Teen Is Fundraising to Equip 1,000 Puerto Rican Families With Solar Lights and Washing Machines

Lead Photo: Residents wade through flood waters at their home days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, on September 22, 2017 in Loiza, Puerto Rico. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images News
Residents wade through flood waters at their home days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, on September 22, 2017 in Loiza, Puerto Rico. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images News
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In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump attempted to paint Puerto Ricans as lazy people, who “want everything done for them.” But as images of Puerto Ricans clearing debris off the street and delivering supplies to their neighbors have circulated online, we know this couldn’t be further from the truth. After listening to the story of 15 year-old Salvador Gabriel Gómez Colón, we also know that just like him, people immediately started thinking of ways to help their neighbors.

The Category 4 storm left the entire island without power. But Salvador and his mom, who had a generator and a cistern, were in a better position than most, and it made him realize just how many people didn’t have the most basic of necessities. His own grandparents had no electricity and had to come stay with them in their Condado neighborhood in San Juan. His grandpa brought his radio – which became their only lifeline to the outside world – and Salvador learned just how much people were suffering throughout the island.

There were two things that he couldn’t get out of his mind: people didn’t have light or the ability to wash their clothes. With Puerto Rican officials estimating that it take up to six months for the entire island to have power again, Salvador began thinking of how this would impact people across the island.

Courtesy of Salvador Gabriel Gómez Colón
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“Light is such a fundamental resource,” he tells me. “It’s so important in our life. We depend so much on it, so I was like we need to give these people light, both literally and metaphorically.” As he and his family worked to conserve their resources, especially water, he also knew that many couldn’t wash their clothes. “Many of these people lost their homes,” he adds. “Along with their home, they lost their belongings, they lost their clothes, and some people are even wearing the clothes they had on when the hurricane hit. It’s a public health issue. That’s a potential host for parasites, for illnesses, for bacteria.”

After speaking to his mom about this, she put him in contact with two people, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan and Neha Misra. The vet told him about the hand-cranked washing machines they used when they didn’t have electricity, which is how he ended up contacting The Laundry Alternative, a company that produces a $45 portable WonderWash machine. And his mom’s friend, Misra, who works with Solar Sister – a company that provides solar-powered lamps to communities without electricity – helped him figure out how he could give light to his fellow Puerto Ricans. Because Salvador didn’t have access to the internet and his text messages were painfully slow, Misra helped him set up a crowdfunding page on Generosity. The campaign launched about a week after Hurricane Irma.

Titled Light and Hope For Puerto Rico, Salvador aims to raise $100,000 so he can help 1,000 families. On top of working with The Laundry Alternative and Solar Sister, he’s also enlisted Cleancult, which has pledged to donate 1,000 gallons of laundry soap, and Omnivoltaic and Schneider Electric will also donate solar lights. Right now, the products will cost about $100 per family, but Salvador is hoping to drive the cost down a bit more so that he can help even more people.

The benevolent teen will donate the products to Loiza, a largely Afro-Puerto Rican community that was hit by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, in the first week of November. Right now, he’s at about 60 percent of his goal, and he hopes to reach $100,000 in the next week or so. Donate to the campaign here.