Experiential learning and meaningful service merged this summer to inspire 16 Macaulay students who traveled to Puerto Rico to help with ongoing recovery from Hurricane Maria.
The students were struck by the devastation that persisted nine months after the storm. Kasey-Anne Browne, class of 2020, noted that affluent tourist areas “looked completely normal.” By contrast, she said, the beach outside San Juan where the group worked to clear debris “was completely destroyed.”
The beach clean-up and similar restoration work involved physical labor. Other tasks connected students with local residents, as on the day they helped conduct a community needs survey. The group also performed water quality monitoring, planted trees with children in a summer camp, helped students in an alternative high school to build a green classroom, and much more.
“We did a lot,” said Vianca Melendez, Macaulay sophomore, “but there was so much to do.” Like many of her peers, Vianca came away with a passion to achieve more. “The fight does not stop here,” she declared. “We need to push our politicians to decide they are going to help.”
When classes resume this fall, the students plan to organize to advocate for change in Puerto Rico. They will call not only for immediate crisis relief but also for policies that build resiliency into the island’s economy and infrastructure.
“We had a visible impact in the areas where we worked,” said Dean Mary Pearl, who guided and worked alongside the students. “But we know the impact was tiny in light of the need. The big impact is on the students and their goals. They are educated and motivated to advocate for marginalized communities and for environmental justice.”
JetBlue made this trip possible with a generous air travel donation.
Veronica Maldonado Director of Student Services, and Macaulay students, Destany Batista and Annmarie Gajdos speak about the recovery efforts with WABC-TV on Tiempo! Watch Here