The hurricanes that struck Puerto Rico last month caused devastation across the island, forcing families into shelters and producing damage that will take years to repair.
Among the victims is the family of a New Haven Public Schools principal, Daniel Bonet Ojeda, who took over just six weeks ago at John C. Daniels Magnet School on Congress Avenue. Bonet planned to bring his partner and three young children to the Elm City in the coming months — but then hurricanes Irma and Maria hit.
Now, Bonet’s partner has turned the family’s house into a shelter for their elderly extended family, and his mother has started volunteering at a soup kitchen. The family will not leave Puerto Rico until it can get ahold of plane tickets, which are becoming increasingly expensive.
“They don’t see how to leave the island without affecting those who they are helping,” Bonet said. “It has been really hard, but they are fine. When there are enough flights I’ll go and retrieve my kids myself.”
John C. Daniels offers a dual-language program designed to help students become proficient in both English and Spanish by the end of eighth grade. Children from homeless families, including those who have moved to New Haven from Puerto Rico, can get access to schooling through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, a federal law that guarantees homeless students the same education offered to other children.
In addition to the support natural disaster victims have received from the New Haven government, Bonet has offered backpacks to students at John C. Daniels affected by the recent disasters, including a girl who lost her home in the earthquake in Mexico and a boy from Puerto Rico.
“The law doesn’t oblige me to do this, but it is the least I can do after all the vicissitudes they’ve been through, give them something nice,” he said.
Bonet is not the only Yale or New Haven affiliate whose family was affected by the disaster in Puerto Rico. Nissim Roffe ’21, a Yalie from Puerto Rico, said his parents escaped from the island just hours before Maria made landfall.
“Once it was official that it was going to hit Puerto Rico, prices of plane tickets went up over a thousand dollars,” Roffe said. “It was ridiculous.”
Jon Borschow — the founder and chairman of the nonprofit Foundation for Puerto Rico — said his organization will focus on sending food and water to the island, as well as installing public Wi-Fi. New Haven residents involved with the Kappa Chapter of La Unidad Latina fraternity have donated funds to the Foundation for Puerto Rico.
Borschow added that Puerto Ricans have organized a WhatsApp group in which people share what they need so they support each other and plan evacuations.
Most support networks in New Haven — such as Students for Puerto Rico, Despierta Boricua and Foundation for Puerto Rico — have focused on raising funds for the island. But Bonet said he and the city government will continue working to help the families that managed to get here.
“New Haven has always been a center for refugees, a center to help immigrants,” Bonet said.
Berenice Valencia | firstname.lastname@example.org