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AFT nurses travel to Puerto Rico to help in relief efforts

October 11, 2017 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) volunteers gather at the airport gate before flying to Puerto Rico to help in relief efforts. Photos courtesy of American Federation of Teachers
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More than 24 American Federation of Teachers (AFT) nurses, health professionals and public employees from across the country boarded a plane to Puerto Rico on Thursday to provide direct care and assist with relief efforts.

The nurses flew into San Juan on a flight donated by United Airlines before heading out to the hardest hit regions of the island.

Among those on the mission were representatives from the borough including Bita Mehrjou, a member of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) who is a registered nurse and works at NYU Langone Hospital – Brooklyn. UFT is the New York affiliate of AFT.

Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that packed 140-mile-per-hour winds, hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. The storm destroyed hundreds of buildings, tore up roadways and left most of the island’s 3.4 million residents without electricity.

According to AFT spokeswoman Janet Bass, the organization represents 40,000 educators in Puerto Rico, members of the Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico (AMPR). Since the hurricane hit, the organization has been providing direct financial assistance to AMPR members and coordinating the distribution of supplies.

“These nurses and health professionals represent who we are as a union — caring and springing into action to help people when needed,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “To the people of Puerto Rico, tu lucha es mi lucha — your fight is our fight. We will be with you every step of the way to ensure our members and the people of Puerto Rico are cared for, the island is rebuilt and public schools are reopened,” she said.

The AFT delegation includes nurses and health professionals from Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Vermont, and it will be providing direct care at hospitals and clinics for two weeks.

“I did not hesitate to volunteer for this humanitarian mission,” said Llamara Padro-Milano, a 40-year veteran nurse and one of the AFT members who traveled to Puerto Rico. “I was born in Puerto Rico, my family is there and they suffered through the worst of it. Thank God they are OK. This is my opportunity to give back to the people and the island I love with the hands and heart of a nurse.”

Beyond the delegation of nurses and health professionals, AFT has provided other means of aid to their members and the people of Puerto Rico, including texting and calling members to ensure their safety, providing direct financial assistance to members and their affiliate through the AFT Disaster Relief Fund and working closely with first responders sent to Puerto Rico from New York City and New York state.

AFT is also working with UFT to set up additional distribution centers across the island to help distribute aid to the public and provide logistical support for teachers as they return to their school buildings.

The flight transported more than 30,000 pounds of emergency relief supplies to aid hurricane victims.

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