Traveling or planning a trip is usually my lifeline and what keeps me going.  If I am feeling down I just go to google and start planning our next trip and life is good again.  Recently, with all that has been happening in the world - fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, shootings and the list goes on - I have found myself struggling as to how to cope. I am sure many people have that same reoccurring pit in their stomachs and numbness just watching the news. 

Until a month or so ago if I was not working or traveling we would have our granddaughter &/or grandson to brighten our day.  We find it nearly impossible to be down when we’re being entertained by the wonderment of a child. Well our little ones have gone off to school so that escape happens less frequently.  So feeling a little down, I found myself wondering what to do now?  That is when my phone rang and my friend Lori, who owns a vacation home in Vieques PR, asked if I was serious about wanting to help. I said sure and the rest is history.

Lori has a gorgeous vacation home on a hill just up from the Malecon in Esperanza, Vieques.  Vieques is a small island that was once used by the Navy for bombing practice.  Sounds terrible but 2/3 of the land is now, courtesy of the US Navy, a National Wildlife Refuge that harbors some of the most beautiful pristine beaches in the world. It is also home to herds of horses and has a bioluminescent bay.  I could go on and on about this magical island of 10,000 people, but that is the Vieques I have seen.  Hurricane Maria’s right eye wall made a direct hit to Esperanza as a Cat 5.  The island that I knew is gone; Vieques is now more like a war zone.  For several weeks this small island was literally cut off from the world.  No phones, no electricity, no water, no medicine, no food, no money, nothing.  The ferries were not running the small airport was closed and the docks were not accepting boats.  The first plane in took 2 satellite phones to the island and now people wait in line for hours to be able to make a 2 minute call out to let loved ones know they are OK. 

Miraculously, no one died during the hurricane.  Unfortunately, some have died due to complications and the harsh conditions since.  Each day more and more is being done and life is very slowly crawling forward from survival to rebuilding.  It will take a very long time to get this small island back, but because it is small in size, both physically and in population, it can be helped!  It can also become a beacon of hope to others.  People on the island and people here, far away, are working together to help every person and animal on that island get what they need to survive and rebuild.  Lori and I have started a GoFundMe page and together we have been working to help get medications, basic needs and transportation any way we can. You have no idea how many calls, hours of research and emails… Sometimes it feels like we’re losing ground but we just keep doing whatever we can to try and help.

This is what has helped me cope with all the sadness in the world that was literally bringing me down with it.  By stepping outside myself and rolling up my sleeves, with the help of a friend to share this all with, life seems so much better.  I am not sharing this for accolades or to brag, but to make two points. 1. It is hard to stay down when you are busy and 2.  every little bit helps.  The more you do the more the ball gets rolling, with bumps, but any momentum is progress after a disaster.

Somehow through all my networking and researching and talking to people I was reminded how great it was years ago to work the local Spay and Neuter clinics in the Riviera Maya with the group ViDAS.  I started doing that in 1999 and did it for many years.  I reconnected with some of those people as part as my networking. One thing led to another and yesterday I bought a plane ticket and will be heading back to Tulum, Mexico next month for a week. It will be a great reunion for many of us.  And it will be a very successful Volunteer Trip.

I can’t stress enough how great it is to be doing something worthwhile, and no matter how small it seems, when we become part of the solution we are no longer part of the problem.  I must add, as someone who is totally addicted to travel, that volunteering is a great way to see the world!!!  Through our connections with ViDAS we are contemplating a volunteer trip to Nairobi, Kenya in February with Vet Treks Foundation.  In less than a week I went from twiddling my thumbs and feeling overwhelmed and deeply saddened to networking, researching and exploring possibilities in 4 countries, 2 continents and one very small island. 

Lydia PontiusComment