Hawk soars in the sky
As we watch branches whiten
She alights for now.
READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS
Genre: Science & Nature
Publish Date: August 14, 2018
Seller: HARPERCOLLINS PUBLISHERS
From the author of Proust and the Squid, a lively, ambitious, and deeply informative epistolary book that considers the future of the reading brain and our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies. A decade ago, Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid revealed what we know about how the brain learns to read and how reading changes the way we think and feel. Since then, the ways we process written language have changed dramatically with many concerned about both their own changes and that of children. New research on the reading brain chronicles these changes in the brains of children and adults as they learn to read while immersed in a digitally dominated medium. Drawing deeply on this research, this book comprises a series of letters Wolf writes to us—her beloved readers—to describe her concerns and her hopes about what is happening to the reading brain as it unavoidably changes to adapt to digital mediums. Wolf raises difficult questions, including: Will children learn to incorporate the full range of “deep reading” processes that are at the core of the expert reading brain?Will the mix of a seemingly infinite set of distractions for children’s attention and their quick access to immediate, voluminous information alter their ability to think for themselves?With information at their fingertips, will the next generation learn to build their own storehouse of knowledge, which could impede the ability to make analogies and draw inferences from what they know?Will all these influences, in turn, change the formation in children and the use in adults of “slower” cognitive processes like critical thinking, personal reflection, imagination, and empathy that comprise deep reading and that influence both how we think and how we live our lives?Will the chain of digital influences ultimately influence the use of the critical analytical and empathic capacities necessary for a democratic society?How can we preserve deep reading processes in future iterations of the reading brain?Who are the “good readers” of every epoch? Concerns about attention span, critical reasoning, and over-reliance on technology are never just about children—Wolf herself has found that, though she is a reading expert, her ability to read deeply has been impacted as she has become, inevitably, increasingly dependent on screens. Wolf draws on neuroscience, literature, education, technology, and philosophy and blends historical, literary, and scientific facts with down-to-earth examples and warm anecdotes to illuminate complex ideas that culminate in a proposal for a biliterate reading brain. Provocative and intriguing, Reader, Come Home is a roadmap that provides a cautionary but hopeful perspective on the impact of technology on our brains and our most essential intellectual capacities—and what this could mean for our future.
There?s a new victory for environmentalists, health advocates and anyone who cares about their health: a federal court ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos.
The decision puts an end to the EPA?s lengthy history of stall tactics and seeming unwillingness to protect people or the environment from this nasty toxic chemical.
The EPA banned the brain-damaging pesticide from household use almost two decades ago in 2000. But, the so-called ?environmental protection? agency continued to allow the toxic chemical to grow food and for other agricultural purposes.
Additionally, the EPA had planned to completely ban chlorpyifos over a year ago but then mysteriously reversed its decision after meeting with the CEO of Dow Chemical, Andrew Liveris. Scott Pruitt, the then EPA administrator. Instead, they decided to keep the brain-damaging insecticide in use and to reverse the ban.
While the court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to ban the toxic pesticide, a spokesperson for the agency said that the agency ?is reviewing the decision.? That sounds like still another stall tactic by the agency that has already been court-ordered to immediately ban the chemical. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, as part of the decision, the judge admonished the EPA for ?having stalled on banning chlorpyrifos,? and ordered that all commercial registrations for chlorpyrifos be cancelled or revoked within 60 days.
Also known as CPF, or Dursban, the pesticide is an established nerve agent that has been linked to disruption of the brain messenger acetylcholine which is involved in memory and motor function and poor coordination, interference in the formation of brain cells and communication between brain cells, hyperactivity, learning impairment, depression?and other social and emotional changes. It has also been linked to headaches, blurred vision, unusual fatigue and other health issues.
Research published in the journal Neurotoxicology found that the developing brains of children, especially those who are two years old and under, are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of these toxic pesticides.
Research published in the journal Pediatrics found that children with high exposures to this herbicide are more vulnerable to attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other developmental disorders. Yet, children are often the ones who are most exposed to the chemical because it is still sprayed on schoolyards and playgrounds. Another study published in Pediatrics found that fetal exposure may be linked to developmental problems.
In a study published in the journal Environmental Health, researchers labelled chlorpyrifos exposure as the ?Silent Epidemic? that is destroying our brain and neurological health.
