in those same areas. You'll have coastal communities that are going to be displaced because they will not be able to repair their houses, but a hotel can build in the same area," points out Godreau-Aubert.

Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico's job is to empower communities and community-based organizations by providing them with information about their rights and the legal alternatives they can use to protect their property. This includes a legal toolkit available on the Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico website that contains a glossary of terms, summaries of plans, key concepts, and other types of free educational material written in an accessible and inclusive language. Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico also facilitates the Jornada de Participación Comunitaria CDBG-DR, a coalition of entities working for social justice in Puerto Rico, which has given communities greater access to the process of allocation of CDBG-DR funds, such as extending the hours of public hearings so that people with jobs or who live outside the metro area can attend. Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico has also been very active in the press exposing their findings.

"Part of the work we have been doing is to be very open about this process to demand that the government respond and be influenced by the people who really need it," she adds.

The FORWARD Puerto Rico Fund supports innovative approaches to help Puerto Rico prosper.  Puerto Rico’s recovery and rebuilding is a long-term effort. Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated an island that was already reeling from a longstanding economic crisis. Quicklyafter the hurricanes, the Fund provided emergency funds to vetted, high impact local grassroots organizations that were offering immediate assistance to those affected. Now, the Fund is pursuing essential long-term strategic priorities to help move Puerto Rico forward.  This report describes the work that is being done by one of the organizations supported through the Fund.

Tania Morales
Tania Morales
ALPR advocates for social justice.
ALPR advocates for social justice.

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Organization Information

Filantropía Puerto Rico

Location: San Juan - Puerto Rico
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Project Leader:
Janice Petrovich
San Juan, Puerto Rico
$301,154 raised of $350,000 goal
 
2,326 donations
$48,846 to go
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