Spring Break Service Trip to Puerto Rico Makes a Difference - and Memories for a Lifetime!

by Niya Harden '18 and Brandon Harris '18
Spring Break 2018 proved that students can make a real difference in the world, AND have a wonderful time, as 20 Indian Creek students, 2 friends, and 2 faculty members embarked upon a service trip to Puerto Rico! From Saturday, March 24, through Thursday, March 29, the Indian Creek Upper School students enjoyed a unique opportunity to experience first-hand the aftermath of a natural disaster. The group met individuals and families who are survivors of the category 5 hurricane that devastated the island last fall and heard stories of hope, courage, and resiliency. The Creekers worked hard in order to give back to children and families who have suffered devastation, and experienced the pride of acting selflessly in an effort to lift others up. They rolled up their sleeves, got dirty and worked side by side with others for humanitarian relief, at schools, orphanages, and in villages, and experienced a community rebuilding itself like no other. The group also enjoyed many of the unique, fun, and entertaining features that Puerto Rico is known for.

On Saturday, March 24, the Indian Creek group arrived in San Juan, Puerto Rico. After leaving the airport, they visited Sra. Garcia’s mother in her apartment in San Juan. They next embarked on a tour of Old San Juan, enjoying a snack similar to an Icee from the locals. They toured around the governor’s house, and met lots of stray cats. After dinner, the group travelled an hour to Fajardo, where they spent their first night on the island.   

On Sunday, the group travelled to La Perla in Old San Juan (This is where the Despacito music video was filmed). For lunch, Indian Creek students ate at a home in La Perla owned by a woman named Tuti. Living conditions in La Perla were very poor. Chickens, dogs, and cats ran wild there. In La Perla, ICS students picked up trash, built a roof over a picnic area, painted murals on the walls of the picnic area where the children play, painted lines along the street, and gardened.  

Monday began with a 30 minute walk to El Tamarindo, to the Centro San Francisco School,located in an impoverished area in Ponce, Puerto Rico. There are only about ten students in each grade there. The school was closed that week, because of religious holidays but the seniors came into school on their day off to meet with the Creekers. None of the students there spoke English, so the Indian Creek students spoke completely in Spanish. At the school, the Creekers painted to brighten up the area. The students asked Brandon Harris to show them a picture of Indian Creek, and when he did, they said that it looked like a university. 

Tuesday morning, the group drove into the center of the island to the town of Adjuntas.  In this town, more homes were without water and power. The students visited an environmental protection agency known as Casa Puebla. This organization has earned national awards in the United States for their efforts to preserve the environment. Many of the students bought fresh coffee beans there, since Puerto Rican coffee is supposed to have a special flavor. Something that the teens found interesting is that while in Casa Puebla, they heard loud reggaton music playing outside and realized that it was a funeral procession that was blasting the music. When sad events occur in Puerto Rico, music is played loudly to bring people together. For example, when the people protest against the government, they play loud music in front of government buildings and dance together. After lunch at a panaderia, the group went to Utuado which is a town in the mountains, navigating up narrow roads that had many turns. In Utuado, people have gone for three months without water and electricity. Here, the Creekers met a professional marathon runner named Luis Collazo and his wife, who is a nurse in a blood lab. In Utuado, the group painted a basketball court and the surrounding structures. As soon as they finished painting, it started to pour down rain, and all of the paint was washed off of the court. This taught the students a valuable lesson: as people in Puerto Rico attempt to get back on their feet, but a natural disaster eventually comes and makes them return to square one.  
After Utuado, the group drove to Parguera which was towards the southwest corner of the island to enjoy dinner, and take a swim in they Bioluminescent Bay. The students rode a boat to the bay, where they all jumped in the water and watched the water around them glow. It was an amazing experience!  

On Wednesday, the students visited a marina in Fajardo (on the Northeast corner of the island). From there, they rode a boat to multiple small islands off the coast of Puerto Rico. One of the islands that they visited was where Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. At one point, the group stopped in the middle of the water and went snorkeling. The water was clear, so they could see the bottom, and see the coral reefs and tropical fish that surrounded them. They enjoyed their final dinner poolside at the hotel.  

For their final day on Thursday, the group explored a part of San Juan that was heavily populated with Afro-Caribbeans called Loíza. They visited the home of a famous Puerto Rican artist name Samuel Lind, who has art displayed in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Samuel Lind apparently lost a lot of art during the hurricane, and he is still recovering. Many of the students bought art from his home.
Before their flight home, the group went to Santruce, Puerto Rico and donated unused soaps collected from the hotels that they stayed at. They also handed out “Creek para Puerto Rico” shirts to homeless people on the streets. In the afternoon, the exhausted students flew home, proud of the help that they provided to the island of Puerto Rico.   The caring, driven, students who participated in the Puerto Rico service trip made a difference and also a ton of memories over Spring Break 2018!