While the chemical will remain in the environment long after the ban is officially implemented, there are still things you can do to limit your exposure, including:
-Eat organic food as much as possible. Organic food is not sprayed with harmful pesticides; however, it may still come in contact with them during transportation or in grocery stores. Ideally, choose organic food at your local farmer?s market from a farmer that you know is exclusively growing organically.
-Avoid grass or parks that have been sprayed. And, definitely do not let your children play in the grass of parks or lawns that have been sprayed with pesticides. If you?re not sure about the area, assume it has been sprayed.
-Avoid spraying your lawn, flower, fruit or vegetable gardens with chemical pesticides of any kind.
-Don?t spray any chemical insecticides in your home.
-Grow your own sprouts. Not only is it the best example of eating locally, as long as you use organic seeds and pure water, they?ll be pesticide-free. Learn more about how to grow your own sprouts here.
-Place a ?Pesticide-free? yard sign to encourage others to do the same and to contribute to the increasing number of yards that are pesticide-free.
–Write to the EPA telling them to follow the court order and insisting that they not employ further stall tactics or waste more taxpayer money by appealing the decision. You can reach them by mail at: Environmental Protection Agency, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20460. You can also make your opinions known on their Facebook page, Twitter page, Instagram page?or Flickr page.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World?s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.? Follow her work.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
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Slimeballs could determine who wins a race for the U.S. Senate. And in this case, slimeballs isn’t another word for disgraced politicians or dirty-money lobbyists.
Slime is flowing off Florida’s Lake Okeechobee in balls, clots, and sheets into coastal waters. It’s made of algae that blooms in massive numbers when fertilizer-laden agricultural runoff sits in warm water. Rain raised the level of this fetid brew until officials had no choice but to send it downstream to the sea.
The environmental disaster is choking dolphins and strangling the tourism economy. It’s stinky, ugly, sad, and impossible for Floridians to ignore, and so it’s become a central element in the race for Senate between the incumbent, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, and the challenger, Governor Rick Scott. Both blame the other for the crisis.
What’s surprising here is that environmental issues are taking a starring role in a an election campaign. We complain all the time at Grist about the lack of attention to climate change in presidential debates and the like. This lack of focus has allowed politicians — mostly of the Republican persuasion — to ignore and deny the many environmental disasters unfolding in slow motion. But as those problems begin to erode voters’ quality of life, they’re bound to become more of a political issue, which means politicians of all stripes will have to address them to get elected.
In this case, it was Scott — the Republican! — who started the skirmish, releasing this ad saying that Nelson has not managed to clean-up Okeechobee in his 30 years of political service.
Nelson fired back back with his own TV spot, quoting newspapers that blame Scott for the crisis.
Who’s right? Well, Sen. Nelson hasn’t fixed the environmental mess that is Lake Okeechobee, the slimy source of the scum, but it’s an enormous challenge that has bogged down many attempts, said Michael Grunwald, senior writer for Politico Magazine, who laid out that history in his book, The Swamp. The proposed solution was a deal to turn 100,000 acres of sugar-cane farms into reservoirs for storage. “If you build a shit ton of storage you don’t have to dump water on the estuaries and Everglades,” Grunwald said.
But Scott passed a law to block the reservoirs. He also oversaw budget reductions for state environmental agencies, according to the Washington Post, cutting “scientists and engineers whose jobs were to monitor pollution levels and algal blooms.” Thanks to those budget cuts, scientists don’t have the data to show the root causes of the crisis.
Scott and Nelson are now neck and neck in the polls. If there’s a bright spot here it’s that this race is proving that some Republicans are willing to campaign on environmental issues, provided voters care enough to raise a stink. “The old saying here is that election years are good for the Everglades,” Grunwald said.
Taking action once in office, as opposed to using the environment to score campaign points, is another story.
You wake up on a lazy Saturday morning. The sun is shining, the grass is green and fresh produce is in season. It’s time to make your way over to your nearest farmers’ market to stock up on locally made and grown goods.
Farmers? markets are lively events during the warmer months. Shopping at farmers? markets is not only fun, it can also have a positive impact on the environment, your health and your community.
Much of the food from a supermarket travels long distances before reaching the shelves (Photo by Gratisography, CC0)
Shopping for local produce can be a more environmentally friendly choice than heading to the supermarket.
