Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria Relief, Session 1
June 24, 2018
Today was the day where we got to go to Old San Juan. After breakfast this morning, we loaded the vans and met Alvin, our tour guide, in the city center. We then walked through many streets with beautiful architecture (we saw houses in every color of the rainbow) and passed lots of famous monuments, landmarks, and museums such as Iglesia San José, Punta del Morro, and the Pigeon Park. The most surprising things about today was when we went to Punta del Morro because Alvin had told us all to go to the bathrooms. Everyone was confused at first but we then saw that the best view in the entire museum was through a small tunnel in the restroom! After we had lunch at El Jibarito, we spent some time shopping, and then went back to the Big Yellow House to get ready for beach time! The ocean was warm and clear, with small waves that were easy to swim in, and we even saw some small fish!
By Alex T.
We started this morning with a delicious tropical breakfast at our beachside guesthouse, Casa Coral. Following breakfast, our leaders presented a very informative and interactive orientation full of fun icebreakers, team building exercises, an overview of our week’s activities and service work and the establishment of a group contract. After our orientation, we loaded into our vans and drove to Los Kioskos de Luquillo, a collection of restaurants along a pristine white sand beach. We sampled traditional Puerto Rican dishes like carne frita and mofongo before heading to El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest administered by the US Forest Service for a quick hike and a refreshing swim. Then we drove down out of the mountains back to Casa Coral to get ready for our kayaking bioluminescent bay tour where we saw some green sparks in the water while paddling through a mangrove swamp and entering a large protected bay off of the east coast of the island. Right now we’re hungry again and waiting for our dinner.
By Owen, Audrey, George
June 25, 2018
Today was the first day that my group went into the Villa del Rio community to help with rebuilding efforts. Villa del Rio is a small and young community- it’s comprised of nearly 200 homes and has been around for a little under 30 years. Our first task was getting the sand from the bottom of the hill to the second floor of the structure. This required everyone in the group to work together and form an assembly line. Though we had done team building exercises and icebreakers this was when I felt that I really got to work and bonded with the other kids. From then on all the work was fast paced and hard. I helped to lay concrete with Will and Jaime-two local community members who have spearheaded the rebuilding efforts. I was able to make a difference in the community, connect with my peers and practice my Spanish. This experience opened my eyes to the different sides of Puerto Rico. Old San Juan was a beautiful town with lots of people and infrastructure-a very different kind of community than Villa Del Rio. I have always known the Puerto Rico from postcards and movies, beaches, sunsets, and no worries. This trip exposed me to the side of Puerto Rico that we don’t always hear about. There is an interesting duality that can be seen between the two places we’ve been. Despite differences there is a common theme of strength. I am greatful for this opportunity because it’s allowed me to give back and learn more while having fun and making new friends.
By Jade F.
Today we started the day with another tropical breakfast that included eggs, bread, fruit, and bacon, at our hostel in Casa Coral. After breakfast, we loaded the vans and drove for an hour and a half to the Community Center and work site in Villa Del Río. After hearing the introductions from the community leaders, we went to Angel’s -one the leader’s- house. We noticed the great impact the hurricane made on the island and how hard recovery from a tragedy like that can be. Our main purpose for this trip is to work WITH the people and not work FOR the people; we did everything that they instructed us to do without hesitation. Angel and Victor taught us how to mix the concrete and sand together to make the foundation of the floors. We quickly got to work by mixing and passing along the foundation for about 2 hours. We got back into the vans to go to the community center, where we had an amazing lunch that included salad, chicken, and of course, rice and beans. Once we finished our food and played some quick basketball, we headed back to Angel’s house to finish the foundation for the floors in both of the rooms. After a couple more hours of doing hard work and hearing Angel’s barking dogs (the whole time), we drove to the Big Yellow House and settled into our rooms. After, we spent time playing volleyball, frisbee, and card games. We ended the afternoon with an awesome Italian style dinner. We enjoyed some salad, with the choice of chicken alfrado, spaghetti, or mac and cheese. The remainder of the night was getting to know the rest of the group by playing some fun activities.
