Plenitud de Vida: New Beginnings for Puerto Rico

Plenitud de Vida: New Beginnings for Puerto Rico

Written by: Reverend Angel Luis Rivera-Agosto, Area Executive for Latin America and the Caribbean
February 2018

Plenas are known as “newspapers in song”, and give the latest updates on what people are feeling and the news of the day in Puerto Rico. Plena is a twentieth-century African-Puerto Rican musical form that is both distinctively Caribbean and distinctively Puerto Rican. Plena is often called “newspaper,” because it talks about contemporary events, protest and struggle, scandals, elections, and other aspects of everyday life.[1]  Plena instruments include three or more panderos, handheld frame drums, of different sizes: seguidor, segundo, and requinto, each playing a different rhythm, and a güiro. With roots in West Africa, Plena incorporates music from other Caribbean Islands and has become a source of national pride and cultural identity for Puerto Ricans.

Typical stanzas, sung by pleneros or Plena musicians throughout recent times would alert the population about the hurricane that could be coming:

//Temporal, temporal, allá viene el temporal//
¿Qué será de mi Borinquen cuando venga el temporal?
Qué será de Puerto Rico, cuando venga el temporal? 

(Storm, storm, from out there the storm is coming
What will be of my Puerto Rico when the storm comes?)

The main headlines of plenas in Puerto Rico during the months after the hurricane have been mostly about the devastation of María.[2]  During the recovery stage, the pleneros have been singing :

La brisa va, la brisa viene
La plena de nosotros no se detiene

(The breeze comes, the breeze goes
Our plena is not stopping)


//Entre ola y ola//
Mi plena va a sonar
María ya pasó y ahora llega la paz 

(Between wave and wave
My plena will sound
María passed by and now peace is coming)

The “panderos”, accompanied by “el chequeré” and the “maracas”, acknowledge the resilience of the island.  “Our plena, our song, our music is stronger. Our community is stronger than María” said one of its interpreters, interviewed on a public radio program. 

The Global Ministries experience of accompanying partners in Puerto Rico reflects the hope and the strength of its people in the midst of the damages suffered.   Global Ministries is committed to affirming that spirit of solidarity through both short- and long-term recovery.   Partner church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico (ICDCPR) has been channeling funds to the communities via the congregations.  Where there are no ICDCPR congregations, they are relying on other sister churches and organizations.  Also, congregations are bringing supplies to places where there is no ICDC presence, like the towns of Utuado, Jayuya, Orocovis and other places in the center of the island.  The aid has consisted mainly of food, water, hygiene kits, first aid kits, tarps, and generators.  They also have served as mediators with FEMA in terms of channeling supplies and aid to the communities. 

Ryder Hospital, related to the United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico, also a Global Ministries partner church, continues to provide health care and emergency services despite damages of approximately $15 million. The Evangelical Seminary, a Global Ministries partner, continues to assist their students with scholarships. The majority of its students are pastors in affected areas, so the scholarships have been used to give them the capacity to strengthen their accompaniment there.  And a new day of hope rises with Amaneser 2025, working with a community organization, is implementing a project that will supply energy through renewable resources for 200 families in the town of Naranjito, Puerto Rico.

Happiness and good news, in the form of plenas, accompany the Puerto Rican churches and ecumenical organizations in their work.  Local congregations share Puerto Rican music along with the delivery of provisions and a message of hope in the midst of despair and abandonment.  The fullness of life, or plenitud de vida, is present even through devastation and difficulties.  Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada, of the United Church of Christ in the U.S., and YOU are present through your prayers, support, and encouragement, and will continue to be present as Puerto Rican partners continue with their best efforts to serve to the people of Puerto Rico. 


Global Ministries Partner Hurricane María Update February 2018

Reverend Miguel Antonio Morales, General Pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Puerto Rico (ICDCPR) summarizes the ministry of the ICDCPR during these past months in simple words: Pastors have become social workers in the midst of this crisis. The crisis has many effects: from damaged houses to psychological needs; from food supplies to medical and mental illness; from roads and stoplights to basic public services such as electricity and running water.  At this moment, more than five months after the passing of María, 25% of the island still has no electric service at all.  The remaining 75% has service that is restored, but not permanently. Repairs have been delayed by the scarcity of materials, workers and financial resources needed to move ahead.