The further food has to travel, the longer and more energy intensive the process becomes. From picking and sorting, to shipping and storing, these steps all require large amounts of energy in the form of electricity and oil. Products sold at farmers? markets are generally created or grown within a 160-kilometre radius of the places they?re sold, which can greatly help reduce the product?s total carbon footprint.
The use of fertilizers such as phosphorus are also commonplace on larger industrial farms. They are added to the soil to try and increase the quality and growing time of plants. Run-off from these products can accumulate in bodies of water, causing toxic algae blooms, a process called eutrophication. This unsustainable practice depletes the soil of its nutrients, rendering it unusable. Most small-scale farmers use these fertilizers more sparingly or don?t use them at all, which helps preserve the soil?s integrity for the next growing season.
Local products often tend to come with much less packaging. Products sold locally aren?t typically wrapped. This gives consumers a chance to bring their own reusable bags and reduce the amount of plastic and other garbage that ends up in landfills and waterways.
Another bonus that comes from shopping locally is that the products purchased are generally better for your health. Products found on the shelves of grocery stores are usually picked days or weeks before, and they have sat ripening in fridges or on shelves before they hit the store. More traditional practices allow produce to ripen in the field, and they are picked right before being sold. When picked at its prime, produce tastes fresh and is packed with maximum nutrients.
Fresh strawberries at a farmers’ market (Photo by Alexandria Baldridge, Pexels)
Buying local also means buying what?s in season. In the summer months, you?ll see strawberries and raspberries starting to appear, while products like squash and pumpkins only appear in the fall. This is the way we traditionally ate before technology made it possible to store our food in fridges and ship food from warmer climates in the dead of winter.
The best part about farmers? markets is that if you have any questions about how products have been produced or made, you can just ask the farmer! It?s a rarity these days to be able to meet the people who grow our food and to have the answers to our questions right in front of us.
Finally, shopping for locally sourced products helps you become an active member in your community. Much of the food we eat is produced on large-scale single-crop farms. According to Statistics Canada, between 1931 and 2006, the total land being farmed increased, but the number of farms in operation decreased almost 70 per cent from over 700,000 farms to 229,373, as smaller farms were taken over or bought out by larger industrial farms. By purchasing local products, you are supporting farm families and keeping your money within your local economy.
Unique events such as farmers’ markets create vibrant communities where people come to meet up and connect with their friends, family and neighbors.
These are just some of the many benefits of shopping locally. Next time you?re looking for a relaxed weekend activity or a colorful vegetable to brighten your summer salad, be sure to look for a farmers? market near you. Feel good, have fun and make a difference!
This post was written by Jackie Bastianon and originally appeared on the Nature Conservancy of Canada?s blog, Land Lines.
Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.
Alaska isn’t exactly the first state you’d expect to embrace a price on carbon. Yet the state legislature will likely be weighing one after the November elections. When carbon taxes keep getting scrapped by blue states like Washington and Oregon, why would such a plan succeed in Alaska: a red state where oil companies are a major economic lifeline?
Necessity is one explanation. Alaskans have been at the forefront of climate change for decades now, facing melting permafrost, coastal erosion, and rising seas. And dealing with these problems — building new infrastructure and relocating communities, for instance — is expensive. By 2030, climate change could add another $3 to $6 billion in costs to public infrastructure alone. A carbon tax could help pay for the state’s ballooning climate costs.
Last year, Governor Bill Walker, an Independent, established a group to figure out how to address the state’s climate issues. The Climate Change Strategy and Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team — a group of 20 scientists, policy wonks, indigenous representatives, and oil executives — recently released a draft proposal. Lo and behold, it includes a carbon tax.
The plan is expected to reach Walker’s desk in mid-September, marking the first time the state has seriously considered a price on carbon. The details of the proposal are vague at this point, and it’ll be some time before discussion about the tax really ramps up. The governor isn’t expected to throw his support behind a controversial tax during election season.
The leadership group wants a price on pollution for practical reasons: Alaska doesn’t have a lot of revenue. With just 700,000 people, it’s one of the least populous states in America. And its residents don’t pay income or sales taxes.
If Alaska manages to implement a carbon tax — and that won’t be easy — it could tackle two huge problems at once, says Chris Rose, a member of the leadership team and the founder of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.
“Maybe a carbon tax can be the tax that we employ to deal with our revenue shortfall and climate change at the same time,” he says.
