(Standing, left to right: Jason Hoac, Ron Snyder, and Matt Altman, from Cisco; Rami Shakra, Jose Arsenio Gonzalez and Eduardo Quiñones, from Cisco. Sitting, left to right: Ingolfur Haradlsson, Amanda Gonzalez, Ruth Graulau, Emma Gonzalez, Vanessa Molina, Gabriel and Cecilia Quiñones-Molina.)
By Rami Shakra, Director of Field Connectivity
During the initial weeks of NetHope’s Puerto Rico response, finding hotel accommodation was nearly impossible, and if you did, the prices were astronomical. NetHope was quick in finding a solution for all the international volunteers pouring in and out of Puerto Rico by renting five houses, which we referred to as House A, House B., etc. (Thanks, Airbnb!) The houses had limited, sporadic, or no electricity.
Changing roommates was constant; some people you’d worked with previously, and others you had never met before. I had eight new roommates in less than two months in the houses, and more than that in my first few nights in a hostel with strangers. As it turned out, there was no better way to get to know the team and build strong relationships. We all supported and encouraged each other to keep pushing forward.
The living conditions were difficult at first. Finding water was a challenge, and incoming volunteers were asked to bring in water cases to share with the team on the ground. Access to supermarkets and restaurants was also difficult, and so we mostly ate protein bars and energy powder mixed with water. And, like the rest of the island population, we couldn’t communicate with our loved ones back home.
Despite this, members of the team bonded during their experience of sharing space at the end of long and intense days in the field. There was rarely any internet connectivity or TV, so we socialized. Whether you had some or no sleep, you were swept by the morning energy, which pushed you to give your best. Most days, no one had enough time to do debriefings or operational planning in an office, so late nights or early mornings were when the teams could update one another, plan next steps, and summarize progress for external reporting. Most nights felt like organizing chaos in the dark with headlamps, not knowing how the day flew by and how the following day would go.
One special place was the terrace of House C. Many promising ideas were born from “The Magic Terrace,” as it came to be known. There, we solved problems, shared personal stories, reflected on what had gone well and what hadn’t, planned next steps, and discussed lessons learned. It was also where we wound down. It was the “out-of-office,” dark, operational room, with a twist of fun. I made lifelong friends on The Magic Terrace, and more importantly, found colleagues who are equally passionate about the work we do together.