Change makers

Meet the women with the vision to rebuild Puerto Rico, from houses to power grids

Want something done? Then ask a woman, as the saying goes.

It has been a year since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma, taking out entire power grids, destroying farms and razing homes to the ground. And while the island continues to struggle, adversity has brought out the very best in a sisterhood of Puerto Ricans with a drive to reinvent and rebuild. Some of them are on the island, some are part of the diaspora, most of them have never met, but CNN rounded up their inspiring stories to show how the resilient women of Puerto Rico are future-proofing their communities.

Days after Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico, architect Carla Gautier joined FEMA as a construction inspector. “In most houses, the only thing standing was the toilet,” she says. With around 300,000 homes significantly damaged — almost a quarter of them completely destroyed — Gautier was moved to come up with a long-term, affordable solution.

Together with lifelong friend Gabriela Velasco, a psychologist and entrepreneur, she has revolutionized affordable housing on the island — repurposing shipping containers into beautiful and resilient two-bedroom dwellings via their HiveCube company. “Sometimes when I’m in the field buying materials I have to find ways to get the men to understand I’m the one who is making the decisions,” Gautier told CNN. “They want me to call the architects or the engineer or my boss. And I have to be like, ‘No, I’m the boss.’”

Puerto Rican farmer, activist and restaurateur Tara Rodriguez Besosa was off-island in New York when disaster struck. Inspired by her grandmother, legendary Puerto Rican nationalist Lolita Lebrón and ideal of food sovereignty, she put out a call for seeds through her nonprofit, Americas for Conservation and the Arts, amassing “so many seeds we didn’t know what to do with them.”

She also joined forces with friend, Irene Vilar, who was similarly far from home and wracked with worry when the island was struck, to create the Resilience Fund, a two-year campaign that aims to restore 200 destroyed farms.

“A lot of healing is involved,” Rodriguez Besosa says of the last year’s restoration work. “We are leaving a legacy of the beautiful food system that can be Puerto Rico.”

CNN’s roundup also includes women rethinking entire production models to transform the local garment industry, and revolutionizing the power infrastructure while promoting alternative energy sources.

“Change is about bringing new voices into the conversation about development,” says Alejandra Castrodad-Rodriguez, an economist who has been working on envisioning a resilient, new solar-energy infrastructure. “The female perspective and the community perspective are about participation, inclusion and collaboration. We are uniquely positioned to transform the way we work together toward a more equitable, sustainable future for the country.”

Read the full story at CNN.

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