Growing up in Colombia gave me perspective on what is important and what is urgent in life. Having a roof over one’s head, access to dignified living conditions, water and food are important things. What’s urgent, in my view, is empathy for others and the willingness to help each other when the need arises.
Several decades later, as a leader in one of Edelman’s offices, that perspective I gained as a kid, carries through in my work and how I think we should exert our power and influence in the world. To provide good counsel to our clients, we need to be connected to the communities we serve. That’s how Puerto Rico came into focus for me and for our Miami office.
More than seven months have passed since hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and yet, life is still far from normal for most people living on the island. The situation today, in some areas, is as dire as it was back in October without running water and electricity; in fact, 20 percent of Puerto Rico doesn't have power, and construction of new, permanent roofs has yet to start.
There are still people unable to return to their homes, and thousands of Puerto Ricans have been forced to leave everything behind and move to the U.S. mainland. To date, more than 135,000 people have fled to South Florida and since then, the Puerto Rican population in Florida has shot up to more than 1 million people.
Given this context, we decided to shift all of our Citizenship efforts in Miami in support of Puerto Rico for the year ahead. As the world’s largest communications marketing firm, we realized the tremendous responsibility we had to lead the charge and live up to our company values.
That’s how the “Rebuilding with Love” campaign was born, an initiative focused on restoring the sense of community in Puerto Rico. There are many efforts in place today by countless organizations to help re-build homes, but none are focused on helping communities heal. We wanted to do both – spend time in the most affected communities doing clean-up work and re-building homes, while encouraging people to stop what they were doing and taking a moment to say “thank you” or “I love you” to those who have been supporting them throughout this difficult time.
For a week, with a group of five Edelman colleagues, we embedded ourselves with the communities of Toa Baja, one of the hardest hit areas in the island. We took with us an old typewriter and as we painted and cleaned, we also took the time to get to know people and to write notes to their families and friends. Some cried, some laughed and for a moment in time, they looked passed the hardship and saw each other not as a support system, but rather as old friends, family and neighbors.
While they appreciated a clean home, they appreciated the human connection more.
Clearing debris, painting houses and disinfecting homes is all important work. We were able to do some of that while in Puerto Rico and that mattered. More importantly, however, was the opportunity to work on the urgent stuff – letting people know that they are loved and that all is well when there is empathy and a willingness to help each other up.
Our initiative carries on beyond the time spent in Puerto Rico. We are putting together an art exhibit with Puerto Rican influencers in Miami to showcase the letters and stories of the people we met. The main objective is to raise awareness that Puerto Rico is still in need of help. For the remainder of the year, we are partnering with NGO Mentes Puertoriqueñas en Acción, to help the Puerto Rican youth on the island and in Florida to find meaningful jobs.
Carlos Correcha-Price is general manager, Miami and Public Affairs Lead, Latin America.