Gloria Giraldo didn’t wait for Hurricane Iota to hit the southwestern Caribbean islands of Providencia and San Andres before she sprang into action – as luck would have it, the PADI® IDC Staff Instructor was already on San Andres with a group of nearly 40 divers ready to help with the recovery before Iota even made landfall on 16 November 2020.
After the hurricane moved on, she and her team spent days removing debris and helping people dig their lives out of the wreckage, even participating in a project to rebuild a fellow PADI Instructor’s house that had been decimated. To the north, Providencia was hit even harder, with some estimates putting the damage at 97 percent of the island. Giraldo’s work wasn’t done.
Upon returning to the Colombian mainland, Giraldo created a project called Juntos Por Providencia (“All together for Providencia”). Using word-of-mouth and social media, the project has collected millions of Colombian pesos that have been put toward construction materials, generators and fuel, fumigation supplies, power tools, and personal protection equipment including gloves, boots, goggles and face masks to help more than 20 PADI families on Providencia and San Andres. She’s sent two boat loads of aid to the islands and continues to coordinate the distribution of supplies even as she runs travelandiving.com from her home in Medellin.
Why did you go to San Andres before the hurricane landed?
We were actually there by chance – it was the first certification trip we could organize after the pandemic lockdown.
How did you organize and convince so many divers to join?
During the five months of lockdown, we’d conducted many virtual theory courses – more than 300 Open Water Diver, Advanced Open Water Diver, and specialties. By mid-October when the lockdown was lifting, we had a large number of students eager to join to complete their certification.
Did you go to specifically help people who’ve been a part of the dive industry or who’ve helped your business in the past?
We analyzed where we our help would be most essential, and decided the best way was to help dive centers, instructors and divemasters – this way we knew the help was correctly distributed, and not a single peso would get lost.
Why did you start the Juntos Por Providencia project?
I have been diving in San Andres and Providencia for more than 10 years. I know many people in the islands including instructors, captains, staff who work in the dive centers, hotels, restaurants, taxis. Once I realized the extent of the damages, I couldn’t sit still and do nothing.
How long do you hope to keep the project going?
Initial estimates are that it will take as much as two years to be fully recovered from both the lockdown and the hurricane effects, as the island’s economy is 80 percent dependent on tourism. We plan to maintain the helpline active for as long as it’s needed.
What are concrete ways people can get involved in the islands’ recovery?
The Colombian government is slowly taking care of the islands’ recovery and putting a lot of effort on rebuilding. The best way for us to help is to spend some time in San Andrés and Providencia, as soon as tourism is able to resume. In this way not just the dive resorts, but the entire economy of the island – restaurants, shops, transportation – will be lifted. In that way we can enjoy the islands’ beauty and help the locals resume their lives.
What is the condition of the reefs?
The José Benito Vives de Andréis Marine and Coastal Research Institute (INVEMAR) conducted several on-site evaluations and dive checks in December 2020, and apparently the news is good: the reefs are superb. Providencia’s warm, clear waters (and the famous gray reef sharks!) are ready to welcome divers again in the coming months and years.
Based on an article that appeared in the Second Quarter 2021 The Undersea Journal®
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