A solid majority of Alaskans, 63 percent, said they support taxing fossil fuel companies while equally reducing other taxes, according to data released this week from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. That’s not precisely the kind of proposal Rose’s team is cooking up, but it indicates that Alaskans have something of an appetite for a carbon tax.
Rose is also buoyed by the fact that the state’s residents are used to the idea of paying for pollution. Alaskans have to take either their own garbage to the landfill or pay out of pocket for a company pick it up.
“Likewise,” he says, “I don’t think people would have as much objection to paying a fee for emitting carbon dioxide if they really understood that CO2 is the primary cause of climate change.”
Next up for the Climate Change Strategy and Climate Action for Alaska Leadership team? Educating the public about the benefits of a carbon tax. That way, when the Alaska legislature starts considering one, its constituents know what’s at stake.
Climate change is about to start hitting us where it really hurts: our champagne. With temperatures heating up in France’s normally cool region of Champagne, Bloomberg reports that it might be hard for “the taste we love” to last.
This isn’t the first article or study to connect climate change with something that seems well, frivolous. In January, reports declared that chocolate could become extinct by 2050. Last year, skiing enthusiasts were stressed to find out that the ski season could vanish from the country’s lower altitude resorts by 2090. What’s next? Caviar?
“These are the worst kind of climate stories,” Alex Randall, director of the U.K.-based Climate Change and Migration Coalition, tweeted. “Every week there is a ‘will climate change ruin your coffee/wine/skiing’ etc etc. I guess the intention is to connect it with real things, but it just trivializes it.”
It’s hard to compare the destruction and death connected to climate change with the loss of what can only be described as luxury items. Pacific Islanders continue to lose their land and homes to rising seas, heat waves around the world this summer have killed over 100 people, and Caribbean leaders have called for climate action in the wake of deadly hurricanes. Against this backdrop, focusing on champagne appears misguided at best, elitist at worst.
But environmental psychologists warn that it’s not that simple. “We do know that for many people the issue of climate change is very amorphous and abstract,” says Susan Clayton, chair of the psychology department at the College of Wooster. “Making it very specific just makes it easier for people to think about.”
Much like connecting climate change to extreme weather, linking everyday activities to a warming planet could make climate change seem more immediate and thus psychologically relevant — even if the connections are to the loss of coffee or 1 percent problems like dried-out golf courses.
The thing is, according to Sander van der Linden, professor of psychology at Cambridge University, how these stories are received may depend on whether the reader already accepts the reality of climate change, and whether they feel able to take action to prevent further damage. Making climate immediate isn’t a silver bullet to compel action or acceptance.
Targeting one audience could also leave others feeling left out. News stories warning us of the end of say, lush polo fields, are obviously aimed at a particular echelon of society, one that advertisers happen to love. Maxwell Boykoff, professor of environmental policy and communication at the University of Colorado Boulder, says that champagne in particular “might tap into some elitist bourgeois-type discourse that could alienate everyday people for the most part.”
Certainly we need the 1 percent to care about climate change, but will the potential loss of champagne convince any billionaires to stop flying, or persuade them to donate millions to climate action groups? The transformations required to move to a low-carbon world — such as a push for more public transit and decarbonizing power generation — will require a lot more than simple lifestyle changes.
Not to say that these stories are a waste of time. But how journalists frame climate change — and who gets hurt the worst — does matter.
“Generally, I think [these stories] are positive,” says van der Linden. “On a psychological level, it does help people overcome this distance. But clearly there’s also the flip side to it — you don’t want to trivialize it too much, to the point where we’re talking about the impacts on champagne.”
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Water bills in Baltimore are out of control. Between 2010 and 2017, the typical household’s annual water and sewer bill jumped from $347 to $720. Residents have even turned to buying bottled water and purchasing gym memberships just to use the showers, because its more affordable than using their tap.
Like many cities on the East Coast, Baltimore’s aging water infrastructure is in need of major investments. To repair and update its systems, the city has raised water prices. Companies have been pushing privatization while many residents, particularly in neighborhoods that are working class communities of color, have had their water shut off.
But just this week, two water-related bills were approved to make it to the ballot this fall. One bill would make it illegal for the city to turn over its public water utility to a private company. The other would create a racial equity fund to ensure that city services treat all residents fairly.
Several companies have approached Baltimore asking to lease or manage the city’s water service. Privatization is often an appealing move to cash-strapped cities, but Baltimore has turned down efforts so far. A Food & Water Watch study of the 500 largest community water systems in the U.S. found that private utilities typically charge close to 60 percent more for water than their public counterparts.
