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Montgomery College Puerto Rico 2023

March 12, 2023

Volunteers started off the day walking through the streets of San Juan, enjoying the pastel colors of the apartments and buildings, taking pictures and videos each moment we got. We learned about Puerto Rico’s Totem Pole and the Church of San Jose and San Juan Bautista. We also walked by the “White House” that Puerto Rico’s founder built for his family, and walked by a spot where a miracle was recorded by the Catholic Church.

We learned about the gruesome battle Puerto Rico endured fighting off the Spaniards and English. We had first-hand experience with the forts that protected the island. They took us to Felisa Riacon de Gautier’s house who was a past governor of Puerto Rico and her house has since been turned into a museum.

We went to Jibarito for lunch and enjoyed their special Mofongo.  The mixed Mofongo was the most flavorful, and with a trivia quiz some members won a free dessert. It was very hot, so they took us to get ice cream after we went to a few souvenir shops. The first shop had beautiful pieces of artwork and crafts.

We returned to the Big yellow house for some beach time. We were all so happy to jump in the water after a hot day. We then ate dinner as a group and created our community contract and bonded as a group. We are excited to start our service work tomorrow.

By Renny and Olivia

March 13, 2023

We woke up bright and early for breakfast before driving an hour and a half to the North East Ecological Corridor. Meeting with Ramon from Ecosol who then led us through the nature reserve and told us all about the land and the work that has been done by community members, outreach groups, ranging from middle school to college students. The whole idea is to preserve the spaces for eco tourism and preventing cooperations from building hotels and resorts.

Ramon guided us through a trail and showed us an abandoned house, where the person who was initially protecting this environment lived. We then continued and saw numerous sugar canes, cows, and horses. Shortly after, we broke into two teams, a cutting team and a raking team. People cutting had to take down branches extended into the trail and in the way for people to walk. Raking team moved the leaves off to the side clearing the trail. There was also a space we cleared which is going to be a rest area. They will use almond tree to build benches and chairs to catch a breather. The Mangrove, where the area turned more into a wet land protects the island from the damages of the hurricane.

One thing we learned was that the reason we were up on a hill was because part of the land was initially used for railroad tracks. It was also fascinating that this is being done without the help of government funding but by the love of the history and nature from the Puerto Rican community. People like us also coming from all over the world to help out in hope to inspire others.

By Ivan and Josh

March 14, 2023

Today, March 14, we had a centered breakfast at the big yellow house at 8:00 am before heading towards the projects. We knew we had a long day ahead of us, therefore a great breakfast was key to our success in accomplishing our goal.

When we arrived at the project site at 9:30 am, we were welcomed by William the project manager, Angel, Ana Maria and her children. William gave us an overview of the project that we would be working on and he explained all safety protocols that we needed to follow in the worksite in order to prevent injuries and accidents. Ana Maria’s children were so excited that they joined us all energetically to work alongside us. It was amazing to know that we were able to build a relationship with the children and received many hugs.

At around 10:00 am, Angel started mixing concrete in a machine called “El Trompito” and our group made a human chain to move the concrete to pour in the mold. The temperatures were high and the heat presented a  challenge for the whole team. Regardless, by 11:30 am we had a big section completed already so we took a break to drink water and Gatorade. We picked up the pace after and at 12:30 we finished pouring concrete and we headed to Maria’s house to eat lunch.

After we ate a delicious traditional lunch, we went back to the project-site and started on the rebar for the roof of the house. The weather got cloudy after lunch which was amazing because we worked without the heat of the sun. Angel explained the process on how to make a strong rebar and why it is important to have in the houses in Puerto Rico. “Hurricanes happen very often on the island and they destroy every house that is not properly built,” said Angel. We finished doing the rebar at around 4:00 pm and we headed back home to have some free time. We ended the day with a delicious pizza dinner and a fun Salsa dance lesson at the big yellow house.

We are looking forward to finishing the house that way the family can have their room to sleep in peacefully.

By Grape (Grace and Yeremy)

March 15, 2023
After starting the day with a delicious breakfast buffet, we were ready and energized to drive to Villa del Rio to begin a full day of construction work.

