When Hurricane Maria touched down in Puerto Rico last Fall, the Category 4 storm brought heavy rain, flash floods, landslides, and destroyed homes. One of those homes belonged to Salvador Gómez-Colón ’21.
“By 1:00 a.m. in the morning of [September] 20, my house had already flooded four or six inches, and the water had come in through the air vents. Long story short, I had to get rid of my whole room because [it was] full of black mold. And my whole living room,” said Gómez-Colón.
Hurricane Maria damaged the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s distribution network and their power grids, consequently leaving the 3.4 million residents of the island with no electricity.
This inspired Gómez-Colón to launch the online “Light and Hope for Puerto Rico” crowdfunding campaign. The initiative raised over 160,000 dollars, enabling Gómez-Colón to help over 3,500 households by purchasing and distributing solar lamps and hand-powered washing machines to the most affected communities around the island in over 17 different municipalities. Gómez-Colón has been recognized by multiple news sources about his contribution, including CNN, who interviewed him on the news.
Sebastian Romero ’20, who spearheaded a campus-based fundraiser for Hurricane Maria last spring, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “I think Salvador’s efforts for raising money to help victims of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico are extremely admirable. Living in Puerto Rico and experiencing the whole hurricane, Salvador’s work ethic in starting his fundraising quickly and getting out into the community is extremely respectable. In essence, I commend Salvador for his work. What really stood out to me about it was the distinct goal that he had in mind the whole time: buying solar lamps for the people of Puerto Rico. I think it was this concise mission that led his campaign to be so successful.”
Gómez-Colón had recently turned 15 when the hurricane hit the island, and although he was a minor, he was not deterred from offering help.
Celeste Robinson ’22, a friend of Gómez-Colón’s, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “The fact that he is only a high school student, yet he dedicated himself to really trying to make a difference inspired me to think about ways I could better my own community. It really shows that there are no barriers of age when it comes to creating change.”
According to Gómez-Colón, his age had its benefits and disadvantages. Although people would generally be more motivated to help Gómez-Colón’s cause, others were wary, according to Gómez-Colón.
“Age shouldn’t define our maturity, our responsibility, [and] our capacity to do good and positively impact the lives of others. It was weird for a 15-year-old boy to call or email a solar lamp company [and] ask for 30,000 dollars worth of lamp orders. And it would’ve been weird if they just said, ‘Okay.’ So obviously I had to involve adults… and sometimes you wouldn’t be taken seriously,” said Gomez-Colon.
According to Gómez-Colón, he was surprised with the overall positivity of the victims in spite of the tragedy. He recalls how the citizens were willing to help their communities as well as their family even when supplies were limited.
“There was this specific community leader from Morovis. The moment I got to Morovis, he was already with a caravan of four cars of volunteers from his community who were also going to help me reach out to people, go into their homes, and give them the help they needed. That was the first thing that impacted me,” said Gómez-Colón.
“After [the visit] ended, we went to his house and visited. And he had lost his roof. He had had to move into his parent’s house… And I was thinking, ‘This man, with all the burdens that he’s going through, still set his mind to helping those in his community.’ That was the most impactful thing that I could have possibly seen. He was so willing and such a good-hearted person… that was the mindset that I had originally thought of when the hurricane came and my house flooded and everything.”
Gómez-Colón stressed the importance of a being a conscious citizen and always to persevere as the Puerto Rican victims did in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
“I think it’s made me really appreciate what you have. [Hurricane Maria] has made me become a more aware citizen by enabling me to know about things around me happening. It was a very disaster-prone year, that end of 2017. And I thought I might not reach this goal [of raising at least 100,000 dollars]… This is what I always say — instead of being spectators of the problem, we should be facilitators of solutions. Always keep your drive, keep your passion, and then the rest will come.”