Creating Strength Out of Weakness
By Sebastian Puente
Members of the Austin Jewish community joined 28 pro-Israel leaders from across the United States for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s first Latino mission to Puerto Rico.
Yotam Polizer, IsraAID’s co-CEO, welcomed the delegation for the Jan. 25-28 briefings and tour of the island. The trip offered participants a rare view into the deployment of highly skilled Israeli disaster response specialists and the support and training they bring to communities affected by natural disasters.
IsraAID, an Israeli-based humanitarian aid agency, arrived in Puerto Rico within days of Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The organization, which is currently active in 17 countries, follows a model that prioritizes working closely with local organizations and communities to assess the most acute, immediate needs and help them build capacity within their systems.
In Puerto Rico, IsraAID partnered with community-based educational organization ASPIRA Inc. to develop what is called a resilience module to train 120 teachers in methods to help students cope with trauma-related and psycho-social needs.
“We brought doctors, water engineers, psychologists and social workers; 60 Israelis all together, to work with the community. Our goal was not only to treat and support the people affected by the hurricane but to help them prepare for future disasters,” said Polizer.
Saturday and Sunday, the AIPAC delegation learned about Hurricane Maria’s impact on food and water supply while volunteering at Siembra Tres Vidas, an organic farm in Aibonito that provides fresh and healthy produce to nearby communities. Later, the group traveled to El Real, Patillas, to celebrate a new slow-sand, gravitational water filter built by IsraAID and the Interamerican University. This remote village in the mountains was without electricity for more than eight months, which rendered their electric well completely unusable. More than 1,000 community members now have access to safe water without relying on power and with minimal maintenance costs.
The trip was important for AIPAC’s delegation of Latino leaders, who learned from the work that Israel, together with the local Puerto Rican community, is doing to save lives, to change lives and to build bridges. ■
To learn more about IsraAID and its humanitarian work around the globe, visit israaid.org. To learn more about AIPAC and its bi-partisan efforts to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship, visit aipac.org.