Sarah L. Voisin The Washington Post
HUMACAO, Puerto Rico — On a warm January morning, 17-year-old Neida Ortiz Torres awoke in a tent pitched outside her mold- and mosquito-infested house. She walked inside, passing through the living room, where school portraits and academic medals still hang.
In pitch black, she pulled on her school uniform and Converse sneakers, relying on the glow of her cellphone. Then, it was off to the bus stop — past debris and wreckage, and an intersection where a desperate neighbor had scrawled in white paint, “S.O.S. NECESITAMOS AGUA/COMIDA” (“We need water/food”) — and off to a high school still grappling with intermittent blackouts and water outages.
Neida and her 7-year-old brother, Julio, lost so much when Hurricane Maria struck in September — clothing and schoolwork, books and Neida’s anime drawings and then, after the floodwaters receded, days and days of school. Julio did not return to class until late October, and Neida in mid-November. They were lucky. In other parts of the island, children did not return until December, missing nearly three months.
Even then, things were far from normal. Neida’s English teacher left the island after the storm and was not replaced for weeks. Julio’s school still has no power.
Sarah L. Voisin
The Washington Post
Neida Ortiz,17, lets her puppy out of the room that used to be hers.
“Why can’t I have my life back?” Neida asked.
[From September: Puerto Rican schoolchildren could be out of class for months]
Hurricane Maria devastated one of the nation’s largest and poorest school systems, a district of about 347,000 students where nearly all qualified for free meals. Even now, the storm hampers the day-to-day operation of schools. By the time classes resumed after winter break, the island’s education department had decided to close