Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | April 24, 2019

Spring Break Service in Puerto Rico

Spring Break Service in Puerto Rico

By Ronnette Wongus

Salem State University, in collaboration with ServeUP Intervarsity Organization, took 54 students from four universities to Gurabo, Puerto Rico on a service trip during spring break 2019. The trip’s goal was to help the residents of the island to restore their homes that were impacted by Hurricane Maria almost two years ago. The students were from Salem State University, UMASS Amherst, Central Connecticut State University and the University of Vermont.

Salem State participants of the service trip to Gurabo, Puerto Rico

Ronnette Wongus (Ronni) from World Languages and Cultures and Lauren Prema from The Center for International Education chaperoned the trip for Salem State University. Fifteen of our students and the two chaperones worked with the St. Bernard Project to provide assistance with the restoration process in Gurabo and Loiza, Puerto Rico. The restoration process consisted of moving furniture, painting, scraping fences, laying floor tiles, power spraying cement, cutting down trees, putting up drywall and landscaping.

Due to the significant loss and lack of resources to restore their homes, many of the residents of these communities have relocated or left the island. During our visit some of the students were able to talk to the locals who said that they are still in need of assistance and just cannot afford to do the work to restore their homes. They appreciated what we were doing for them.

Ronni at work in Puerto Rico

Ronni at work in Puerto Rico

Some of the poorest areas that were hit by the hurricane are still experiencing the loss of running water and electricity, which is a recurring problem. Our students experienced a day with no running water and a half-day with no electricity. With the loss of running water, a truck had to come to refill the tank, which could take several hours or days. Once the water tank was refilled, we preserved water by using buckets and hoses to shower. Housing was in the Irradia Volunteer Housing Center in Gurabo, Puerto Rico where our students slept on bunk beds and cots and our chaperones slept on mattresses on the floor while lizards attached themselves to the walls and ran through the center. Many of us had never experienced these elements, but we never complained and stayed focused on the recovery work.

While this was a service trip, our students got to experience the beauty of Puerto Rico. They visited beautiful beaches in San Juan and Carolina, local shops and ate the most amazing food. One of the best parts of their visit was to hear the beautiful sounds at night of the coqui frog and see the amazing sunrise in the morning. Our students said it was an honor and a privilege to help the residents of Puerto Rico and they hope that the people they met can soon get back to normalcy.

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