We spread concrete on the roof and smoothed it out using a great system and assembly line. It started to rain while we were working, so we went inside and ate a home-made meal that Maria had prepared for us. Fortunately, the rain stopped and the roof was able to be finished beautifully. We completed the work in two days as we worked as a team and gave it our all at every opportunity. Everyone pitched in and worked hard, completing tasks such as heavy lifting, refilling others’ water bottles, cutting wire, and passing buckets. Everyone in the group and team was and is valuable and helps to make the dream a reality!

We then spent the afternoon at the beach, where we took in the warm weather and sun and walked around the beach as a group. After the beach, we ate dinner with the community as a family.

During the community dinner, we expressed our gratitude to one another; some cried, while others held back tears. We shared a communal love that we had developed in less than 24 hours together. Angel and Maria, as well as their children and grandchildren, greeted us with open arms. Despite the fact that we speak a different language, we felt their love and appreciation, and their words touched each and every one of our hearts. Tonight, we all connected like the links of a necklace. Along with their beautiful words, we were all given colorful bracelets with the Puerto Rican flag on them, a symbol of the beautiful island where we have been volunteering and meeting these wonderful individuals. We celebrated our work from the previous two days by taking photos that will serve as memories for the rest of our lives.

By Carmen and Rocelyn

March 16, 2023

Today, Thursday, March 16th, 2023, we started the day with breakfast together as usual. We went to meet Mika the owner of Campos Sofia and we learned about the different elements of the world, Air, Water, Fire, Air, and the last element that is part of every human being is love and learn about the Tiano Culture. We connected with the fire in the sacred space and shared what our purpose was to come to Puerto Rico. Mika shared the different benefits of the purple clay and how the community used it in different ways, for their skin, hair, and armpits. We all put the clay on our skin, face, hair, legs, and arms before we experienced the water element of being renewed and cleansed.

As a team, there were challenges we faced grew within ourselves, and stepped out of our comfort zone jumping into the river was one of them, another one was walking over stones and the steep incline hill to experience peace and fulfilled our spiritual soul swimming to see the view of the Petroglyphs and learn about the Puerto Rican ancestors.

We had a vegan lunch made by one of the members of the community. Even though not everyone was vegetarian, they were content and enjoyed the homemade food. We sat on big leaves that came from the original area and played with their dog, Cosmo.

We concluded our time with Mika and Ray. Mika lead a Tiano meditation, with song and we all sat around in the sacred space and shared our experience from the elements and how we felt connected and what we learned through our connection with Nature, and how we can continue to connect with nature when we return home and practice these in our everyday lives.

We went to the van to continue our trip to see the Waterfall, where taking many pictures of the beautiful view and some of us swam in the river that connected to the waterfall.

Finally, we went back to the Van back to the Big Yellow House for dinner and we all shared our final reflections from the beginning to when we applied to the Alternative Spring Break and what our takeaways were from this trip, and how we take what we have experienced in Puerto Rico and apply it to our hometown. For some of us, it is so hard to believe that we have been in Puerto Rico for an entire week completing service, learning about the Puerto Rican culture and getting to know to learn about ourselves and getting out of our comfort zones, and building that sense of community to the people we served in Puerto Rico.

By Nira and Hollis

March 17, 2023

“We not only constructed houses we also constructed our souls” Nira Matos

The morning was bitter sweet as we packed up the last of our belongings, getting ready to leave this beautiful island, which as Nira put, not only allow us to construct houses for families in need but allowed us to construct our souls.

We got ready and meet Angels family for the “last time”. As always the group put forth their best work, each individual here has truly learned the spirit of true service, for the betterment of humanity. Angel, William, and his family gathered us around and told us how much our work meant to them. It was a surreal experience as they welcomed us into their community, and into their family. Angel concluded with a heartfelt prayer, wishing for our safety and deliverance.

Finally, we left la Casa Amarillo grande (The Big Yellow House). As the bus departed all of our eyes drifted back to watch for one final time the home where we built a true community and life bonds.

As this message is being written our community is doing one last activity at the gates of the airport, sharing our experiences with each and holding onto the memories of life changing trip close to our hearts. We leave with full hearts ready to head back to share the love that was poured into our hearts by the Puerto Rican people. Gracias para todos y nos vemos.

By Mohamed & Vanessa