By Melvin Cordova, Project Coqui Lead
Project Coqui was born because of the positive but limited response for the magnitude of Hurricane Maria to Puerto Rico. Our initial mission was to provide free communications support by connecting residents from Ponce with the rest of the world. This humanitarian mission has grown in scope to include education and other infrastructure and has expanded to the island and the Virgin Islands. Melvin Cordova leads the effort and below is his latest quarterly update on the efforts of Project Coqui
Dear Supporters of Project Coqui,
This quarter I visited Puerto Rico three times. One of my business sponsors bought a four-bedroom house in my hometown of Ponce, so I can entertain and support their investments to build capacity. The house is 101 years old and is 1-1/2 blocks from the main City square. The first company we are bringing to Puerto Rico is Gigacrete. A block away from the house is a small family restaurant, Chef Creations, with amazing meals. Here you can see avocado risotto with seafood and vegetables.
Calyx Institute donated five hot-spots with free service and the units were delivered to the digital labs that we have started. I am also supporting potential grants and investments in communications, but these projects will take months before they materialize. I continue to provide guidance to multiple groups and was contacted by former Governor Sila Calderon, who seeks to have positive impact on poor communities and met with Carlos Lopez, Mayor of Dorado in the use of technology for tax collection, among other topics. Limited Federal funds are flowing and I personally feel that Puerto Rico is still on a free fall and is a failed state. Many people are desperate for the opportunity to earn a decent income and another couple of hundred thousand people are expected to depart the island this summer.
On January 29th and 30th, the Clinton Foundation hosted a resilience event in San Juan, attended by 550 guests. The plenary session was hosted by former President Bill Clinton. The focus was on resilience in the Caribbean because of climate change; it is no longer a concern, it is an imminent threat. The goal of the Clinton Global Initiative is to get the businesses, government and organizations to collaborate, not by talking, but by taking action, actually doing reconstruction initiatives to improve the economy in the region and to achieve the capacity to sustain hurricanes.
The event was interesting, but to my surprise, I spent more time socializing in the lobby than attending sessions. I would like to share the details of a connection made. I had a very interesting conversation with Dr. Michael McDonald, who is Coordinator Global Health Response and Resilience Alliance, Chairman Oviar Global Resilience Systems, and Executive Director Health Initiatives Foundation.
Michael was traveling with Nichie Abo, (photo above) a leader on the Kalinago Council, former President of the USVI Senate, and the Chairman of the Dominica Water and Sanitation Company. The Kalinago Institute for Global Resilience and Regeneration has a mission of creating a thriving Kalinago Territory as one of the low carbon/high resilience societies designed to enable its citizens to live and excel within the carrying capacity of its ecosystems for multiple generations into the future. The Kalinago aspire to constantly protect and regenerate positive ecosystem services from Dominica’s natural environment even under the threat of climate change and other broader exponential global changes. The Kalinago’s resilience initiatives are focused on seven components: Resilience Hubs, Climate Smart Housing and Permaculture Gardens, Agroforestry and Agriculture, Distributed Collectively and Intelligent Grid, Water Resource Systems, Health and Wellness, Culture Learning Systems & Innovation. Although, the approach may have different names, the Kalinago approach and the PCI supported work in Puerto Rico, with Project Coqui and the Faith-Based Program are in-sync.
Specifically, the importance of culture, learning in the 21st century, and innovation have a direct link to our approach to Hearts, Minds, and Souls. When I departed the group, Nichie told me that he welcomes collaboration and specifically technology, is an area where they seek subject matter expertise.
Our work with the Federal Government Faith and Opportunity continues to make progress. Of course, the government shutdown affected the various departments, so things are moving slower than desired. The City of Toa Baja was added to the Faith and Opportunities pilot cities (Ponce, Humacao, Utuado, and Aguada). Identifying problem sets and having a clear problem definition is critical for program success. Coordination with the cities has been a challenge, they have small staffs and are multi-tasking with numerous priorities. I took the liberty to interview government personnel and wrote some problem sets. Below please find two problem sets for the City of Ponce.
Hearts, Minds, and Souls Problem Set
Puerto Ricans have strong customs, culture, and traditions that form the fabric of our society. Unfortunately, the economy has been in a deep decline since 2005, it is unable to pay its debt, and in 2016 Congress appointed an Oversight Financial Board to deal with the debt. In 2017, Puerto Rico suffered two back-to-back hurricanes that caused mass destruction, not just physical, but it has torn the fabric of our society. We have experienced a brain drain, where the best and brightest have moved overseas seeking a better quality of life and employment opportunities. The new low of our society has not only resulted in broken hearts, but an increase in suicide, drugs, alcohol abuse, crime, and mental health issues.
Hearts, Minds, and Souls make up the core fabric of any society. It is important to rebuild our society at the community level and churches play a critical role. We seek to heal, provide hope, and opportunities to our citizens by celebrating our strong customs, culture, and traditions through music, dance, theater, film, social media, training in digital skills, and addressing security, drug abuse, and mental health needs. Addressing this problem set will result in many projects in collaboration with many agencies. Below please find a project of interest:
MAG Films: The first Puerto Rican Internet distributor of movies, specials, miniseries, and music videos and has the support of the Government of Puerto Rico. A historic alliance with the College of Business Administration with the Catholic University was signed, for the following purposes:
(a) create an educational curriculum for the promotion of the film industry in Puerto Rico with export capacity
(b) educate our students in the national and international film industry,
(c) give jobs to the students we educate
(d) promote this program throughout Latin America, so students will come to Puerto Rico for their education
(e) raise funds for the College through of the digital platform of MAG Films.
Project Coqui seeks to add to this historic alliance, by partnering with the Catholic University and MAG Films to address the Hearts, Minds, and Souls and Workforce Development problem sets.
Workforce Problem Set
The objective of this problem set is to provide a clear and rational justification of need to enable the necessary Federal Government and private industry support, to build innovative communities providing exposure to a variety of ideas, and approaches to problem-solving. After the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, our communities suffered physical destruction, many companies shut down, others limited employee working hours, and government employees working hours were reduced from 40 to 20. This action resulted in many families moving to the US mainland seeking a better quality of life and employment opportunities. We recognize that the most pressing challenges we face today will not be solved if we continue to rely on the same thinking and processes that created them. There is an urgent need to build innovative communities that provide training to develops a new skilled workforce that leads to new digital employment opportunities, not restricted to a physical area.
Ponce after a major natural disaster and many other rural, small or economically disadvantaged communities are hopeful that Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) learning opportunities will give young people access to knowledge previously unavailable to them. Unfortunately, without teachers with the right skills or training it is very difficult to translate the potential of STEAM education into practical reality. Our city is committed to finding new ways to help students and teachers to bring scientific concepts to life through the practical use of technology software and tradecraft.
We seek to do this by providing teachers with a curriculum and an easy to use no-code application development digital platform that allows teachers with no-programming experience to teach students how to develop mobile software applications that can be used to solve a variety of real-world problems. With a few hours of training, teachers can help students to learn what it takes to collect scientific data – and how that data in a local network or the Cloud can be used both to solve problems and to support local community needs. After a successful pilot, this program will transition to a platform for online training, supported by On-the-Job (OJT) skills development. In addition to developing no-code new applications, we seek to develop cyber and artificial intelligence capabilities that lead to a robust data collection and visualization culture, ready to address our need to build resilient communities.
This training will be bilingual, led by Ponce, but piloted at other locations as well, to collaborate in critical-thinking and application-based problem-solving. Courses will focus on helping students to define and craft mobile applications that can be used to collect data that might help local decision-makers to better understand community-wide challenges. There will be a final exercise for students to design and build an application that can be used to collect data about an important resiliency community problem. In addition to creating the application, students will write a report explaining the logic behind their design and how they think that the data that they have chosen to collect, might be used to help decision-makers.
We are entering an era where it will be possible, with the right tools and the right training, for people to create and share solutions that can generate economic growth and an economic possibility. Ponce has built a collaboration network and seeks to establish a training center to provide the following skills: Data Collection with new self-reporting models; Data Visualization; Weather Models; Artificial Intelligence; Cyber Security; No-Code App Development; Resiliency, etc.
Many small communities are worried about losing their best and brightest because there is no real economic opportunity in the places that these people call home. In the world of the future, things like software development, scientific research, additive and robotic manufacturing, will be able to be done anywhere that there is a community that is willing to make the necessary investments to participate substantively in the global economy. Educational tools, such as the ones we have proposed here, are one of those necessary investments.
Humacao (near ground zero for Hurricane Maria) is one of the Faith and Opportunities pilot cities. Last year Colegio San Antonio de Abad, in Humacao, held a Summer Camp, called Ventura Natura, for children ages 5 to 12 and it was a great success. It involves the parent’s participation to build family core values of integrity, respect, grace, and courtesy. They even go camping together and the management has learned that the children are powerful in having a positive impact on the parents. This summer they are going to hold the Summer Camp with 250 children. Unfortunately, more than 30% is below the poverty level and cannot afford the $275 for participation in the event. In the coming weeks, I will seek out sponsors. If you know of anyone willing to contribute, please let me know.
Sincerely appreciate your support.
Melvin Cordova and the Project Coqui Team