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Middlesex School Puerto Rico

March 8, 2019

Waking up at 5 am to a dreary morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed to greet the cold Concord, MA air. We assembled in Eliot hall, excited to be greeted by the warmth of Puerto Rico. Bustling about, we boarded the buses and headed towards the airport. Though the flight was long and tiresome, we were amazed by the beautiful greenery of Puerto Rico.

The heat was a wonderful change from the cold New England weather and we basked in the sun. Soon we met Victor, our trip guide from Global Works, who gave us some sandwiches from El Meson, a well known sandwich shop on the island. He then drove us to the Big Yellow House, our home base for the week. Along the way, we saw the scenery change from crowded cityscapes to peaceful neighborhoods. There were also an assortment of animals ranging from wild horses to chickens. The houses were quaint but vibrant with color. Once we got to the big house, we rushed to put our luggage away and to hurry to the beach.

The ocean was clear and had great, big, crashing waves and there were only a few other people there. The sun began to set and the sky was splashed with hues of pink and purple. We packed up and went back home to our dinner of mac and cheese and bread.

We then met downstairs for some quick introductions with Victor and we learned that it was the first time in Puerto Rico for many of us. We all went around talking about why we came on this trip and many of us mentioned our desire to give back to the global community. After that we discussed what we knew about Puerto Rico, the rules, and our plan for tomorrow. We can’t wait to see what the week holds!

– Grace and Lillian

March 9, 2019

Today we had the privilege of going to Viejo San Juan. We indulged in a variety of experiences ranging from trying out new foods (trifongo was a crowd favorite) to learning about Puerto Rico’s rich culture. We had the opportunity to attend parts of an art festival and immerse ourselves in that very culture. From the second we met our tour guide Alvin, it was obvious that the next two hours would be full of learning and fun. We took numerous selfies and group pictures all around the beautiful city. We went to Castillo San Felipe del Morro and were tasked with learning all that we could about the old military fort. Prizes in the form of desserts were awarded to us and added to the depth of the culture we were able to partake in.

Overall the day was a chance for us to be more aware of our role in this world through understanding how Puerto Rico came to be and how it exists today. Learning about the role of trade and pharmaceuticals added to awareness that we were building and strengthened the impact of the day and the significance of the trip overall.

We gained perspective and like a river the awareness flowed through us until we developed a sense of empathy and understanding that we were sure would guide us throughout the rest of our journey. The second day of our trip was just the beginning of fun and hard work that we knew would follow.

– Mary and Njari

March 10, 2019
The calls of the roosters along with the sound of the alarm woke us up at the prompt early hour of six o’clock. As our minds raced with excitement for the first day of community service, we got dressed and enjoyed an appetizing breakfast of omelets with the cheesiest cheese, sweet waffles, very well seasoned sausages, a variety of fruits including but not limited to juicy strawberries, bananas, cantaloupe, and guava. After a long tree filled two hour ride to Tropic Adventures, we finally arrived and was greeted by the lovely Thrity and her beloved midnight dogs along with some of her chickens and roosters. Thrity explained the unfortunate life changing chaos that Hurricane Maria caused not only in the forest but the whole entire island of Puerto Rico. She thoroughly answered all of the questions and continued to explain the work that was set up for us. After conversing about the two tasks of the day, we all suited up with our gloves, sharp clippers, handy saws, and water bottles and began the project. A portion of our team worked with the intelligent architect, David, installing the new roof to Thrity’s diverse tree nursery that was devastatingly destroyed by the brutal Hurricane Maria. Another portion of our group worked in the forest hacking and chopping away at the dead plants and vines that grew firmly all around the ditch. The ditch was used for controlling the rainfall which could have led to a massive and horrible landslide as Thrity explained earlier. Initially when we first began, the task seemed extremely tedious and almost impossible but with the multiple hands, equipment and excited and determined mindset that we all had, the job was completed in the hours that were available to us.

After the morning of hard work, we had a delicious lunch, consisting of beans, chicken, rice, and salad. The chicken was especially soft and delicious. After relaxing for an hour and playing with the dogs, we returned to our work. The owner, Thrity, praised us for being able to  clear up basically all of the gutter, a task which helps drain the immense rain of the rainforest. Because we finished and it started to pour continuously, we traveled back to our home base near the ocean. The ride was similar to a rollercoaster, with all its winding roads and hills, but it was fun and interesting to see the people relaxing outside and playing music. Later, I learned this time for relaxation was normal for every Sunday. When we came back, we went to the beach and swam around for a while. Then we ate pizza for dinner and played volleyball. This day was exhilarating and eye opening to the actual damage of the hurricane.

