A few weeks after Hurricane Maria swept Puerto Rico last September, Harvard Law School (HLS) student Natalie Trigo Reyes ’19 visited the island where she grew up, and found an unrecognizable landscape.
“Everything was brown, barren, leveled to the ground,” said Trigo Reyes on a recent morning in Wasserstein Hall. “It looked as if the island had been hit by a nuclear bomb.”
Six months later, Puerto Rico is still reeling from the devastation, but to Trigo Reyes, who just came back from a weeklong trip as part of a humanitarian and legal brigade, the outlook is hopeful.
“Now, there is vegetation, and you can see the green,” she said, “and even though the government response has been slow and insufficient, there is a sense of hope.”
Trigo Reyes led a group of 29 HLS students who traveled to Puerto Rico over spring break to lend a hand to local residents who are still struggling to obtain disaster relief aid. Puerto Rico is a U.S. self-governing territory and its inhabitants are American citizens, although they can’t vote in presidential elections or elect representatives to Congress.
The HLS trip was spearheaded by Andrew Crespo ’08, assistant professor of law, and coordinated by the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs, led by Lee Mestre. The students joined forces with local groups such as Fundación Fondo de Acceso a la Justicia, Ayuda Legal Huracán María, Caras con Causa, and ConnectRelief, all of which are working to protect the rights of Puerto Rico residents to federal assistance, employment, and housing protection.