If voters pass the bill this fall, Baltimore will become the first major U.S. city to ban the privatization of its water. “Hopefully other cities across the country will follow our lead,” says City Councilman Brandon Scott, who introduced another measure that he hopes will help improve water service in the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Scott’s bill would help fund an equity assessment program that would mandate city agencies and services to evaluate and address any disparities based on race, gender, or income.
Under the program, the city would take a look at how water cutoffs and high water bills impact different communities. If they see that those water bill issues are impacting poor people, people of color, or women more frequently, then they’ll have to make changes, Scott says.
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READ GREEN WITH E-BOOKS
Publish Date: October 16, 2012
Seller: SIMON AND SCHUSTER DIGITAL SALES INC
In Wild Thoughts from Wild Places, award-winning journalist David Quammen reminds us why he has become one of our most beloved science and nature writers. This collection of twenty-three of Quammen's most intriguing, most exciting, most memorable pieces takes us to meet kayakers on the Futaleufu River of southern Chile, where Quammen describes how it feels to travel in fast company and flail for survival in the river's maw. We are introduced to the commerce in pearls (and black-market parrots) in the Aru Islands of eastern Indonesia. Quammen even finds wildness in smog-choked Los Angeles — embodied in an elusive population of urban coyotes, too stubborn and too clever to surrender to the sprawl of civilization. With humor and intelligence, David Quammen's Wild Thoughts from Wild Places also reminds us that humans are just one of the many species on earth with motivations, goals, quirks, and eccentricities. Expect to be entertained and moved on this journey through the wilds of science and nature.
Perhaps you’ve seen them: Red, orange, yellow, or green bikes filling up sidewalks in cities nationwide. They’re called dockless bikeshares, and they’re the latest attempt to change urban mobility with bikes. Just find a bike, pay a dollar on your phone, and you’re off!
If they work, they could help cities fight traffic, air pollution, and climate change. But history tells us that’s easier said than done. Watch our video to find out how dockless bikeshares — if they can stay afloat — could change the way people get around town.
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For the first 36 hours after Hurricane Maria, 5-year-old Keydiel and his mother Shaina were trapped by the toppled trees that blocked the doors to their home in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.
Eventually, neighbors cleared the sturdy tamarind trees, cutting by hand because there was no electricity. The mother and son emerged to find an island devoured by 155 mph winds and harsh rains.
Their immediate concerns were physical — finding food and water — but bubbling below were anxieties and trauma that would endure for months.
“It was difficult to find himself [Keydiel] in a situation where he didn’t have a way out. It was difficult for me,” Shaina told the Guardian through an interpreter, while sitting at a table outside her son’s classroom. “As a mom, I was very stressed out and I got anxious because I wasn’t able to solve things so quickly. I felt impotent.”
Keydiel’s school sits just below hillside forests that are finally a dense, dark green after Maria twisted them into a tangling mess of trees stripped of leaves and bark. This sign of recovery — one Puerto Ricans craved after their green island turned brown in the storm — is betrayed by house-sized patches of mud from landslides and the remains of pulverized structures.
Down in the valley, where crisp, salt-flecked coastal air drifts in from the Caribbean Sea just over the hills, Keydiel’s school had survived the storm. It was closed for months but eventually provided refuge for children desperate for everything to be like it was before.
Ten months after Maria, Shaina and other Puerto Ricans face a mental health crisis that stems from something frighteningly simple: One powerful hurricane robbed millions of Americans of reliable access to drinkable water, food, medical care, electricity, phones, and internet.
These basic necessities are still luxuries in the hardest-hit parts of the island and took longer than expected to return to the rest of the island, but nowhere is life the same. This disruption to daily life has exacerbated feelings of despair, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Gary Shaye, Save the Children’s interim director in Puerto Rico who also responded to the earthquakes in Haiti and Nepal, said this daily impact distinguishes Maria from other natural disasters because it is a “living emergency.”
“The only other thing like this would be some conflict situations,” Shaye said, alluding to the agency’s work in the Middle East with Syrians “when you see people in a camp and they have a cellphone and every day they don’t know what’s happening to their house, their family, who died — and they live with it every day. Whereas other types of emergencies don’t wipe out an entire island.”
Mental healthcare was an issue in Puerto Rico well before Maria made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017.
