Editor’s note: Kate Hurowitz, an internal communications manager at Google, was a member of the NetHope team deployed to Puerto Rico and its official mission storyteller.
On the night Maria hit, Emanuel Osoria and his wife slept in the living room of their 18th floor apartment. At about 2 a.m. they woke up to a loud noise: their bedroom window flying away in the wind. When the building started swaying, they stopped trying to mop up water and headed down to the lobby to wait out the storm with their neighbors.
The building still has no electricity or running water. After two weeks of climbing up and down 18 flights of stairs every day, they went to live with family. “My neighbors and I parked our cars carefully before the storm to make sure they wouldn’t be damaged. When we came outside afterwards, my van was fine, but it was pointed in a completely different direction than I had left it,” Emanuel says.
Before Maria—like many survivors of major disasters, people here now talk about life in terms of before and after the storm — Emanuel ran a small tourism operation, driving visitors between the airport, their hotels, and local attractions. There is no tourism to speak of these days, but Emanuel has kept working, driving his van to the airport early each morning.
As luck would have it, he picked up Alex Alpert, NetHope’s Membership Director, when she arrived on the island to help establish operations. “Emanuel got me up to speed very quickly about the situation on the island, and I relied on his knowledge,” says Alex. Despite what he had lived through, he was optimistic, and deeply thankful for the work NetHope was doing.
Soon after, Alex got in touch again. The NetHope team was receiving requests for assistance all over the island, and they needed someone who could help transport heavy equipment to hard-to-reach locations. “He got right to work, and was there to help with anything we needed, from loading equipment to unpacking groceries,” Alex recalls. But from the get-go it was clear that Emanuel would be more than a driver. Despite having no formal training, he immediately started helping with installations—carrying dishes, running cable, translating for members of the team. In return, the team gave him impromptu tutorials in satellite technology.
Emanuel’s favorite part of the process is the moment when all the equipment is set up and it’s time to get a signal and tune the system. “Everyone gets a little anxious. ‘Will it work? Will we catch a signal? We got it! Ahh!’ That’s the part I like best,” he says. But it’s not just the technical aspects of the work that he appreciates: “I’ve also learned a lot about leadership. Every day, I watch how the team leader helps everyone work together to be successful.” And of course, there’s the appreciation he feels from the communities NetHope serves. “When we arrived at the emergency distribution center in Utuado, the people working there applauded. They had been there for a month without access to the internet, and they were so happy we had arrived.”
After spending the past few weeks observing the team’s operations and contributing in innumerable ways, Emanuel is now officially NetHope’s newest field tech. He’ll receive training in VSAT installation, and for the next three to six months—or as long as NetHope is deployed in Puerto Rico—he’ll travel to communities across the island, providing desperately needed connectivity.
“Yo soy Boricua,” says Emanuel. “I am Puerto Rican. We have a fighting spirit, and we have a lot of faith. We don’t know how long it will take to get through this, but we’ll get through it.”
We’re proud to welcome Emanuel to the NetHope team!
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