The United Evangelical Church of Puerto Rico (UECPR), also a Global Ministries partner church, has been working closely with its health ministry there, Ryder Hospital.  Ryder Hospital´s staff confirmed the losses of the Hospital, valued at $15 million. Much of their equipment got wet as a consequence of the heavy rain and flooding.  Insurance is covering most of the expenses, but there remains a deductible, estimated at $500,000. The Hospital´s Alzheimer unit and the Home for the Elderly reopened quickly after the hurricane with a power plant borrowed from the Corps of Engineers.  The Hospital lost a huge inventory of supplies and basic equipment in order to serve its patients and the broader community. 

Little by little they are replacing and using their stock of urgent care medical supplies such as first aid kits, gauze, bandages, and alcohol, and are replenishing the equipment needed for everyday therapies to deal with conditions like diabetes, asthma, heart conditions, and others.

Twenty out of the 65 UECPR churches suffered damage. The denomination is supporting 100 families that lost their houses.  In addition, they are carrying out community–based work in Utuado, Jayuya and other places in the central part of the island, where the UECPR is providing funds to prepare food for 1,000 persons.  The UECPR also is working hard to resolve problems with communications and electric power at their Central Offices, and rely on a power generator.  The Reverend Edward Rivera, UECPR´s General Pastor, has been coordinating the efforts in solidarity with the congregations and communities.

The Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico (SEPR) reports structural damages to the property, mostly from wind and flooding.  SEPR is open on a part-time basis.  Almost all the trees were blown down, except for a historic Ceiba, that is now in the process of renewing itself.  Student housing was affected, especially on the roofs, siding, and windows.  Some of the apartments that the SEPR rents as a sustainable project were affected too.  The SEPR chapel was damaged by the wind, as were the classrooms and common shared facilities.  SEPR is providing special scholarships for their students in order for them to deal with the needs of their local congregations as well as their families.  Also, SEPR has provided food for public employees that are working on repairs in the nearby community of Río Piedras, as well as for students from the University of Puerto Rico, a neighboring public university. For more details on SEPR and a word from the leadership, read here.

In terms of long recovery efforts, Global Ministries partner Amaneser 2025 is accompanying the rural town of Naranjito in the analysis and resolution of its three main challenges: energy, water, and communications. In a November 2017, Amaneser facilitated a visit to Naranjito by a delegation made up of Global Ministries, UCC Disaster Ministries, Week of Compassion, and Disciples Volunteering. Community residents described to the visiting delegation that regarding energy, the issue is how to deal with the proliferation of power plants along with the complications of an unjust market that controls access to diesel; all these elements are complicated by widespread pollution. Water is scarce and contaminated.  The water issue worsened when cases of the bacterial infection, leptospirosis, were reported. Communications rural areas continue interrupted with little to no phone service.  The lack of communication also affected the community´s access to outside aid getting to them, compounded by the fact that many roads remain blocked by trees that the government has not been able to remove. 

The long-term recovery work planned by Amaneser 2025 is starting in the community of Naranjito. After a process of analysis and consultation between the Amaneser 2015 staff and leaders and residents of the town of Naranjito, a first effort involves community members participating in training on the subject of solar energy through a workshop led by the Micronetworks Laboratory, Mayagüez Campus. Amaneser 2015 will provide resources for the assembly of solar energy components by teams of Naranjito participants and their installation. These will meet basic electricity needs for 100 families who are facing health challenges or are homebound. One special need is to provide the ice needed for the storage of certain medicines in people’s homes. Amaneser 2025 also is working with Naranjito residents in an alternative water project, occupying rainwater, and will likewise explore options for alternative communication systems. Amaneser 2025 hopes their work in Naranjito will motivate similar work in additional communities, and also will assist these communities to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season and beyond.

Global Ministries partners and their leadership in Puerto Rico have been present all throughout the island, dealing with short-term needs, and now are also sowing the seeds of long-term recovery and sustainable development.   Men and women of good will have collaborated, provided supplies and carried out services in many places where the U.S. and Puerto Rico governments have not reached or provided assistance.


[1] Plena, the People’s Newspaper: Puerto Rican Music for the Classroom Designed by: Paulette Thompson Ida B. Wells School for Social Justice, Seattle Public Schools University of Washington