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The Open Society Foundations Announce Puerto Rico Youth Fellows

Young advocates will work to elevate justice in Puerto Rico’s continuing effort to recover from Hurricane Maria

NEW YORK—The Open Society Foundations are pleased to announce the 2019 recipients of the Puerto Rico Youth Fellowships, a new initiative aimed at supporting young Puerto Rican leaders who will elevate justice, promote human rights, and help underserved communities in Puerto Rico.

The recipients come from diverse backgrounds and areas within Puerto Rico—from the center of San Juan to the towns in the mountains of Comerío—and will work on a wide range of issues. The fellows’ projects will include creating a water distribution and collection system that other communities across Puerto Rico can replicate; providing educational and support services to students in rural communities; restoring organic farming to the island; strengthening organizations to support LGBTQPIA+; protecting the rights of young people living with HIV; and teaching cinematography skills to young people.

“It’s been a great honor to have received and read applications from all over the island for our youth fellowship. Young people in Puerto Rico want to contribute to a just recovery of the island,” said Karina Cladio Betancourt, the program officer for the U.S. Programs’ Puerto Rico Project. “We are proud to present a group of young people who, without a doubt, will transform the realities of their neighborhoods and their communities.”

The Puerto Rico Youth Fellowships program is in its first year and continues Open Society Foundations’ long-term commitment to investing in and building up civil society in Puerto Rico.

The Open Society Foundations have been working in Puerto Rico for years before the storm, supporting efforts to improve government transparency and accountability and encourage greater civic engagement. After the storm hit, Open Society employees based in the United States contributed $140,000 to relief efforts on the island.

The Open Society Foundations also launched the Mayor Exchange, which paired mayors of Puerto Rico’s cities with mayors in the United States who had managed the aftermath of natural disasters. Open Society also joined with the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation to provide $5 million to create a “resiliency commission,” fund damage assessment studies, and invest in civil society in Puerto Rico.

“We believe young people represent more than just the future of Puerto Rico, they also exemplify the tenacity of its present times. It’s an honor to be part of an endeavor that believes in the great power and leadership of the young people of Puerto Rico,” Álvaro Fernández, the program specialist for the U.S. Programs’ Puerto Rico Project, said.

The recipients of the fellowship range in age between 18 and 27. They will receive up to $35,000 a year for working full-time on their projects for a one-year period.

2019 Puerto Rico Youth Fellows

Mariangelie Ortiz Ortiz will lead a project to create a system for water distribution and collection in her communities of Vuelta del Dos and Los Guareto.

Tanisha Desiree Gaspar Clemente will develop a project, entitled “Piñones Aprende y Emprende,” which will provide educational and peer support services to youth in her community of Piñones, Loiza.

Rebekah Sánchez Cruz, an organic farmer, will lead an agricultural education project ‘¡Siembra Boricua!’ to improve food security in Puerto Rico and lessen its dependence on external sources of food.

JorgeIván López Martínez founded cap.i.cú (Capacitación sobre Inclusividad Cuir), a project of activism and capacity building training to organizations and community groups about LGBTQPIA+ inclusivity. 

Luis J. Morales Ortiz will launch a tutoring program with a gender-based approach for public school and public housing students in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico.

Syndi Marie González Negrón is the leader and co-creator of Pangea PR, a collective space created by and run for young people living with HIV in Puerto Rico, intended to promote their rights, health, and sexual well-being, as well as to provide activities and collective learning.

Hery Colón Zayas will expand a community center, La Casa Comunitaria de Medios, dedicated to working with youth, film, and media. He will help young people in his community learn the necessary skills regarding cinematography.

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