– KJ and Claire

March 11, 2019

Today began with a more leisure morning as we woke up and casually ate breakfast together. We were all excited to meet everyone in the community, and anticipated lots of fun because of the great time we had the previous day. Each of us went into the day with a personal goal we had reflected on the night before. At the first stop, we met Angel who would be overseeing us for the next few days; he talked about the journey to rebuild the communities’ houses, and that we would continue the work of previous groups- just as we will pass the torch on to the next group. Our hearts were warmed when he told us that we were welcome in his home anytime and that he regarded us as family. After meeting Angel, we went to the worksite and met everyone we would be working with. They began by expressing their gratitude to us and explaining that we would be building a parking space for the disabled wife of Javier. One of our tasks was loading the cement mixer el trompo with a perfect recipe for concrete made up of sand, stones, water, and cement. Our second task was to shovel the cement we made into buckets to pass to Viktor, the main architect which he would use to fill cement blocks.

After working for a couple hours we were greeted with a home cooked meal at the home of Angel and his wife Maria. His wife welcomed us with open arms as we were thrilled to learn that she lived in New York, since many of us are fellow New Yorkers. We enjoyed a fulfilling meal, and laughed with Maria as she treated us like her own children. Returning to the worksite, we quickly picked up the work we begun in the morning, and finished in no time, despite the scorching afternoon sun. We were very proud of the work we accomplished and felt grateful to work among side such amiable people. When we returned to our yellow abode – despite a little bump on the road- we headed to the beach, our favorite pastime, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon after a long day of work. The highlight of the day, after a delicious meal of chicken and wowza! plantains! was when we attended salsa lessons. Laughing through it all, we were quick learners and picked up on the basic four steps of salsa. Before we knew it, we were in a circle, rotating partners like pros, while also getting a workout in. A perfect ending to a gratifying day, we went to bed content and ready for tomorrow.

– by Leah and Hanna

March 12, 2019

After a strenuous day working making a driveway, we were ready to put our knowledge of making cement to help Don Victor and Juan Carlos build a staircase. Without the mixer, we had to use our strength to mix the cement with shovels and lots of elbow grease. Mixing the cement powder, pebbles, sand, and water required lots of muscles and determination. To handle the weight of the mixture, we formed a line to quicken the process of getting the cement to Don Victor. Despite the sun beating down on us, the smiles on the owners kept us working hard and our spirits high.

For lunch, we had a delicious Puerto Rican meal of tostones, arroz con pollo, ensalada, frutas, and vegetales. This being our second lunch with our cooks, Maria and Bolo’s wife, we developed a close bond with them through our enjoyment of the food and our shared experiences.  After finishing the steps with Don Victor and Don Juan Carlos, we headed for a beautiful beach in Manati, Mar Chiquita Beach. The view was picturesque, but don’t let it fool you. Slipping many times on the algae covered rocks, we finally were able to enjoy the cool waters. The slips into the water made us laugh and appreciate this lovely break from our fruitful hard work.

March 13, 2019

We we woke up this morning knowing this would be our last full day in Puerto Rico. We were greeted at breakfast by two other Global Works Groups from Yale and St. Stevens St. Agnes. At 9:00am we headed out to Villa del Rio to work. We arrived at a new worksite read to get things done. We were met by the three women whom owned the house. A mother and her two daughters who took shelter in Jersey during the hurricane but were intent on rebuilding their home in Puerto Rico. Talking to them, we learned their youngest daughter had experienced xenophobia and racism on the mainland and the hardship they faced traveling back and forth from Puerto Rico to the mainland. Our job was to cover their septic tank with concrete. The women taught us a new technique on how to make cement from scratch and we eagerly went to work on our project. Three hours later, we went around the corner to eat lunch at Maria’s house and ate some arroz con pollo, some salad, and tostones. Then we had a tearful goodbye with Maria, taking pictures and exchanging numbers in order to capture our memories.

We then met with William and he expressed to us his gratitude and appreciation for our help, as well as the importance of working together. We thanked him for the experience. After, we went back to work and Angel taught us yet another way to mix cement more efficiently. The worksite was filled with music-less karaoke singing classics such as Baby by Justin Bieber and Waterfalls by TLC. At 4:25 we finally complete our project. To end our arduous and bittersweet work day, we ended with an emotional goodbye and a feeling of nostalgia. Finally, we returned to the yellow house, cleaned up, and reflected on our time here. Many of us revealed the deep imprint this experience had left on the group, leaving us with more empathy than before, a sense of pride, and a desire to do more had we more time. Thus, everyone ended with people treasuring this experience and ready to bring it back to our respective homes.