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Gill St. Bernard’s School Puerto Rico

May 20-21, 2019

Yesterday we arrived at the San Juan airport around 11 o’clock PM and took a bus to the Big Yellow House, the place where we’ll be staying for a the next several days while we work with the community in Via Del Rio. We had a brief meeting about safety and security at the Big Yellow House, and headed off to bed.

The next day we had a big breakfast or waffles, eggs, and fruit and headed off on our bus towards Old San Juan, where we met our tour guide, Alvin. He brought us around cool sites such as the Governor’s mansion, Felisa Rincon de Gautier’s house, who was the first female mayor of San Juan. We also were able to walk around an historic Spanish military fort that was used in the Spanish American War. After a delicious lunch of chicken, mofongo, rice and beans, flan, and tostones, we did a little souvenir shopping. On our way home, we stopped at the store to stock up on supplies and then took a quick beach trip. The water was very warm and so clear!

After that, we ate a hearty dinner of chicken, potatoes, and rice and beans. We then moved onto some team building activities that focused on communication, teamwork, and setting our goals for the group. We played Salt and Pepper, as well as retrieve-the-object-from-outside-the-circle game (trademark pending), then we sat down and made a group contract for the expected behaviors, goals, and attitudes for the work site in Via Del Rio. Everyone was able to participate in order to have a well rounded conversation of what we want the next week to bring.

Caroline S. Maggie K.

May 22, 2019

Conversing with the community members was a rewarding experience. Listening to their stories gave us an acute understanding of the destruction of Hurricane Maria and the strength of the survivors. It was enlightening and inspiring to see how the community rallied around this cause and opened their hearts to us. We enjoyed a traditional lunch made by one of them and were welcomed into their homes. The open-heartedness was contagious and the relationships within our group strengthened. The community members influenced us with their experiences and hospitality.

Laura H.

May 23, 2019
Today was not as physically demanding as yesterday. However, the effects will last a life time. Today, with our group of 14 students and 8 adults we together leveled the floor of a hurricane proof house in the Via Del Rio community. Students and teachers rotated positions throughout the work site in between shoveling sand and concrete into the cement mixer machine with water. The next job was to scoop the mix into a whole lot of buckets. Next was a long assembly line of 9+ people including teachers and students, which spanned from downstairs at the mixing machine, all the way upstairs to the room that we leveled out. The adults from the community also rotated throughout positions amongst the students. Sari was with the machine a majority of the time, Eric was helping all around from catching the buckets to working in the assembly line. Mr. Ort and Mrs. Lebar were aiding on the assembly line on the stairs, and Dr. Lutz was helping in the line at the top of the stairs. We went through a day of high temperatures, humidity, and some rain. All the students and adults felt very accomplished after the hours of working because together we are building a house that can survive a hurricane and house a family for generations.
By Ansh P.

May 24, 2019
Today we went back to Manolo’s house to finish the floors of 2 bedrooms. To finish these floors we used a mixture of sand, cement, and water. We had the option to stop and end early or finish 4 more mixtures. Even though we were exhausted, we decided to push through it and finish strong. After all was said and done, we had finished the floors of 3 bedrooms, the living room, and the hallway. While we were there, we met the kids that would live in the house once it was finished. They ran around and explored the unfinished rooms while we worked. We also met their pets. During our breaks, the kids played with us and brightened our day.

Throughout the process it was amazing to see the changes that could be brought by just a handful of students. Being able to talk to Manolo after finishing the work today was incredible. His words were moving and incredibly kind. I have never seen someone so grateful for what we accomplished as a group. Manolo individually thanked and shook hands with every single person on the worksite. We felt like as a group we really helped a family and we learned to work well together.
By Mikayla R. and Lena D.

May 25, 2019
Today, we finished the last 3 columns of Sari and Boro’s house. In the 4 working days, we used 126 bags of cement. After work and lunch at Maria’s house, we went to the beach near the Big Yellow House. Eric took us on a nice hike to scenic rock area off the beach before cooling off in the ocean. A few hours after we got back, the community members from Via Del Rio joined us for dinner and a reflection of the projects completed and the experience of living through Hurricane Maria. Following dinner, there was Q&A between students and teachers with the people from Villa del Rio. We learned how they were affected by Hurricane Maria and their recovery process. After the group Q&A, there was an opportunity to talk individually with everyone from the community for more discussion and questions. William and Angel brought bracelets, necklaces, and keychains for us all to show their gratitude. The gifts will help us to always remember them and our time here. At the end of the night, we took pictures and selfies with the people of Villa del Rio and said a final thank you and goodbye.

The finished projects were rewarding and fulfilling to see completed. It was nice to know that we were able to make an impact on their daily life and for the overall community. We felt proud of everyone in the group because, though it was a hard final work day with high temperatures, everyone pushed through with a positive attitude to the end. At the dinner, the community members were able to express how they felt about the work we accomplished. We loved to see how passionate they were when talking and how willing they were to share everything about their experience and connect with us despite the language barrier. The community members were clearly appreciative of our time and trust in the process. Everyone was really humble and gracious; they may not have everything we have, but they gladly offered anything they could to us. We felt that the group upheld the statements on the Group contract we created the first day we arrived.

By Maya S., Caroline Z.

May 26, 2019

As the sun sets on this satisfying day in Puerto Rico, we look out at the waves tumbling across Luquillo Beach while reflecting on our last moments here. Today we started the morning by packing up our things at the Big Yellow House and saying goodbye, taking with us the sweet memories we made there. We loaded our things onto the bus, each one of us with tired eyes, and set off to the only US rainforest that spans over 29 thousand acres: El Yunque. Even though the hike was only 30 minutes down and back, the beautiful views of the luscious, green plants made it worth while before reaching the river. The water, being fairly cold, refreshed us and gave us rest after this busy week of service work. Next, we headed to our new home, named Casa Coral.

The new hotel is very roomy and colorful, and I think it is safe to say that everyone enjoys it. After unpacking, we got ready for a trip to the Luquillo Beach, and spent the day diving into the crashing waves. We then returned for the bus ride to kayak in the Caribbean ocean. In addition, we kayaked into a lake to see the bioluminescent microorganisms called dinoflagellates. They lit up the water like mini fireworks, and it was truly stunning. Overall, today was the perfect way to end our trip to Puerto Rico. It was a day of laughs and fun with everyone, and it is easy to say that this experience was extremely rewarding and will be hard to follow up in the coming years.

By Caroline S. and Natalie S.