By: Mairead Cooney
Last semester, Niagara University started an International Humanitarian Assistance (IHA) program. This program enables students and faculty members to engage in trips abroad while helping to repair a community that has been affected by a natural disaster. In January, nine people from Niagara University went to Puerto Rico for a week and worked with a program called “All Hands and Hearts.” We were stationed in Yabucoa, where Hurricane Maria first hit over two years ago. Many areas in Puerto Rico were still recovering from the hurricane but had another problem to face when earthquakes began to hit the island. Puerto Rico is situated between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates, which makes it prone to earthquakes. However, in this past year, thousands of earthquakes, many over 5.0 on the Richter scale, occurred in the southwest region of the island. This caused an island wide power outage. Puerto Rico now is recovering from two distinct types of natural disasters.
While we were in Yabucoa, we completed tasks like mold sanitation, scraping and cementing roofs, and painting. Although we were only there for a week, it felt like we made a change because we were helping people who have had problems in their home for over two years. What really made the trip special was the connections made with other people who were also volunteering, and the people who live in the community that we helped.
As a Vincentian institution, our mission is to assist those who need our help. This applies at the local or international level. This IHA program allows students to serve communities at an international level while completing a credential. Students take a couple of humanitarian courses at the university, complete online training through FEMA, and go on an IHA trip to receive a micro-credential in International Humanitarian Assistance. Students will develop expertise in humanitarian assistance and take what they learned to future careers and other disaster affected areas after they graduate.