A powerful statement was made at the opening of the 2019 RISE Conference, a conference dedicated to Transforming University Engagement in Pre- and Post-Disaster Environments: Lessons from Puerto Rico, held last fall at the University of Albany, SUNY. As part of his welcoming remarks, Co-Chair Cecilio Ortiz Garciastated, “…resiliency is the governance of uncertainty.” We saw him make this proclamation in a video we watched during our on-campus classroom preparation for the University at Buffalo School of Law Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic’s service-learning trip to several areas of Puerto Rico.
Dr. Ortiz Garcia’s statement stuck with me throughout our service-learning trip. Puerto Rico faces an uncertain and challenging future. Scientific evidence suggests that Puerto Rico will be forced to endure more natural disasters before they are adequately prepared for them. Climate change has increased the frequency and the force of these earthly tragedies.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s government and the U.S. federal government have been unclear in their intentions to aid Puerto Rico in times of destruction. Moreover, the federal government does not seem disposed to grant the powers necessary for self-sufficiency. For these reasons, and many more, I fear that Puerto Rico’s future will be accompanied by further difficulties.
During the RISE conference, Dr. Ortiz Garcia spoke about how people have tended to specialize in different areas/professions/specialties, and discussed why such fragmentation doesn’t present a solution to the world’s grand challenges. No one field or area of expertise alone, he argued, is capable of solving the world’s major problems or constructing resiliency. Instead, Dr. Ortiz Garcia believes that our most important tool to fix these grand challenges is our ability to come together, collaborate, share wisdom, and develop a deeper sense of community. Many of these essential characteristics already exist in Puerto Rico.
It is vital for Puerto Ricans to recognize that the aftermath of an earthquake, hurricane, or some other tragedy, will not be solved by one professional area, but rather by a conglomerate of expertise and wisdom. Based on what I have learned, I have no doubts that, given Puerto Rico’s strong sense of home pride and community connectedness, Puerto Rico will be a model for how genuine resiliency and progressive change can be achieved in communities around the world.
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