For the handful of Bowdoin students with family on the island, Maine and Puerto Rico have never felt further apart. Since the storm, many have had to wait days to contact loved ones. When they finally do get the opportunity, they can be met with both relief and distress. Nearly 2,000 miles away from Puerto Rico, a group of Bowdoin students is working to raise awareness and coordinate relief efforts to help the devastated island even as they themselves feel the effects of the storm.
“It was the best ten minute conversation I have had in my life, but a lot of people haven’t been able to reach anyone. I haven’t been able to reach any of my aunts and uncles…and that has been the hardest part,” said Paola Maymi ’18, referring to the first conversation she had with her father since the storm struck.
Her father, along with most of her family, remains in Puerto Rico and faces a country in dire need of support. Since the tragedy, Maymi and other students with connections to Puerto Rico have managed to reach out to one another to provide both emotional support and help in relief efforts.
However, the Puerto Rican community here at Bowdoin is small. Following the storm, Sylvia Jimenez ’19 decided to reach out beyond campus with the hopes of finding other Puerto Ricans and ways to get involved in relief effort. Jimenez joined a Facebook group called Students for Puerto Rico to connect with students from the Massachusetts area who were planning a meeting at Northeastern University to discuss relief efforts. In addition to meeting other students who shared her commitment to the territory, Jimenez left with several ideas to bring back to Bowdoin.
Her efforts have gained momentum quickly. This past week Jimenez began organizing events in conjunction with Marianne Tissot ’20.
Tissot, along with Jimenez and Maymi, have several plans underway and are working with the McKeen Center for the Common Good and a number of student organizations including the Latin American Student Organization (LASO), the Bowdoin Student Government (BSG), the Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness (SOCA) and even the weightlifting club to make these plans possible. On Tuesday, Tissot sent an email to the student body with the hopes of finding other students with a personal connection to the cause who would like to participate in creating a video message to be sent to Puerto Rico.
“I really wanted to reach out to all students because we are not really aware of how many Puerto Ricans there are here. Even if people are half Puerto Rican, we don’t know that. So it has been really nice getting responses,” said Tissot.
On Friday, Jimenez launched a donation drive, soliciting supplies from community members which she will help send to the island, through a larger effort at Northeastern.
Students are encouraged to participate in any way possible, but more than anything else Jimenez encourages students to learn about the crisis.
“I really just want to center the conversation [on] awareness. I have been personally affected by this and it has been a little bit frustrating seeing how little people know about the situation,” said Jimenez.
While many students get ready for fall break or focus on their next exam, for students like Maymi, is hard to concentrate on the present, everyday Bowdoin life.
“This is going to be such a long term problem. It is not just a ‘one and done’ fundraising thing because the island is completely destroyed and needs so much help,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Maymi stays devoted to helping her home.
“I feel that I am at the point where I am ready to channel my energy into something positive rather than just waiting around for things to get better.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article that also appeared in the Friday, September 29 print paper incorrectly said that Marianne Tissot ’20 had spearheaded student-led organizing at Bowdoin. It is instead joint effort. It also misattributed a pull-quote, printed in larger text and mis-spelled the student’s name. The quote was said by Paola Maymi ’18, not Sylvia Jimenez ’19.