Our trip to Puerto Rico was so phenomenal. A big reason our trip was so successful is because it was so well planned out. CCI had everything flawlessly organized. Hector, our guide, was such an amazing person. He met us at their airport and made sure we were always where we needed to be. His wife made us homemade dinners every night. Some of the dinners were authentic Puerto Rican food so we really got to dive into the culture. The lighthouse that we were housed in was in a brilliant location, it felt like we were on top of the world. It had wonderful accommodations, was very clean, and we all felt extremely safe. Everyday we were surrounded by nature and culture. We did some great volunteer work but we also had so many fun things planned for us. We got to see so many aspects of Puerto Rico. From the Mediterranean culture is Old San Juan, to the rain forest, to touring the refuge and of course an entire day spent on the ocean on our last day. We grew pretty fond of the iguanas that were EVERYWHERE! The fish were so brightly colored and the coral was breathtaking. It was a once in a lifetime week!
Several of our days in Puerto Rico were spent working on building benches for an outdoor ecological classroom. We worked with a crew that had been working on the classroom. We spent our time hammering and cutting wood. This was new to a lot of us. It was hard work and there were a lot of bent, crooked nails. But Carlos, our project leader, was so willing to help us out. He said that he loved making mistakes, because there is always a lesson to be learned from every mistake. He helped us through every step and we spent the days working and laughing.
The ecological classroom will be used for people with disabilities. The classroom is in a natural refuge. It will be used to teach people about the various ecosystems found in the area including the mangrove swamp, the dry forest, and of course the ocean! The workers at the refuge are very passionate about their work and they loved sharing their knowledge with us.
On Thursday of our week long trip, we went to the Boys and Girls Club in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We started the day off by helping with some cleaning. The staff at the Boys and Girls Club were all so sweet and so thankful to have our help. We also assembled some office chairs for the club. The boys and girls club had a pizzeria to help establish some of the older children with skills necessary to run a small business. So we enjoyed some tasty pizza and then went for an afternoon walk around the neighborhood.
In the afternoon we had the opportunity to go see an elementary school in the neighborhood. We talked got to see a classroom, the gym, and the library. Finally the children started arriving to the club. They were so excited and all the staff greeted them with so much love and kindness. I spent the afternoon in the library. The language barrier was a bit challenging, but we still had so much fun with them. They helped us practice Spanish and we helped them work on their English. We colored pictures with them, read books, and played games. When we left one little girl hugged me like four times. It was one of the best hugs of all time, so sweet and so sincere. She squeezed me so tight! But all the children spent the afternoon laughing in a positive and safe environment and I feel so blessed to have been apart of their day!
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Woke up early to meet Brenda to go to the KC airport where we would meet the rest of the group. We all made it to the airport and everything went smoothly. Both flights going to Puerto Rico were fine and we made it to Puerto Rico in good time. We met our coordinator, Hector, and he took us to our lighthouse! The traffic was so bad that we were not able to make it to our lighthouse until after dark. We explored the inside of the lighthouse and it was absolutely beautiful! Later that night, Hector brought us a home cooked Puerto Rican meal that his wife made for us! So delicious!
Monday, March 23, 2015
We all woke up really early to see what outside of our lighthouse looked like! We all took so many pictures and couldn’t believe what an amazing view we had! We did not have to do any service work because it was a holiday in Puerto Rico. Therefore, Hector took us to see some major tourist attractions! We went to Old San Juan and went to a castle! We walked the beautiful cobblestone streets and were in awe over the beautiful architecture of the buildings! We did some souvenir shopping and then went to the El Yunque rainforest! It was raining a little, so the trail was slick, but we hiked in the rainforest to get to a beautiful waterfall! Three of us hiked as far as we could go to get to a main part of the waterfall. It was absolutely gorgeous and the water felt so refreshing after that long hike to get there! After that, we came back and got ready for supper that Hector brought that his wife prepared.