The island’s decade-long recession provoked high unemployment rates and migration that separated families, a distressing mix for Puerto Ricans — especially those underserved by the island’s strained healthcare system.
All these issues were exacerbated by Maria, which robbed every person on the island of their daily routine for weeks, if not months.
Pharmacy closures deprived people of access to prescription antidepressants and antipsychotics. Veterans of the U.S. wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Korea reported that the sounds of the storm and scenes of destruction triggered post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that had been managed.
From November 2017 through January 2018, the island’s suicide hotline, Línea PAS, saw a 246 percent increase in calls from people who said they had attempted suicide compared with the same time a year earlier. There was also an 83 percent jump in people who said they had thought about attempting suicide.
The hurricane left a landscape of flattened homes, broken glass, downed trees, snapped cables languishing in water, and streams of people in shock searching for food, water, or loved ones. Those who were there in the weeks after the storm recall seeing people walking around “zombie-eyed.”
RICARDO ARDUENGO / AFP / Getty Images
The unsafe conditions kept children across the island largely indoors, where they couldn’t do activities that needed light or electricity. Because so many people had moved in with extended families for the hurricane, children removed from their neighborhoods were surrounded by strangers. Streets clogged with debris and crushed glass posed a long-term hazard.
Schools were closed for months, and even when they reopened, classes didn’t immediately begin and not every teacher had returned.
It was a recipe for trauma that can have long-lasting effects, according to Barbara Ammirati, Save the Children’s deputy director of Puerto Rico programs. She has led the implementation of psychosocial programs for children in U.S. disaster zones since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Shaina said Keydiel “went a little bit into a crisis” after the hurricane. He had no one to play with until late November, when school returned. Back in class, he was abnormally aggressive.
Shaina, meanwhile, hesitated every morning at 7:30 a.m. when she dropped him off at school, worried about how his food would be prepared because two months after the hurricane, drinkable water was still scarce. Rumors that rats drinking from a local river had later died petrified those who had been cooking and cleaning in the stream.
Hypervigilance is normal for parents after a natural disaster because of the parents’ own stress, explained Ammirati.
By late June, Keydiel and Shaina had shown signs of improvement, something Shaina credits to Save the Children, which deployed child protection programs to 32 municipalities, including Yabucoa.
Keydiel participated in programs that seek to mitigate trauma by improving children’s coping abilities and bringing out their inner resilience. The nonprofit also hosts workshops to train and support caregivers, who are often just as severely affected by the disaster as children.
Yabucoa was the site of the hurricane’s first landfall, where at least 1,500 homes were damaged and 60 percent still lacked electricity in May.
At least 19 students said they had considered suicide, according to Yabucoa city council. In May, a man climbed an electricity tower there and threatened to throw himself off in protest at the lack of power. And a preliminary study of 34 families in Yabucoa showed 74 percent of participants would like to receive psychological services.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) awarded $6.7 million to Puerto Rico for its emergency mental health services assistance and training program, which it usually provides for one to two months, but was in place in Puerto Rico until March. FEMA also provided more than $12.6 million for a similar mental health program to run until December that includes services for people who need long-term counseling, children and the elderly.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also loosened restrictions on existing block grants, offered technical assistance, and provided materials including 300 disaster kits and 5,000 suicide prevention wallet cards.
But places like Yabucoa are also getting significant support from the island’s mental health professionals and international nonprofits, including Save the Children, who pay regular visits to the area.
A woman in Yabucoa after Hurricane Maria. HECTOR RETAMAL / AFP / Getty Images
It was a Save the Children course where Alejandra, a cheery 9-year-old, said she and her classmates discussed what they were afraid of and how to help each other if they were mad or upset. “We were all sad it was ending because it was a lot of fun,” she said through an interpreter in an interview at her school.
Alejandra was chatty, and danced around her school’s outdoor hallways after the interview. The warm, thick air warned of an incoming tropical rainstorm that would cause electric outages throughout the afternoon — the new normal across Puerto Rico.
Her parents, Yeliza and Juan, said her bubbly attitude was a dramatic turn from how she was in the winter, when the family fled Puerto Rico for Florida.
More than two months after the hurricane, they did not have electricity and drinkable water was difficult to come by. Alejandra had been a dedicated student who took pride in her good grades, but school was closed through late November.
Juan said in a state of “complete desperation” they left for Florida.
