One day, taking the subway to work, Samson Tan listened to a podcast on the escalating suicide rate in Puerto Rico. Four months after Hurricane Maria had ravished the island, Samson was outraged to hear how little the people of Puerto Rico had received in federal aid. He felt compelled to do something about it.
But what? And how?
Eight thousand miles away, Eli Harris was building a cutting-edge solar battery company in Hong Kong. EcoFlow had just launched its first mobile power station, RIVER, and Eli was looking for opportunities to prove his new product’s worth. Samson gave his friend Eli a call: was there a way that Eli’s need to get his product out there, and Puerto Rico’s need for sustainable, independent energy, would make a good match? It was even better than he thought: Eli started EcoFlow with a strong belief in energy equity for all. This was the perfect opportunity to fulfill that intention.
Eli enthusiastically signed on with Samson’s idea to bring the mobile power stations to Puerto Ricans—and he’d even do it at cost.
They formed a two-part plan:
1) tell the stories of the Puerto Rican people to mainland Americans
2) generate funds to bring the power stations to the island.
Eli and Samson could do the logistics and provide the power stations, but they needed help with the rest. They called up two other friends, Matthew Echelman and Gabriel Gonzalez.
Matthew is a documentary filmmaker—one who particularly focuses on giving voice to marginalized people. Though he had never been to the island, he immediately wanted to do whatever he could to help. Gabriel grew up in Puerto Rico, and could provide local perspective, family connections, and a place to stay (with a cracked, broken roof, but better than nothing).
Together, everyone agreed to take a trip to Puerto Rico—at their own expense—to deliver batteries as a pilot, asses their potential impact, gather stories and footage for an educational and fundraising video, and strengthen relationships with partners who could support the project by identifying the greatest need and distributing batteries. It was a big success: and their time on the island together impacted everyone, transforming the project from an initial act of kindness to a passionate commitment to support friends and neighbors.
We cannot begin to express our gratitude, and admiration, for everyone we met on that trip. When so many Puerto Ricans felt abandoned by their national government, they turned inward, to themselves and their neighbors for support and survival. We saw first-hand the power of community. We were welcomed into strangers’ homes and offered food, beer, and stories—everyone saw immediately how valuable this project could be, and were determined to help however possible.
We listened to harrowing stories of loss, but also of strength. As one local told us,
"That so many of the trees have fallen just reminded us that our neighbors have always lived on the other side of them. We can now see each other in ways that we couldn’t before, and because of that we look out for each other."
We hope this project inspires you with the same Puerto Rican warmth, generosity, and good spirit that inspired us.