When first I met Julian, I was nervous.
So far on the trip I had not been too successful on my stories. I had been doing whatever I could to tell a story about aid and health in Puerto Rico but things kept falling through. At that point on the trip I was worried if Julian didn’t say yes, I wouldn’t have a story.
After we parked, I walked up the slight hill toward his porch. I noticed all over the hill were bottle caps smashed into the ground for what I later learned was Julian’s way of entertaining himself.
The sun was just about to set as Aixa, my fixer and Julian’s close friend, spoke to Julian asking him how he has been. The conversation was in Spanish so I caught some words but not enough to follow. When she asked about me, she put her hand on my shoulder signaling to me that I was now apart of the conversation despite the language barrier. I thought, “This is it. This is the moment.”
I really wasn’t nervous about meeting Julian because I love meeting new people. I wasn’t even that worried about the language barrier.
I was concerned he’d say no to working with me and that I couldn’t help him tell his story. At the time I didn’t realize it but I needed him to help me make an example of the just how broken the aid system is in Puerto Rico.
Julian Hidalgo is one of thousands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
He lost everything he owned including his roof. Most of the items he currently owns were given to him by aid workers. He was given a tarp but did not receive help in putting up the tarp for three months.
He also was given a tent but, according to Julian, it is uncomfortable and he’d rather sleep in his own bed. In this tent, he stores to enormous amount of food he is constantly given.
Not only does this packaged food have empty calories and high salt contents, it also is piling up in Julian’s home. In one situation, Julian attempted to return his food to the aid workers because he said, "There are others that need it more than me."
The only reason this food has been organized into boxes is because of Aixa Tolentino. Aixa is an organic farmer who also provides aid to her community. This is what led her to Julian. With the help of Aixa and others in the community, Julian’s life was turned around.
A roof was built over his head three months after the hurricanes hit.
These community workers helped him purchase medicine for his epilepsy.
And, most importantly, they helped him feel like he was not alone.