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On August 28th, 2018, Hurricane Maria, the worst storm in nearly a century, laid waste to Puerto Rico, ripping apart the island’s already fragile infrastructure and disproportionately affecting those least equipped to cope with disaster: the poor, the elderly, and ethnic and racial minorities. Once their immediate needs of food, water, and shelter were addressed, residents confronted new challenges. These challenges included cuts to public services, such as the closure of nearly 300 schools, and a long-standing fiscal crisis that has stymied the island’s economic recovery. Many citizens have left the island and resettled in the continental US; other citizens remained and continue to confront a slow and difficult road to recovery.
2020 has been another challenging year. A series of earthquakes in January left nearly a million residents without power and water. Then Covid-19 forced nearly 300,000 students on the island to begin the year remotely — even though many of these children lack access to the necessary electricity, computers, and internet connection.
In 2018 and in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, Libraries Without Borders US (LWB US) partnered with Link Puerto Rico, a local nonprofit committed to promoting STEM and education in Puerto Rico, to launch an Ideas Box pilot project in Loíza and La Perla—two under-resourced communities on the island. The Ideas Box is a portable, durable kit that transforms into a school, a library, or a community center, complete with a satellite connection, tablets, computers, cameras, books, and arts and crafts supplies. The project provides local residents access to technology, digital tools, educational workshops, and cultural activities.
Building on the success of the Loiza-La Perla Ideas Box, in May 2019 LWB US hosted “¡Empréndete Loíza!”, a series of workshops facilitated by experts from across the island that focused on designing creative solutions for specific community challenges. The winning team, Proyecto 187, designed a project that uses photography as a means to reduce violence in their community. Expanding on this successful program, two communities benefiting from the support of the Ideas Box resources organized summer camps in 2019 for youth and young adults. El Ancón de Loíza, a community association, organized workshops on sustainable agriculture, health literacy, entrepreneurship, culture and dance, design thinking, and marketing. Danaliz, a community leader in the Sector 23 y las Gardenias neighborhood, organized two summer camps: one for kids aged five to eleven and the other for kids aged twelve to twenty-two. These camps focused on sports, environmental stewardship, healthy eating, and entrepreneurship.
Today, and in response to the diverse array of challenges facing Puerto Rico in 2020, Libraries Without Borders US partnered again with Link Puerto Rico to launch the ConnectED Technology Kit program in Loíza in September 2020. ConnectED Tech Kits are backpacks with laptops, wifi hotspots, and resource packets that include curated educational materials and information. Distributing these kits to children and families, LWB US supports communities struggling with earthquakes and pandemics one backpack at a time.
For questions and more information, please contact LWB US Director of Education/Deputy Director Kat Trujillo at firstname.lastname@example.org.