By Matt, Sofia, Maya and Shelby
June 26, 2018
Today was a truly touching day, we had an early start to the day which is always awesome because we get so much more work done; which is always very rewarding to ourselves. We went to Anna’s house today and helped her work on her bathroom. We arrived and a little more than half of the bathroom walls were up. Our main task was to fill the walls with a thicker cement than we did yesterday. It’s always fun making the cement because it’s very similar to baking as we started off by applying a circle or sand on the floor and then to make a change from yesterday we made an addition of rocks and more water which made the cement more sturdy and structurally sound. Everyone worked so phenomenally as a big team from passing buckets, mixing cement, moving wheel barrels full of rocks and sand, helping each other out when one would need a break. Team one truly has the most amazing perseverance and I am so lucky we all get to thrive together. To end off the day after the delicious lunch of rice, beans chicken, and tostones we had; we got to finish up some work and my absolute favorite part- we had a very inspirational talk from Anna (the house owner). We learned that everything you have and everything you can work for in your life and the people you care most about can all disappear in an instant. As a teen we all mostly are eager to get out of the house and always say, “Omg I am never going back home “, as Anna felt that way- but today we learned from her that your heart will always be at home. I give Anna all my sympathy for taking care of her parents when they were sick, getting an education when she had little money, paying off her first loan, and most importantly not giving up. My perspective has been changed and I could not be happier to look up to her as I proceed in my life. We ended our day with a refreshing swim at the beach and amazing pizza. Before we go to bed we are watching a documentary about the hurricane so we have more of a background. I could not be more excited to go explore and help out the other side of the island tomorrow. This trip has been AMAZING so far and I am very glad to continue.
By Isabelle A.
Today started with an optional morning yoga, with plenty of stretching. Then we had a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and fruit. We headed out at 8:30 to the town of Villa Del Río, where our service project for the day would be held. We met everyone at the community center where we held a discussion about the objectives of our work for the day. Jimmy, the house owner for the project our group worked on, gave us an overview of the work we would be doing for his house, specifically. After applying a lot of sunscreen and bug-spray, we left the center and went to Jimmy’s house. Over the course of 4 hours, we built the foundation of his house, assembling rock buckets or sand buckets and transporting them to the concrete mixer. From there, students (including Grace H.;) filled the buckets with concrete and Jimmy’s team applied them to the base to make a sturdy surface. We were able to accomplish the job early which was pretty nice. Being a part of this group that gets to help a hurting community is not only extremely rewarding, but it is something that not many people get the opportunity to do. Hearing what the home owners had to say about their gratefulness was so touching and it really opened the eyes of many people after seeing how much effort it took to just make one floor. Especially knowing that he and his wife have been living in these conditions for so long, made all the difference to our group and that just the 20 of us were able to impact this one family so greatly. After working for the morning, we then headed to the community center for lunch. There, we enjoyed a lunch of rice and beans, chicken, tostones, and salad. After lunch, we headed back to the Big Yellow House and got ready to head to the beach. The beach was beautiful and we enjoyed the nice water for over an hour before heading back quickly to beat the other groups to the shower! We then enjoyed a pizza dinner and got prepared to complete more service!
By Grace, Sofia, and Spencer
June 27, 2018
Hi!! So today we had breakfast around 7:30. Our group then headed over to the community (Villa de Rio) to get back to work. In the past few days we have worked with a lot of different people. Some of the adults we have worked with everyday have been Angel, Jimmy, and Victor, with whom we have become really close. We had already worked on Angel and Jimmy’s houses, so we got to work on Victor’s house today. We all were able to see what he, his wife, and one of his grandkids live in now, and I think it’s safe to say we were all a little surprised. He has been living in one very small and very hot room, filled with all of his family’s stuff for 9 months. The size of his one room is maybe 3/4 the size of one person’s bedroom from where we come from, but people were living in that one room full-time. Today we worked on filling the beams in the structure of his new, better-sized house with concrete to make the foundation of the house stronger. We had a few chains going on to make the work go faster. Some people were shoveling rocks and sand, others were handing buckets to people pouring in the aggregate (which is the concrete mix with rocks in it), some were catching the empty buckets and passing them along, and some were even standing on the scaffolding itself to pour concrete into the previously wooden beams. We all worked very hard and had a delicious lunch around 2:15. We had burgers, salad, rice and fries. It was all made by the wives of Angel, Jimmy, and William (the person who organizes a lot of the work). After lunch, we were asked if we had enough energy for one more hour, and not a single person refused. We were all psyched that we would be able to help our new friend Victor even more. When it came to the point of an hour, no one even noticed and we just went on until 100 bags of cement had been mixed and there was no more to do. After being thanked again by William and the other house owners, we all said goodbye, gave our hugs and headed back to the Big Yellow House. We got really lucky because on the way back, we stopped to get gas, and everyone was able to buy fun snacks inside. As soon as we got back, we all hopped into the showers, and had an amazing dinner. Some people then opted to play volleyball or hang out for a while longer. Overall, today was a pretty awesome day, and a lot of people were able to better grasp how much one day of help can do for one person!