Tuesday March 24, 2015
We woke up in good time so we could meet Eduardo and Carlos. We went on a tour and learned about our lighthouse, the rocky beach and all about the mangrove trees and how to identify the different species of them. We came back for our lunch break and then when with a group of Puerto Ricans, who were so nice, to build benches for an outdoor ecological classroom. We had to build these benches all my hand and with no power tools except for the electric saws. We were hammering around 3 inch hurricane-resistant nails into treated, weathered wood, and it was hard work! I was so thankful that the men were so patient because I kept messing up my nails, and instead of getting mad and doing it for me, these men helped me fix my messed up nails, so I could finish what I started! These men were also hilarious, especially Carlos, who said that he loves to make mistakes, because that’s how he learns! After our service project, we went to the ocean! It was so beautiful and the water was so clear! After the ocean, we got ready for supper that was brought by Hector!
Wednesday March 25, 2105
We got up in good time so we could meet Eduardo so we could go on a long walk to get to a dry forest. Once we finally got there, we measured out 50 meters and identified and measured every tree that was within 1 meter on both sides of our measuring tape. It was very interesting learning about the different species of trees. After that project, we came back to the lighthouse for lunch and then went back to the area where we were at yesterday to finish building our benches. After those were all built, we picked up trash from a beach. It was a beautiful beach and Carlos taught us a lot about the species living in the sandstone and so forth. After that, we went to the beach for a little while, but had to leave early because there was a wedding and because we were tired. We came back to the lighthouse and got ready for supper that Hector brought us.
Thursday March 26, 2015
We woke up early so we could go to the mall real quick to do our last bit of souvenir shopping. We then went to the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico where we did some cleaning for a while. They had a pizzeria in there were they teach kids how to run their own business, so we ate delicious pizza for lunch. After lunch we put together office chairs. After that, they didn’t have anything else for us to do, so we all took a walk around the area. When we came back to the boys and girls club, there was a lady who was going to the neighboring elementary school, so we went with her. The school was really nice and the kids were sweet. After that, we came back to the boys and girls club and got to play and interact with the kids! It was amazing! Even though there was a language barrier, we were still able to communicate in other ways and have a blast! I did not want to leave at all!! After that, we came back to get ready for supper that Hector brought for us!
Friday March 27, 2015
Today we woke up and got ready for our catamaran trip! Our catamaran could hold up to 49 people and there ended up being around 37 people, so it was crowed, but fun! We docked at a key to practice snorkeling and then came back on the catamaran for lunch that they prepared for us! We then went to another key that was private and stopped by a coral reef. We all snorkeled near the coral reef and saw tropical fish! It was absolutely amazing!! We came back around 3:30 where Hector picked us up to take us back to the lighthouse. We all showered up, packed, and waited for supper.
Saturday March 28, 2015
Bittersweet day. We loaded up Hector’s vehicle and went to the airport. We made it to Miami and had a 5 1/2 hour layover where we ate and relaxed. Then we had our fight for Kansas City and we made it back to Maryville be around 11:00 pm that night.
This trip was amazing and I did not want it to end. I would go back to Puerto Rico in a heartbeat! The people were so wonderful there and we all made so many memories! I didn’t experience any culture shock. I learned and gained so much from this trip! I am so thankful that I was able to participate in the service work that they had lined up for us and to work with a wonderful group of girls!
- Community Collaborations International is a program that organizes teams of volunteers from universities and colleges across the country and put them to work where help is needed.
- Community Collaborations International was founded in 1994 and has managed over 5,000 volunteers from over 70 universities and other groups providing disaster relief and completing environmental and human service projects nationally and internationally.
- CCI serves as your volunteer team so you can focus on direct community service. They help with planning so when you get to your destination you can jump right into serving.
- CCI offers many locations and a variety of projects addressing issues such homelessness, the environment, disaster relief, early childhood education, etc. Their international locations include: Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rico, Panama, and Ecuador. Their domestic locations include: Mississippi, Louisiana, and San Francisco Bay Area.