DECEMBER 13, 2018
“My name is Carolann Rios, I’m 46 years old, and I live in Barranquitas, Puerto Rico.”
Carolann has lived at her home in the pueblo for 44 years. She lives with her husband, a police officer, and cares for her grandmother who lives next door. She loves art, community leadership, and working at the church, but after Maria she hurt her back, and hasn’t been able to do many things she used to.
“The storm impacted everything. Every year I lived here- survived every hurricane. Maria was something different then before. The intense sounds, the damage, the way the ground trembled. I started getting worried when the river flooded, up to the homes, and the ground started to sink. When I looked out the window it looked like a movie, trees flying everywhere.” Carolann recalls the experience vividly.
“There are still people here without power and water. Tropical storms are coming and people are nervous and scared. We are not prepared for another storm. There were people who were starving for water and food.”
Carolann lives on the second story of a concrete home, and the tiny stream down the street raised high enough that it barely missed her bed. Mud blocked her front door so they couldn’t get out, and the smell that lingered was so intense she could hardly eat for a month. She is grateful for her church community that came to check on her, as it took the military two months to get up the mountains to Barranquitas.
“It was all the people who helped one another. Seeing neighbors come with machetes, shovels, and tools to clear the roads. Everyone can help in some way, there is no job too small when helping.”
Carrying a machete was a regular practice in leaving her home for many weeks after Maria hit. Her work with the church and connection to the community helped All Hands and Hearts find other homeowners in desperate need.
Carolann’s home was the 101st house the Barranquitas team worked on in the area. Providing full roof rebuilds and resealing concrete roofs has greatly impacted homeowners, helping them receive that basic necessity of shelter, so they can finally begin to heal and move forward.
“My experience has been extraordinary. Not only have they come to help, they came to share time and listen. I have felt the love, I have received the hugs for me this is important above all material things,” Carolann begins to tear up while talking about her experience with the organization.
While volunteers come to work, they are encouraged to spend time talking to homeowners, and letting them share their stories. The compassionate attitude and deep connections created, sets All Hands and Hearts apart from other organizations for volunteers and homeowners. Barranquitas is a tight knit community, and has welcomed All Hands and Hearts in as part of the family.
“I see the worry in your eyes, I see when you say that you don’t want my roof to cause me problems. I know you left your home wanting to do a good job, it fulfills your spirit. You want to finish the homes you started. I know there is a commitment with All hands and hearts.” Carolann’s gratitude was felt by every volunteer.
“Extraordinary experience, honestly, for me, it has been a group of committed volunteers.To want to be in a place where the only thing they knew was their want to do good; to work, fix, help expecting nothing in exchange. I personally witnessed it. I loved cooking for the volunteers… Language does not separate us. People leave their homes and come to a country they do not know to help. The need of people does not have color. I love it when volunteers attempt to speak spanish, I admire them.”
Now that her roof is fully re-sealed, Carolann has begun to look towards the future, but continues to care for those around her.
“I hope for health, help for my neighbors because I am always worried about them.
Opportunity to be in front of people who come with the mission to make change in a pueblo and say things that people are afraid to say. When you are born to serve you will do it no matter where you are. I know what it is to go the extra mile,” she says.
Tia Kat joined us in August as a first time volunteer, quickly becoming a strong leader for our concrete sites, and led the team at Carolann’s home. “Over the weeks I learned that Carolann was much more than just another neighbor in this region. She rose to the challenge and became caregiver, support system, and advocate for everyone around her affected by Maria. When she shared stories of the horror of the hurricane, she spoke of the experiences of her friends, her family, her neighbors emphasizing what they had endured and hardly mentioning her own devastation. Although it was apparent when visiting her home– a year later– belongings stacked and covered to avoid the constant leaks she still battled when it rained. She made lunch for all the teams working in her neighborhood weeks before we made it to repair her own roof and continued until all teams had completed all the repairs of her neighbors. All Hands and Hearts became her family. She treated us with love, generosity and gratitude. I don’t think there was a single one of us who didn’t cry when saying goodbye to this magnificent woman. I am honored to know her,” said Tia Kat.
Carolann regularly recites a quote that her grandma would always say, roughly translated as “You do more with less.” The All Hands and Hearts team repaired more than her roof. “It is humbling to see people from all over the world come work in a place they do not know. I see now that the hope is not lost.”
Story and Photos by Sarah Capobianco for All Hands and Hearts