Meital Sternthal in action. (Screenshot)

An Israeli emergency response team in Puerto Rico is getting some unlikely assistance from an 11-year-old Israeli girl who sews and sells textile bags to benefit the hurricane relief effort.

By: Rebecca Stadlen Amir, Israel21C

When Hurricane Maria pummeled the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico last September, most of the island’s infrastructure, buildings and homes were destroyed. Almost half a year later, the damage to Puerto Rico’s water system still poses a looming health crisis for island residents exposed to contaminated water.

Israeli NGO IsraAID distributed and set up water filters in the most affected places, and trained local people how to use them.

Now, the emergency response team is getting some unlikely assistance from 11-year-old Meital Sternthal, an Israeli-American sixth-grader from Modi’in, Israel. In honor of her upcoming bat mitzvah, Meital is hand-making and selling textile bags to raise money to help IsraAID’s team in Puerto Rico provide safe water to the communities affected by the hurricane.

She founded PuertoTiko (tik means bag in Hebrew) to combine her passion for sewing along with her desire to contribute to the Caribbean’s recovery efforts. Her goal is to use 100 percent of the proceeds to raise $4,000 to purchase 100 water filters, including equipment and installation.

To date she has reached 50 percent of her goal through bag sales and additional donations. Also on offer are baby bibs, pencil cases and tissue holders.

Meital said her connection to the Caribbean islands started with a family vacation in 2015, during which she experienced the beauty of the landscape and underwater wonders. When she learned of the devastation this fall, she said it saddened her that the place she once considered a paradise had been transformed into a place of suffering for so many residents without electricity, shelter, clean water and other basic necessities.

Natalie Revesz, head of IsraAID’s mission in Puerto Rico, described the situation in September: “The lack of electricity has hugely impacted Puerto Rico’s clean water supply, and many areas now have no or very limited access. People in the streets are worried and shocked; there is a tremendous feeling of confusion and uncertainty.”

IsraAID’s Puerto Rico emergency response fund has raised $43,283 since the storm, 17% of its $250,000 goal.

This fall, IsraAID volunteers were among other Israeli relief organizations assisting people affected by hurricanes in Mexico, Texas and Florida. Since its inception in 2001, IsraAID has responded to crises in 41 countries, and has ongoing programs in 14 countries.