They returned to Puerto Rico less than three weeks later because Alejandra was struggling at her school, which had other newly transported Puerto Rican students but no teachers who could speak Spanish. Alejandra said she didn’t feel safe at school and was very sad because she spent most of her time indoors with her older cousin.
“She’d cry every morning, she’d cry every night,” Yeliza said. “She didn’t want to go to school.”
Juan had found work and the family was living with relatives, but they still couldn’t get used to the new place, so they came back. “Now we’re here, battling it out,” Juan said.
Power returned to their home in April, though Alejandra pointed out that the electricity still goes out “now and then.” Her mother added: “But at least we can watch TV every day,” prompting claps from her young daughter.
Ammirati said the existing network of mental health professionals in Puerto Rico was strong, but because the scope of devastation was so enormous, those providers needed psychological support too, like on an airplane when passengers are instructed to put an oxygen mask on themselves before helping children.
At one school in Yabucoa, a Save the Children caregivers workshop for teachers had the entire staff in tears. A course instructor, Tina Tirado, said teachers there told her they despaired at the lack of electricity, were distressed about not having their normal lives back and had a lack of hope about the future.
To address this issue, the island’s existing network of mental health professionals and educators made alliances with local universities, clinicians across the globe, NGOs, and city governments.
New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene sent clinicians to train nearly 1,000 people, mostly school staff, in psychological first aid. The department’s deputy commissioner, Oxiris Barbot, who is of Puerto Rican descent, said city workers heard “bone-chilling stories about people losing family members to suicide.”
“Teachers having to act on behalf of students to prevent parents from killing themselves in front of their kids,” Barbot said. “Just really traumatic events that even hearing them recounted by individuals months later, you can see how emotionally affected they are by the ongoing devastation of Hurricane Maria.
“This situation has brought into stark relief for me, that in this modern age, in the United States, we have to talk about the basicness of electricity and clean water and essential public health needs of a community,” Barbot said. “I never thought six months after a disaster, I would still have to focus on that.”
Despite this, Barbot and other mental health professional see signs of hope.
“Part of what we learned in addition to the hunger that there was for the basic skills was also about the resiliency of the human spirit,” Barbot said. “Even though they had gone through this tremendous devastation, they still had a sense of community and connectedness and commitment to their jobs as educators, to their calling as protectors of children to kind of show up for them and create a semblance of normalcy.”
This was on display at a school in Yabucoa for children between 18 months and 14 years. While showing off student-grown watermelon, pepper, and tomato plants and newly cleaned classrooms, Principal Maraida spoke about the army of parents who had helped her rebuild the campus, which was closed to its 150 students for 103 days.
She ignored tables and chairs in a classroom for toddlers and instead told her story while sitting on the classroom floor, which she said “is where everything begins.”
One of the school’s parent helpers, Melissa, had moved her husband, daughter, and niece into her parent’s house ahead of the hurricane because their property was sturdier. It was clearly the right decision, as pictures of her own home after the hurricane show a building that looks like it was picked up and smashed into the hill it was built on. She later found the family’s mattresses down the hill from their home.
Along with losing everything she owns, Melissa’s house had only got electricity back in late June — 290 days after it first went out.
But Maraida said Melissa had done everything possible to help the school, even after giving birth to her now 3-month-old baby. “She’ll slaughter pigs if you want her to,” Maraida said.
Melissa explained that the school was important for her daughter, Sonielys, who requires special education courses. Sonielys, 10, also went through Save the Children programs and was calm when power went out in a classroom during an interview.
She made an eerie, undulating “wooooh” noise to describe what the hurricane sounded like and showed no signs of fear as she recalled nonstop rain and not being allowed to go to school for weeks. “I learned that we’re all the same but some things are different,” Sonielys said through an interpreter.
Maraida was proud as she spoke of the work Melissa and other enthusiastic parents accomplished, but when asked about mental health issues in the community, she crumbled.
“We all have that friction sometimes, because the situation is not simple, it is a little bit complicated,” she said, crying. “I myself have a lot of trouble because I’m in charge. Because I am the leader, when I see that things don’t function I want them to function. I try to think positive but it’s a little bit hard.”
She described working as a contractor, lobbying the island and federal governments for help, while also caring for her daughter as a single mom, and for her father, who is in chemotherapy for cancer. She said: “I am staying here and I’m giving it to the end.”
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