The Generosity After the Storm

Elsie Morales Ramos '72
Courtesy Elsie Morales Ramos
Elsie Morales Ramos '72

On a dark night in September 2017, Elsie Morales Ramos ’72 was awakened at 3 a.m. by the sounds of Hurricane Maria pounding against walls and windows. In Puerto Rico to visit Brandeis friends Naomi Vega ’73 and her sister Carmen Lillian Vega ’75, Ramos was a guest in Naomi’s house when the storm hit.

“The wind was so strong, water was coming in through every opening and crevice,” says Ramos. “We spent the storm just trying to get the water out. The next morning, we went outside, and it looked like a bomb had hit.”

Trees were down. Roads were blocked. There was no water, electricity or internet. The family had a small portable radio, which for the first couple of days picked up only one station. Anyone who could access a phone called in to that station to let their loved ones know they were safe.

Ramos wasn’t able to return to her home in upstate New York until the airport restored its operations weeks later. She says Naomi’s house was without electricity for six months and internet access has still not returned. Tragically, authorities estimate Hurricane Maria has now claimed nearly 3,000 lives.

While the experience was harrowing, Ramos is grateful she was able to help her friends in their time of need. After all, their bond has stood the test of time. After graduation, Ramos fell out of touch with her classmates for three decades. But when they reconnected, she says, “it was like we just picked up from where we left off.”

At Brandeis, Ramos majored in sociology and was actively involved in the LatinX community. She helped found Grito, a student organization that worked to increase and support the LatinX population at the university, paired upperclassmen with incoming students for mentoring, and joined with other minority student organizations in campus protests and activism. Ramos also founded an initiative under the Waltham Group umbrella that started a bilingual nursery school and provided translation services for the Puerto Rican community in Waltham.

Realizing as early as 1981 that computers were the future, Ramos enjoyed a 30-year career at IBM. While working full time and raising two small children, she also earned a master’s in computer science from Pace University.

Now, to engage her alma mater in the Puerto Rico recovery efforts, she is partnering with Brandeis’ Intercultural Center to raise funds and collect donations of new or used smartphones, tablets and computers for a technology classroom at San Juan’s University High School that was devastated by the storm.

The effort aligns with the selflessness Ramos saw the island’s residents display after the hurricane. “Somebody needed their roof fixed, and they did it,” she says. “Somebody needed food, so they shared.”

Last September, Ramos flew back to Puerto Rico to reunite with her Brandeis friends. From the plane, she was struck by the sea of blue tarps on the rooftops below. “There is still much work to be done,” she says.

But hope endures. “The attitude of people in Puerto Rico is ‘sí, se puede’ — yes, we can,” says Ramos.

— Brian Klotz