Proyecto Matria, Miraflores

 


Attorney Fermín Arraiza of Access to Justice Fund Foundation is one of the lawyers that are helping people like Don Roberto to formalize ownership of their homes. Photos Xavier García.

In the nine months since Hurricanes Irma and Maria impacted Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has denied 80,000 requests for assistance because applicants can't verify homeownership, according to data provided to El Nuevo Dia newspaper by Adi G. Martinez, executive director of the Access to Justice Fund Foundation (FFAJ by its Spanish acronym).

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Even before hurricanes Irma and Maria passed over the island, the independent art and culture scene of Puerto Rico was in a state of chronic crisis. Austerity measures have long limited the state's economic support of the arts. Alternate sources of funds generally establish that projects must have an educational focus or generate economic activity, not those that simply have an aesthetic or artistic purpose. On the other hand, the need to work in advertising and other industries hinders the ability of local artists to focus their energy and resources on their own projects.

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During the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, mental health professionals observed that emotional and social reactions to a catastrophic event manifested fully a year or year and a half later. In Puerto Rico, seven months after hurricanes Irma and Maria, symptoms of stress and anxiety are starting to surface, particularly in children and in certain vulnerable families.

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One week after Hurricane Maria, the Ponce Museum of Art (MAP by its Spanish initials) opened its doors to the public, offering free admission, as well as guided tours, art workshops, and storytelling for children. It became a space for recharging and relief in the midst of the crisis that followed the storm. Of the almost 3,600 people who visited the MAP that month, about a third didn't participate in any activities. They simply sat down to contemplate the art or walked through the halls of the museum.

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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.

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