It was only two years ago when Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane, struck Puerto Rico. As a result, many families were devastated and schools had to close until conditions improved. As for now, Puerto Rico is still recovering and the territory has gotten help from many people and organizations. This year, the Interact Club, an extension of the Nantucket Rotary Club, took a group of 14 students and 11 chaperones, including community members Carlos Castrello, Fulya Castrello, Tom McCann, Peter Mchugh, Liz Holland, Caroline Frey, Mike Burns, Jen Lewis, Donna Muhr, Laxmi Niraula, and Andrew Cromartie.
The goal that was accomplished during the trip was to help schools in need. Throughout the trip, Nantucket students interacted with children from various schools, learned more about the impacts of the hurricane and learned about the Puerto Rican culture. When the group first heard about the humanitarian aid mission, they were thrilled to take advantage of the opportunity. The students on the trip were Joshua Harding, Marta Saravia, Maeve Cawley, Tatiana Quijada-Lemus, Isabelle Magalhaes, Nathan Murer, Maya Balling, Maria Silva Marchi, Shannon Muhr, Maryann Vasquez-Cruz, Simran Mahat, Gita Adhikari, Bishaka Dhamala, and Jahlani Emmanuel-I.
Students departed from Nantucket on February 23rd and arrived to Puerto Rico the next day. They rested well on Sunday and gained energy to start their journey for the week. On Monday, February 25th, Nantucket students arrived at the city of Guayama and visited the Escuela Especializada en Ciencias y Matemáticas Genaro Cautiño Vázquez, (EECMGCV)—one of the best STEM High Schools in Puerto Rico. As they entered the school, the Nantucket students were welcomed by the staff and students. The school prepared a welcoming ceremony in which the NHS students engaged in conversations with teens their same age and learned more about their culture. During the welcoming ceremony, Nantucket students participated in a cultural dance, called “La Bomba”, and were introduced to some of EECMGCV students’ talents, such as science fair projects that won first place at a local competition. “These projects inspire us to come up with something that will be life-changing, and it encourages us to do better.” said Alyssa Rivera, who is one of the sophomores at EECMGCV.
After the welcoming ceremony, the Interact Club members distributed goods including printers, computers, sports equipment, school supplies and much more. That same Monday, both the Interact Club members and EECMGCV students took a tour of the city of Guayama and arrived at the town of Yabucoa. They visited Yabucoa hospital— a facility that served as an evacuation center for those who were affected by Hurricane Maria. There they learned about the before, during, and after the Hurricane and the impact it had for its residents not only physically but mentally. After visiting Yabucoa, they returned to Guayama to say goodbye to the EECMGCV students.
On Tuesday 26th, Interact Club members and chaperones went to Jesusa Vizcarrondo Middle School in the town of Loiza, where they provided the kids and staff with school supplies and sporting equipment such as basketballs, soccer balls, jump ropes, volleyballs, etc. The members of the Interact Club had a good opportunity to engage with the younger kids and they spent the afternoon socializing with the kids. Both Nantucket students and the younger kids played volleyball and participated in other games such as jump rope and soccer. In the afternoon, the Interact Club members were invited to the foundation of the first female ex-governor of Puerto Rico, Sila María Calderón Serra. The students spent most of the evening touring the foundation and they participated in a conference with Serra, where the students participated in a Q&A session. To one of the questions, she answered: “our mission is to reduce poverty and inequality, advance the role of women in society, promote balance and urban revitalization, strengthen ethical values and social responsibility through a non-profit and non-partisan entity for education for Puerto Ricans on the Island and in the United States.”
On Wednesday the 27th, students from Interact Club arrived at Escuela Antera Rosado Fuentes Middle School in Rio Grande, where they had the opportunity to engage with younger kids and distributed lots of school supplies, such as textbooks and recreational equipment. That day members from the Interact Club did landscaping. Despite the rainy weather, all 14 students were excited to build a beautiful garden for the school. They worked very hard and finished the job in less than four hours. “When we got there all we saw was dead plants and destroyed soil, and after we were done, we planted a beautiful garden, bringing some color to a once brown ground,” said Joshua Harding, a senior at NHS.
After the hard hours of work and rainy weather, everybody was pleased with the beautiful results. The students and staff in the middle school were very grateful and were able to enjoy the work from the Interact Club members. “I am more than grateful for all of your work. It really means a lot not only to us as teachers but to the kids as well. They will be shocked when they walk in school tomorrow,” said one of the teachers at the school.
On the last day, the Nantucket students arrived in the town of Bayamon and visited the Escuela Faustino Santiago Elementary School. They provided the schools with computers, printers, and lots of sports equipment. The smaller kids quickly engaged with the Nantucket students. They played games with the new soccer and volleyballs and were very happy. While some Nantucket students played with the kids, others helped remodel the school and painted. They all took turns and made sure everyone helped equally. The art teacher at the Elementary school requested the Nantucket students to paint a mural. This gave the opportunity to some of the group’s artist to paint the mural and leave an unforgettable trace behind. Once the work was done, the Interact members spent more time playing with the kids and said goodbye to the wonderful children and staff.
After four days of busy, hard work and a successful mission, the Nantucket students had Friday and Saturday to explore the beauty of the island before departing back to Nantucket on Sunday, March 2nd. The students of the club visited the beautiful city of Old San Juan, where they enjoyed a casual walk through the town. During the walk, they visited some of the most photographic places in the world, such as Fortaleza Street, mostly known as the ‘Colorful Umbrellas Street.’
The next day, they visited one of the very few tropical rainforests in the United States, El Yunque, and saw one of the most beautiful sights in the world. While visiting those beautiful places, students also tried a variety of street food and delicious foods from the famous “kiosks”.
As they laughed, worked hard, and enjoyed the trip as much as they could, it was time for the students to go back home and reflect upon their journey. Through hard work and teamwork, the students saw the humanitarian aid trip as a learning opportunity. They experience what it was like to give back to people who need it the most and were able to learn from that experience. Everyone was touched by the stories of those who suffered the hurricane and quickly became grateful for the things they had back at home. “After the hurricane, most kids had to adult sooner than expected and it is important for us to take this as a learning experience and become grateful for what we have.” said Laxmi before returning to Nantucket.
By Marta Saravia