Editor’s Note: Hurricane Maria changed the lives of many when it hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. Four survivors, now FEMA local hires, share their stories on how Hurricane Maria impacted their lives, and how they are making a difference in their community every day.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I feel one word can actually carry enough meaning and emotion to transcend a single picture. In Puerto Rico during the past six months, Maria was that word, evoking both fear and bravery, despair and hope, destruction and resilience.
Like many Puerto Ricans, my life changed on Sept. 20, 2017. Only four days earlier, my family and I were celebrating my daughter’s 8th birthday on the beach. Soon after we blew out candles and opened gifts, we heard news confirming a potential Category 4 or 5 hurricane was heading our way.
Hurricane Maria left the entire Island, the place I call home, without power. It seemed like we were shut off from the world. Those early days after the storm the feeling of uncertainty was palpable everywhere you went. And even though food, water and other supplies had to be flown or shipped to our tiny Island, there was one thing we had in abundance: hard-working Puerto Ricans, and I was one of them.
Aside from isolated leaks and some water seeping through the windows, my family and our home emerged safely. I started working as a translator for FEMA External Affairs on Oct. 9, 2017. I had never felt as nervous, excited and completely overwhelmed as I did that day.
My mission was clear: I had to get important FEMA information to survivors who understood little to no English. Considering the Spanish language uses about 20 percent more words to convey the same message in English, this was no easy task. The challenge multiplies given the time constraints of a 30-second Public Service Announcement.
That was one of my first assignments.
I came to understand fairly quickly that the words I translate are more than just words. In some ways, they are a lifeline for people who lost everything. They need to know where to find water, where to apply for disaster assistance. They need to know how to prepare those military rations known as MREs, or Meals Ready to Eat.
The words I translate travel far beyond the walls of the building we all refer to as the JFO, or Joint Field Office. They find their way into the lives of survivors who are trying to live in their new normal.
External Affairs is a fast paced, high-octane environment with a diverse and talented team of professionals who are dedicated to providing accurate and actionable information survivors can use throughout their recovery.
My time here has helped me to put things into perspective. The work being carried out by FEMA and its partners throughout our Island is inspiring. For many, Maria, a word that six months ago meant fear, despair and destruction now stands for bravery, hope and resilience.