UPDATE: Nellie Moves Home!

July 3, 2019

·       Because of you, Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico have a new home.

Do you remember last year when we told you about Nellie Santiago and her family? Category 5 Hurricane Maria destroyed their home and everything they owned back in 2017 when the entire island of Puerto Rico was hit by the massive storm.

Nellie Santiago, 63, lived with her husband Juan Ramon and her six grandchildren before the storm. “In one day we lost everything. The hurricane swept my house away. It ripped my heart out because I had my grandchildren living with me. It was really devastating because we had nowhere to live,” recounts Nellie about the immediate aftermath.

The Santiago’s entire village of Villa Esperanza was ruined.Villa Esperanza is a rural squatter community not far from the capital, San Juan. The town was founded only seven years before when families desperate for an affordable place to live took over an abandoned sugarcane field. The town’s name means “hope” in Spanish.

Sadly, the Santiagos have had a very difficult time since the storm. Not only did they lose their home, Nellie’s husband, Juan Ramon,lost his job in construction, like most residents of Villa Esperanza, because many businesses did not reopen after the storm.

Nellie’s sons and some neighbors built them a temporary one-room shelter out of old and rotten wood scraps salvaged from their destroyed house.“Juan wanted to help but he was very sick from cancer and he had no strength,”Nellie said.

Nellie lived in this makeshift shelter with her husband and her grandchildren for more than a year. The shelter leaked when it rained and the dirt floor flooded. It was a very difficult place to live.

Then, a few months ago, everything changed for the Santiagos! Thanks to you and the gift you gave to support Hurricane Maria Victims, IRT hired local labor and provided construction materials so that the Santiagos, and 30 other families in their village of Villa Esparanza, could have their homes rebuilt.

When the family moved into their new home, Nellie was, “very happy, so thankful that I have a home that is not leaking and that my grand children are not getting wet.”

Juan’s condition worsened and he passed away four days after the family moved in to their house. “I cried with him before he passed and begged him not to leave me, but he said‘no, it’s my time to go. You still have a responsibility to take care of the grandchildren. God will be with you.’ He knew he was going to go.”

Nellie now lives with her grandchildren in her new home. She is so grateful Juan was able to see his dream fulfilled before he passed away.“He is in heaven knowing his family is safe,” she said with tears in her eyes and a slight smile on her face.

Please watch this video of Nellie and Pastor Elvis (a local volunteer) walking through Nellie’s new home and talking about her experiences as a victim of Hurricane Maria. Watch to the end to see the heartwarming mementos Nellie and Juan left in their home to honor all of the construction workers who helped build their home.

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