An aerial view shows the flooded neighborhood of Juana Matos in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico, on 22 September 2017. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty Images

By Maria Socorro Oyola
20 September 2018

(NBC News) – In the days and weeks after Hurricane Maria, friends and family never turned their backs on me. Through all the havoc that these storms brought to Puerto Rico and to the Puerto Rican people, I cannot quite put into words how it felt to know that I had so many people who cared so much about me in my time of need. The emotional and economic support my children and I received was overwhelming to say the least. I'll never be able to repay their kindness, but should they need me, I hope I will be able to be there for them.

But while I am eternally grateful for my friends, this is not necessarily a happy story. Although it could be a hopeful one.

After the hurricane, I was ready to help rebuild Puerto Rico. I didn't criticize those that headed to the states for an easier life, but personally I wanted to stay. I didn't want to leave and come back to a homeland rebuilt by others. But as time passed, I started to get worried.

Two months after the hurricane, when the school finally reopened, I would drop my kids off in the mornings on my way to work only to have them call me two hours later asking to be picked up again. They would tell me: "Mom, they let us out early because the math teacher didn't come to work and neither did the English teacher and the Spanish teacher had to leave early." Every day there was a different excuse. Various teachers were absent or there wasn't water or electricity.

I started to wonder if I was being selfish in wanting to stay. I owed my children a life, with a decent education and opportunities that just weren't available in Puerto Rico any more. It was tough before the hurricane, I won't lie. But now? My twins were in 9th grade and my oldest was in 11th. They didn't have time to lose.

When I was six years old, my mother chose to move my family to the U.S. to give us a chance at a better life. Now it was time for me to do the same. [more]

Hurricane Maria, one year later: Why I had to leave Puerto Rico, and why I still struggle with that decision

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