When hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a powerful category 4 storm, Ricky Ufret was at home with his family in San Juan. Water poured into the house, and trees fell in the yard and on the roof. It would be several days before Ricky was able to get in touch with family and friends to see if they were OK.
Meanwhile, the situation was dire for some of Ricky’s immediate neighbors. He says it was “something that made us leave our house like it was, and to go help others in need, trapped with huge trees that had fallen on the street.”
Back To Work
So, instead of mopping up their flooded house, Ricky and his family embarked on a mission to free their trapped neighbors and bring comfort to friends in their neighborhood. This doesn’t come as a surprise to those who know Ricky Ufret, an engineer, former professional baseball player, volunteer with sports-based non-profits for youth, and active church leader.
Ricky’s commitment to putting others before himself also extended to his work environment, a large pharmaceutical manufacturing facility, where storm damage was severe and threatened to stop production for months. Ricky worked tirelessly for weeks to help get the factory cleaned up and working again. “One week,” he says, “I went to work on Monday and left on Thursday, all without communication with my family.”
Clean Water Calling
He remembers the first day he was able to get minimal internet access and began reading about people all over the island who were getting sick and dying from drinking contaminated water. “All the effort and energy that I put in is because of what I felt that night that,” he says.
Through a few acquaintances, over unreliable communication systems, and with a lot of persistence, Ricky reached out to Uzima partners, SERV International. He was willing, he said, to do the legwork of identifying areas in need and distributing water filters. SERV jumped in with several hundred UZ-1 water filters, shipped to San Juan, where Ricky quickly assembled a team of volunteers and got to work.
Little did he know at the time, but that day, Ricky embarked on an adventure that has lasted for over a year, and is still going strong. Water systems in Puerto Rico were in poor condition prior to the storm, and most people outside of San Juan and other large towns are likely to have water contamination issues for years to come. More than a year after the storm, Ricky continues to get calls weekly from communities in need. The short-term disaster aid provided through Uzima Water Filters has become a long-term solution for the people of Puerto Rico.
In all, over 7,500 UZ-1 water filters have been distributed in Puerto Rico through Ricky and other Uzima partners. Many of these have gone to the remote eastern side of the island which sustained the most damage from the storm. And since these filters will last for up to 10 years, recipients have newfound water security now and well into the future, regardless of what storms may come. Long after donated cases of bottled water have been used up or expired, Uzima Water Filters will be providing clean water, free from the bacteria that causes waterborne disease.
“When I think of the Uzima filter, I don’t see it as short-term solution,” says Ricky. “It is a long-term solution that solves the Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria disaster and the [ongoing] Puerto Rico water issue.” There are other filtration systems available on the island, he says, but they are costly and require replacement cartridges. Bottled water is expensive and the discarded bottles are creating waste issues and environmental hazards.
According to Ricky, “Word of mouth has reached many people,” and he continues to work tirelessly to bring them clean water through Uzima Water Filters, a disaster aid solution that has turned into a long-term answer for tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans.
For more information about Uzima Water Filters, visit uzimafilters.org