On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with 155 mph winds and 40 inches of rainfall. The small community of Villa Del Rio was impacted like much of the island; houses blown off foundations, roofs torn off, down trees making roads impassable, and no running water or electricity for months. For Villa Del Rio, the worst thing may have been the isolation. For eight months, no one from the U.S. or Puerto Rican Government showed up to help. The community of Villa Del Rio was on its own. That meant rebuilding houses, fixing power lines, clearing roads, and sourcing clean water. It meant putting the community’s needs before the individual’s.
There are so many things that we want our 8th graders to take away from their service learning field experience in Puerto Rico. The confidence from succeeding in an environment well outside their comfort zone. The reward of doing hard manual work shoulder-to-shoulder with those rebuilding their lives. The understanding that even in a community that has lost so much, generosity, kindness, and warmth are still a key part of the social fabric.
But the stories from people like Angel created the most significant moments.
Angel and his wife Maria were one of the founders of Villa Del Rio. He and his family had homesteaded in a tent for years until the Puerto Rican government issued land deeds. As a carpenter, he built his house from the ground up and raised his family. On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria ripped the roof off his house and drenched his family’s possessions.
After the hurricane, Angel and his family lived under a flimsy blue tarp that covered what was once a beautifully crafted wooden roof. While Angel could have chosen to repair his roof after the storm, he saw others in his community that had greater need. Over the next four years, Angel used his carpentry skills to help his neighbors pick themselves up and rebuild while still sleeping under a leaky tarp roof. It was only when GlobalWorks insisted that the next project be his home that the tarp was replaced with a concrete roof.
To work alongside people as selfless as Angel was transformational. It was a masterclass in the power of gratitude, love, and putting others first. Most of all, though, it was a life lesson in the power of a single individual to make the world a better place.
If you’d like to learn more about our students’ experience from their perspective, click here.