Aakshi Chaba

Electricity is still a precious commodity in Puerto Rico, almost two months after Hurricane María struck the small island in mid-September.

To do their part to help, two members of the Yale community, Tisa Wenger, an associate professor at the Yale Divinity School, and Jeanette Zaragoza de León, a visiting research scholar at the Divinity School and a Puerto Rican citizen, are raising money to buy solar kits for the island.

In an interview with the News, Wenger highlighted the grave plight of Puerto Rico as the reason for her involvement in the project.

“The situation has not received adequate attention or help from the rest of the United States,” Wenger explained. “I feel like [Puerto Rico has] become a brief moment in the news cycle … and the reality is that people there are still very much in need.”

While Wenger herself does not have any direct connection to Puerto Rico, she explained that she wanted to support Zaragoza de León in any way she could.

Zaragoza de León said she initiated the project after hearing from friends and colleagues in Puerto Rico about the immense destruction that had befallen the island.

Coordinating her efforts with friends in New York City who wanted to send medical supplies to the small island, Zaragoza de León took a trip back to Puerto Rico last month carrying three suitcases full of solar kits, weighing 150 pounds.

“The only clothes I brought were the ones I was wearing,” she said.

After landing in San Juan, Zaragoza de León distributed her solar kits to residents of Casa Julia de Burgos, a shelter for female survivors of domestic violence. These kits in particular, Zaragoza de León explained, not only provide electricity but also are valuable renewable energy sources.

In addition to solving the temporary lack of electricity, using solar kits could be a step in the right direction for Puerto Rico’s energy sector, Zaragoza de León added.

“It’s a wake-up call, what’s going on in Puerto Rico,” she said. “This is an opportunity to create something new.”

In preparation for her next trip to Puerto Rico, Zaragoza de León said she hopes to raise $25,000 to transport solar generators to the island. To reach the goal, Wenger and Zaragoza de León created a GoFundMe campaign for the project, which had raised $100 as of Monday evening.

Zaragoza de León is hopeful that “if each student at Yale gives $5 or $10” the campaign can surpass the $25,000 fundraising goal.

Besides helping her fellow citizens, Zaragoza de León has a larger goal in mind, too — to inspire others to take action.

“The eyes are on Puerto Rico,” she said. “I think we can inspire others to do more as well.”

Reflecting on the devastating impact of the hurricane, Zaragoza de León said the recovery will take a long time. But both she and Wenger said they are optimistic about the project.

“It gives people a vehicle to give,” Zaragoza de León explained, adding that anyone willing to help is welcome to join the campaign.

Hurricane María was the largest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in the last 80 years.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu