Building Resilience in Puerto Rico

After seeing the destruction of Hurricane Maria, Jana Kiser knew she had to help. Here's how she's using mindfulness to support the island's recovery.

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When Hurricane Maria bore down on Puerto Rico in September 2017, destroying the island’s infrastructure and claiming more than 3,000 lives, the world watched in horror. For Jana Kiser, living thousands of miles away in San Francisco, not being able to get news about her loved ones or help her community was excruciating. “I felt so far away and powerless,” she says.

In the aftermath, Kiser, who works in nonprofit aid and collective-impact organization, was moved to act. Reaching out to friends and colleagues, including fellow Puerto Rican Andres Gonzales of the Holistic Life Foundation (HLF), she launched Bajacu’ Boricua (baja-coo boor-ee-qua), a pilot project to offer free training in meditation, mindful movement, and music therapy, with the goal of supporting resiliency as Puerto Ricans “do the big work of recovery.”  

Bajacu’ Boricua offers free training in meditation, mindful movement, and music therapy, with the goal of supporting resiliency as Puerto Ricans “do the big work of recovery.”

In January, she and members of HLF, movement teacher Leslie Booker, and María José Montijo, a California-based Puerto Rican sound therapist and harpist, embarked on a 10-day tour of the island. They were joined by guest mindfulness teachers Sharon Salzberg and Sylvia Boorstein, as well as a professional clown. Everywhere they went, Kiser says, “dozens and dozens” of people came out to participate. 

Importantly, Kiser explains, each workshop opened with participants naming someone they would share these new tools with, and closed with an acknowledgment that “people already have a full bank of resources to help them survive.”  

“We didn’t want to be people from outside the community coming in with solutions for others, as if they were empty vessels,” she says. “People are resilient and are surviving. They are making it, right now. Our intention was to just add to the bank, to make a deposit, to offer tools that are really doable and tangible to support that. And taught in a way that it could be shared with other people.”

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