Even before Hurricane Maria, many of the children at Hogar Cuna San Cristobal had already lived through traumatic events. Many were taken from their families, often on multiple occasions, because of abuse or neglect, and placed in foster care by the Department of Family of Puerto Rico. For them Hogar Cuna is their fourth or fifth stop in the system, and hopefully their last.
Fourteen children, none older than 7 years old, felt and heard as Hurricane Maria's Category 4 winds ravaged the island, housed in the safety of Hogar Cuna San Cristóbal, an orphanage tucked away in the mountainous region of Caguas. Staff members explained to the children that after the storm, things weren't going to be the same as before.
" The day after Hurricane Maria passed, the children observed how the storm destroyed the trees around their school, their gardens, how the roof of one of the rooms had collapsed. But it was the adults who felt truly afraid and worried as they surveyed the damage. There was no power and no water. Their food stores would eventually run out and the electronic card system they used to buy groceries wasn't working.
Ivonne Vélez, executive director of Hogar Cuna San Cristóbal explained, "The kids that are removed (from their homes) by the Department of Family arrive with an adoption plan. So the child that comes to us must've lived through a very difficult situation for adoption to be considered as an alternative," explained Vélez.
Along with taking care of their basic necessities, Hogar Cuna also educates the children and offers them treatment plans for various health and mental health conditions. All of those programs were affected by the hurricane, as well as all the fundraisers the organization relies on to continue operating since they don't receive government funding. Emergency funds kept the organization operating.
Little by little the center's operations have gone back to normal, with the notable exception of the adoption program. Seventeen adoption applications were withdrawn after the storm and so far they've only received two new applications. After the hurricane, two babies were surrendered and another mother is in communication with the center to give over her baby once its born.
As Velez observed, “it's for these children that Hogar Cuna San Cristobal continues to keep going. To give them the opportunity to eventually find a safe and loving home.”