The University at Buffalo School of Law’s Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic is back in the Queen City after their trip to Puerto Rico.
They were there to offer help in the aftermath of last month's devastating earthquakes. All this comes as the island is still recovering from a deadly hurricane in 2017.
“I have never taken students to a place that was actively experiencing a disaster,” said clinic director Kim Diana Connolly.
The clinic consists of students from the School of Law and graduate students from the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences and the Transnational Studies Department. The group has gone to Puerto Rico four times since Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, to offer legal services to people on the island.
Last fall, they planned their 5th trip in January 2020, well before the earthquakes hit.
“We could feel the tremors. We were living over an hour away from the southern coast and we could feel the tremors where we were living,” said Connolly.
But that didn’t deter them from helping out. Some of the assistance the group provided included buying essential supplies for people in need, and volunteering at an urban farm to help grow food for a community kitchen.
“One of the biggest observations we made is a huge need for mental health services on the island. You have an island that has been affected by a huge hurricane and the recovery of that is still actually ongoing and now with a series of earthquakes, it has really caused the local population to consider options whether to stay at home or to leave the island,” said Octavio Villegas, a volunteer staff attorney for the clinic.
On the island, much time is spent on legal research, trying to determine what areas are eligible for insurance or federal aid.
“There was some research done after Maria but here’s what happened is when the research was done, some settlements were made, but now how does a second disaster impact that,” said Connolly.
As the clinic continues their work, their leaders are proud of the students involved and their commitment to using what they learn in the classroom to leave an impact.
“I see that passion grow as they meet the local communities and see how their hands and feet on the ground really make a difference to others and so seeing this work continue just fills my heart,” said Villegas.
The clinic’s next trip is this summer.
If you’d like to help them out, you can donate to their crowdfunding campaign.