-Lillie, Gabi, Gabe
We started the day with a classic eggs and pancake breakfast in the big yellow house (for those wondering, it really is large and thoroughly yellow). Our group joyfully passed over concrete covered garments of the days prior in preparation for our expedition in Tropic Venture’s one thousand acre sustainable forest. In meeting 3T, an international environmental entrepreneur, we learned about hurricane Maria’s devastating effects on the project and determined how we could help. Working in groups of three our close knit teams took pleasure in chucking massive branches fallen by the storm, off a cliff in an effort to restore previously well driven paths. The power of water was a uniting concept of the day and as part of our restoration project we constructed large, speed bump shaped gutters to guide high velocity rainfall into our (mostly) well dug trench. Guiding water from the hill into a nearby stream, the trench will now help to prevent excess deterioration of the concrete bridge at the hills base. I recommend the pickaxe. The pickaxe is fun. Later in day we went to a near by natural body of water to cool off (it was quite brisk, but totally worth it). The fish there were gracious, if slightly invasive hosts, and helped to clean off our tired feet. For the long drive home we assorted a never before heard mix of modern rap, 80s hits, and some cool stuff Pat requested (like Bad, Bad Leroy Brown). We may or may not have raided the local gas station for snacks on the way back. For dinner we chowed down on Puerto Rican yellow rice, chicken, and potato salad, and received a surprise visit from our local teachers and friends. We ended the night with a good spirited volleyball match (there are no faults in volleyball, right?), the Brazil-Serbia World Cup match, and, of course, fun conversations with each other.
Now we’re heading to bed! Shout out to my roommates and the superb space-gang fort. Thanks for reading.
June 28, 2018
To start off our day today, we ate breakfast at the Big Yellow House (our current residence) which consisted of waffles, omelet, and the exotic fruit known as papaya. Afterwards, we headed to Villa Del Rio for our final day of construction. First, we worked on Anna’s house. We mixed the cement using a cement mixer, called El Trompito, to fill in the reinforced columns of the walls. During our work at the house, it began to pour rain, which was very pleasant as we were all hot, sweaty, and covered in building materials. The community members said that this type of work would be different and more difficult compared to the past days. Not only did we work on Anna’s house from around 10am to 3pm, but after a quick lunch of delicious burgers and fries, we went to finish Victor’s house.
We worked harder and faster than we have done in the previous days because we knew the importance of the project and the lasting impact that it would have on the community. We had a determined and committed attitude which kept us motivated. Personally, we felt a mix of happiness and sadness. We were happy and grateful to have learned a whole new skill, meet such great people, and have a positive impact on their lives. However, we were sad to leave such a welcoming community that found a profound place in our hearts. William, the community leader, gave each volunteer a Puerto Rican flag. This symbolizes strength and unity. He mentioned that the hurricane can break their homes and everything they own, but not their hope. It only makes the bonds between the community member stronger. These words stuck with us.
After the doleful farewell, we returned to the Big Yellow House where we enjoyed a barbecue dinner of burgers and fries once again. Following shortly was a salsa lesson from Yara, a Puerto Rican Salsa dance teacher. Surprisingly tiring, yet extremely amusing, the lesson brought our group members even closer. Overall, it was an amazing way to conclude our final day of service.
-Emily & Jenny
Today, we kicked off the morning with some waffles, a breakfast food we haven’t yet tried together. We then hopped in the vans and took an hour drive over to La Selva, the rainforest. The other night, we were fortunate enough to watch a video that Thrity Vakil, the house owner of where we worked today, had posted on Youtube from footage of the hurricane itself. Thrity and Andres were in the eye of Hurricane Maria for 45 minutes and their entire house was destroyed other than a small concrete library. Thrity shared her experience with us and described what it was like when she was sitting in the room and how she can now say she has experienced a trauma. After learning about her story, she gave us a special piece of advice. She said that as we grow older, life does not get easier but we have to persevere. We have to be like trees in the wind and bend back and forth, but not break or snap. This is something that resonated with a lot of us because it came from someone who knows what she is talking about and it is something that can really apply to our lives. On our way to Thrity’s house, we were able to see the beautiful rainforest, as well as many of the trees that have fallen. When we arrived, we were given our assignments and got to work as a great team, once again. Thrity cares about the environment so much and it is clear when we see her composting toilets or how she asked us to help her clear the irrigation ditches instead of asking us to help rebuild her own home. There was a lot of heavy rain on and off today which led us to having an early lunch (that was tasty beyond belief).
