Over two years after Hurricane Maria, the Centros de Apoyo Mutuo are still vibrant, people-powered, living examples of mutual aid and community-based resistance and resilience.

In the community of Bucarabones in Las Marias, immediately after Hurricane Maria, the state was forced to pull back in the face of the disaster and abandoned its territory. More than two weeks after the hurricane, the first external aid showed up in the form of movement allies from San Juan. In collaboration with these new friends, they formed CAMBU (Centro de Apoyo Mutuo Bucarabones Unido) to provide mutual aid, rooted in the struggle for  social, economic, cultural, and environmental justice. Organizers and community members banded together to fill the vacuum, repurpose former government buildings, and meet the needs of the people.

Today, CAMBU serves as a community kitchen, hosts art classes for local children, provides cultural activities, educational workshops, and much need communal space. 

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has partnered with CAMBU over the last two years with such things as pop-up clinics, creating educational materials about mitigating trauma in children, and assisting with navigating bureaucracy.

Over the weekend of October 12th, 2019, a long-planned autonomous infrastructure project was completed. 

Mutual Aid Disaster Relief in partnership with CAMBU, and with important technical and financial assistance from Footprint Project, Solar Village Project, Rock Spring Congregation, and Sail Relief Team, was able to install a 3kw photovoltaic solar array, with a Sol-Ark inverter/charge controller system, and two Simpliphi lithium batteries for backup power. The Sol-Ark and extra panels we left at CAMBU allow us to quickly expand up to an 11kw solar system when the space is ready for it.

It’s an off-grid solar package that scales up easily and can power the mutual aid center for years to come.

We combined the installation with a hands on entry-level solar training in Spanish from Bosque Modelo, using the Solar Energy International curriculum. In addition, the teams distributed over 1,200 Sunnova photovoltaic panels to small farms and provided the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo in nearby Lares with the necessary system components for a rooftop solar system of their own.

The visit served to help solidify our collaboration with these partner organizations and lay the groundwork for future efforts. Together, we scoped future install locations across the island and have already begun to develop solar training materials to hone our focus on capacity-building. 

The CAMBU install is the third Centro de Apoyo Mutuo solar installation Mutual Aid Disaster Relief has helped facilitate in Puerto Rico. The largest, a 16kw container box system, is still in use at what is now the Centro de Transformacion Comunitaria, home to a community laundromat, library, clinic, karate, Zumba, and yoga programming, tutoring, and space for artists and small business incubation. 

The moments immediately after a major disaster are critical. Even weeks after, we often hear from communities that we are the first help they’d seen. But recovery is a long-term process. And it’s also important to build meaningful relationships of support long-term, and return time and again.

And we don’t want to just rebuild to the pre-disaster status quo. We want something more. When we build power while the lights are out, we want something to last. When there is a crack in the wall, we want it to widen, not close up. 

Sometimes it does.