Volunteers repair houses in Punta Santiago destroyed by María

Don Alfonso Lugo Colón stared enraptured at his renovated wooden house in the Punta Santiago plots. At 79, a sweet smile was drawn on his face and he never tired of thanking "those good people".

He was referring to a brigade of 40 volunteers - all Americans and a Puerto Rican resident of Texas - who left the island yesterday, after arriving on December 26.

The group of researchers, scientists and veterinarians from several universities and groups in the United States, left their families at Christmas to help in the recovery tasks of the Caribbean Primate Research Center in Cayo Santiago, which was devastated by the hurricane Maria.

In their short stay, the volunteers, in addition to helping to condition the devastated structures of the Primate Center of the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico, reached out to several families from the Parcelas Viejas, where they painted houses and reinforced homes They were annihilated by the storm, like Don Alfonso, whom the cyclone left outdoors. The wind and the water destroyed the house that was left without a roof and without doors. The main walls of the wooden structure were barely standing.

"Most of us did not know each other. The one who organized the trip put a call to all the research centers in the United States and here we are, "said Joel Ortiz, who was the only one of the group that spoke Spanish.

"Our goal is to improve the situation for the animals in Cayo Santiago and for the people in the community. There is a lot of work and we are going to have to go without finishing it, but at least we were able to help a little. We left things a little better than we found them, "said the Puerto Rican, who works in the medical school of the State University of Texas.

He commented that in Punta Santiago they helped repair seven houses, but the most damaged was that of Don Alfonso, located in front of the Primate Center offices.

"The cabling in Don Alfonso’s home was affected and installed all new. When they are energized, he will have the best electrical system in the neighborhood, because an engineer replaced it, Ortiz said. "The community of Punta Santiago still has no electricity since the hurricane."

Ortiz said that as a Puerto Rican in the diaspora he felt the duty to come and help in the recovery of the country."It was very difficult because many of us did not know what we could do. We knew we wanted to come and help, but we did not know how"he said.

"Our director knew that I was crazy to come to help and he said: let's find a way. They paid me everything, flight, hotel, food. Many people here paid for their trip and everything, "he explained.

Do you leave with the satisfaction of having done your part? Asked Primera Hora.

"Yes and no, because there is a lot of work still to be done. I think if I spent a year here it would not be enough, but I feel good to be able to help my island, "said the volunteer, who was surprised by the group with a cake, because it was his birthday.

He said that the most impressed was the gratitude of the community. "People have been tremendous with us, with many people they had never seen in their life and who will never see again. Many can not communicate, because they do not speak Spanish, but everyone has treated us well, he said. "I will return someday. I'm going to give them two or three years to get up, but I'll be back to see how things end," Ortiz said. "Don Alfonso did not have words to express his gratitude, both to the volunteers and to the employees of the Primate Center. "I have a new house thanks to them. I feel too grateful for these people and I put them in the hands of God, who will give them wisdom and strength to continue with their families. They have come from outside PR to give us a hand to rebuild this home," he said.

He said that on top of the house, "in a time of rain, a woman climbed with some boys" to put the panels of aluminum.

"Those are things that one has to carry here (touching his heart) and keep them. Memories that you will never forget in your life, " said Don Alfonso, who lives alone after losing his wife two years ago and has no children; He has been living on the plot for 50 years.