After lunch, some continued to clear out the clay roads near the waterfalls and some continued to clear the irrigation ditches. Some others began a new job of breaking bamboo and putting it parallel to the water to keep rain flowing from the hillside to the lake. While it was hot, humid, and rainy, we still had a good time and we were able to approach new situations and come up with new solutions. We then had the opportunity to climb down a steep, muddy hill (using a thin, long rope) and get into the nice cool water near the waterfall. Thrity’s dog came with us and we all had a great time. There were little fish in the water that ate dead skin cells off of people for food and they were all over everyone’s legs which was pretty funny. We then headed over to another lake called the Blue Hole which was another beautiful location. There we took a ton of cute pictures and refreshed ourselves in the cool water. The whole day, everyone kept pushing through knowing that today would be the last work day. After the Blue Hole, we embarked on our long car ride back. We were greeted by an already made barbecue where we all had salad and chicken, beef, or veggie burgers. It was a nice change from the rice and beans we have enjoyed so much of. We then had nice heartfelt conversations and we shared our highs and lows of our trip as well as any compliments we had for others. Tomorrow, we will have a more relaxed day so the core mission of our trip has pretty much been completed. The process has been amazing and just through a few days, everyone has undergone a tremendous amount of growth mentally (and some physically, too!). We have all truly bonded and will miss each other as much, if not more, than we will miss the people in the community we have helped and grown close to. Thanks!!! ❤❤
By Tim, Sofia, and Lillie 🙂
June 29, 2018
Today officially marks the last day of our week long Puerto Rican summer trip. We really shook things up at breakfast this morning with oatmeal and French toast besides the regular eggs, fruit, and yogurt. By 8:15 we were on the road to Old San Juan for our 9:30 tour. A friend of Global Works, Alvin Robles, guided us through blue cobblestone streets lined with a rainbow of colorful houses. We made scenic stops at the port, the second oldest church in the Western Hemisphere- the Cathedral of San Juan, and the residence of Felisa Rincón de Gautier, the first female mayor and public servant of San Juan. After a countless number of awkward group photos, we finally found refuge in the air conditioned Boriqua restaurant of El Jibarito, one of the oldest eateries in San Juan. There, we filled up on rice and mufongo and gained the energy to go shopping for souvenirs. Eventually however we needed to cool off with gelato popsicles, practically the first dessert we’ve eaten all week. After shopping a bit more, we headed back to the vans and to the Big Yellow House, where we were finally alone, as group A had left for Casa Coral that morning. Arriving at the house around 4 gave us plenty of time to spend at the beaches. When we returned, one final and delicious dinner of rice, chicken, and pork awaited us. Salsa dancing taught by Yara helped us work off some of the calories. The dancing competition ended with a tie for the winning pair between Sofia and Gabe and Gabi and Lis. Overall this week has been life changing for many kids and families. Pertaining to the community service, the work that was completed not only provided families with new homes, the work of our team created a new mindset within us all. Before the trip I felt numerous anxieties about the real affect of the upcoming work. With the news constantly filled with negativity and focused on problems with the world, it seemed impossible to make a difference. But after working for hours, I have realized that we have done what we could to be part of the solution. We have impacted lives forever. As for the social matter, it has been quite the experience to be forced into sharing things from bedrooms, and bathrooms to your deepest secrets. Yet it has been refreshing to meet new people. Hundreds of stories were shared because we were all strangers to each other just 7 days ago, but this sharing has created the feeling of lifelong friendships between 19 near strangers.
Not only have we gained the typical summer camp experience with poor water pressure, shadow hidden critters, and late night laughs in bunk bed filled rooms, we now have the proof that we were part of the solution. Despite its struggles, Puerto Rico has always kept hope and it has imparted this hope upon us all. We will leave with content in our hearts and perseverance on our minds.
-Julia, Owen, Logan