I write this at the end of the first full day of my sixth trip to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. This is my third trip doing service alongside student attorneys. And it is the trip that signals a long-term commitment from the University at Buffalo School of Law’s efforts, through the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic, to support legal and policy resiliency and justice on behalf of the people and ecosystems of Puerto Rico.
First and foremost, as I immerse myself here again, the people of Puerto Rico continue to inspire me with their exuberance, love for life, and ability to endure and thrive. Likewise, the ecosystems of Puerto Rico also inspire in terms of their post-disaster resilience and evolution.
But (yes, there is a but), my heart aches for the challenges still facing the people and biota here in Puerto Rico. Visible signs of Maria remain, such as streetlights that still do not work and buildings that remain unrepaired. Many natives who left have not returned. And a huge percentage of those that remain still await the means to rebuild their lives, facing FEMA denials, lost jobs, post-traumatic stress, a struggling economy, increasing expenses, and more.
In other words, there is SO MUCH work yet to be done here in Puerto Rico. So many on the islands are striving to achieve a measure of recovery and rebuilding, while increasing resiliency. The immediate emergency has passed, but the urgent need for deeper assistance remains.
Consequently, on this trip, the Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic team is focused on longer-term work. We have built connections with partners and clients, have started collaborating, and are here to learn more and gather data about how we can be truly useful. We are making plans to continue and expand our clinic’s work from afar when we return to the University at Buffalo.
Student attorneys and staff are honored to partner with and support the people of Puerto Rico through the clinic. We have returned not to provide our own ideas from afar, but to listen, respect, connect, and serve with open hearts and open hands. We are here to strengthen the framework that will help provide ongoing legal and policy advice from 1,844 miles away.