In August, twenty-one students from Rocky Hill School traveled to Puerto Rico as part of a school service trip. The trip was organized and planned by the School’s Interact Club which is supported by the East Greenwich Rotary. Students researched non-profits working on the island and selected three organizations to support:
Puerto Rico Rises – a service organization that distributes basic necessities to people in need and assists with funding and rebuilding efforts throughout the island.
Tania Soy Apiary and The Earthship Project – a local bee apiary that is also a site for Puerto Rico’s Earthship Project, a national organization that promotes the building of sustainable housing that is made of all recycled materials.
Finca Hekiti Agroforestry Cacao Farm – is an agro-ecological farm focused on preserving existing forests in the Las Marias mountains of Puerto Rico.
Students stayed in the Rincon area as guests of The Lazy Parrot who provided free lodging to the student group. The students collected clothing and toiletries for Puerto Rico Rises and delivered them to the site where they sorted donations and packed care packages for residents in need. They returned a day later to deliver the packages and food to people in a shelter and to residents living in “The Forgotten Place” in Aguadilla. This is an area that still does not have power or water and is surrounded by damaged buildings.
Another day was spent visiting Tania Soy Apiary and The Earthship Project. Here students received the owners first-hand account of the devastation that occurred in the area and how the community pulled together to provide each other food and shelter. In addition, they learned about the Earthship project where the organizers are transforming part of the land into an Earthship training facility. Once completed, they will bring others from the island to the site and teach them how to create their own sustainable housing.
Finally, the students spent a day at Finca Hekiti Agroforestry Cacao Farm clearing bush and plotting cacao tree planting sites. It was hard and grueling work but with a high reward. They made a big impact and the family shared a meal prepared with all foods from the farm as a way to celebrate their new connection.
The team of students and the other Interact Club members made a pledge to keep their connection to the organizations and the island. Already this fall a group of students held a coffee house to raise funds for Puerto Rico Rises. They will also look to find additional ways to support them through fundraising and promoting their cause on social media to bring awareness to the organizations. There is still much work to be done and the students gained a new appreciation for the community spirit and resilience of the people on the island. They will also show their video to Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea in the coming weeks. Ms. Gorbea was born in Puerto Rico and was excited to learn about the students service trip.
Junior Andrew Zito said, “This community service trip was special for me because I got to see a community working together to help each other out. It was very humbling to observe the daily lives of those affected by Hurricane Maria and yet for me, helping those people was the best part of the trip.” Trip adviser Michael Jedrey shared, “What impressed me most about our time in Puerto Rico was the determination of our students to make a difference, no matter how small, to the lives of those affected by the hurricane. The students embraced every opportunity, and they were moved by not only the need, but also the warmth and openness of everyone we met and worked with.”
Students: Andrew Zito, Elsa Block, Zack Wilson, Jacob Snyder, Jaylene Lanzot, Bridget Vanderveer, Manny Maldonado, Chloe Ponte, Savanna Olsen, Tamira Lopes, Marlon Monterroso, Aviva Beringhause, Johnette Williams, Nina Zheng, Christoff Bandele, Sarah Curran, Lizzie Cooney, Alex Greim, Jason DeGerlia, Cameron Osbrey, and Andrea White.