by Emma Fiala
After a long, but productive morning meeting, three Arizona State University students came and presented their research. They each were studying different aspects of community and inequities, but they had their own unique projects. The first presenter was Anais Roque, an environmental and social science master’s student interested in the role of social capital and resilience. She spoke candidly about her research and its implications, mainly, that networks of individuals that can form groups that are more resilient and more likely to be sustainable than others.
She examined this hypothesis by doing an in-depth community scan for the towns of Corcovada in the west and Mariana in the east. She chose these two communities because they were some of the most well-organized communities in Puerto Rico and therefore had a good model for resilience and sustainability. These communities also were some of the first communities to have clean water and electricity restored after Hurricane Maria, so investigating what exactly made these communities successful despite the island-wide devastation was the focus of her research.
Corcovada and Mariana both are highly organized and well-connected towns. They started to build relationships, utilize resources and develop community leadership in the 1960s because they wanted to make fast, but sustainable change and did not want to wait for government and policies to bring them benefits. Anais reported that these communities have the mentality that if they themselves do not act to fix a problem, the problem will not be solved. This self-starter spirit led them to investing in relationships outside of their communities. For example, Corcovada, is religiously oriented. According to the story, an engineer refused to be enlisted in the military, so he was put into a prison for four years, then exiled to Corcovada. In Corcovada, he saw the need for a water system and a church, so in exchange for constructing a new church, he used his professional skills to create their first aqueduct. For Mariana, the US Army had a base in Ceiba and the community of Mariana discovered that all the water from their rivers was supplying the base and the pressure to flow up the mountain was too high for their community to be supplied. Given this realization, the community decided to launch a campaign called “Agua Para Todos” (Water for All). This led to a town aqueduct and further sustainable projects.
The continued success of these communities are related not only in their ability to organize well, follow through with projects and engage the community, but also in their abilities to network and create an ecosystem of support. Corcovada, being more of a religious community networked with many faith-based organizations, while Mariana, a more political community networked with international organizations. Their hopes were that through networking with the outside community, a symbiotic relationship can be formed. On one side, the community can receive services and on the other side, the external groups will receive information. For example, nursing and health students from the University of Puerto Rico come to these communities to learn health skills and in return, the community has easy access to healthcare. Another example is through students visiting and interviewing, then sharing their research findings and implementing different programs alongside the community. A consistent message from the communities and from other speakers is that relationships cannot be unilateral; they must be mutually beneficial with the intent to build communities and improve conditions.
For Anais, she went into these communities and interviewed residents. In return, she hopes to create an assessment of resilience and sustainability, share her findings with the communities she entered and perhaps, develop a strategy based off of the Corcovada/Mariana models that other communities can utilize.
In the big picture, this matters because the success in these communities can be shared with other communities for building a more sustainable and resilient Puerto Rico.