Puerto Rico Spring Break Service Trip

“I’m grateful for all the basic needs I had considered necessities prior to our trip: cold drinking water, warm showers, a bed, hygiene, and the list goes on. By forfeiting these luxuries I was able to fully immerse myself in a culture that exposed me to how the greatness of human potential lies in community.

The continental United States has failed miserably to provide sufficient support to Puerto Rico. Financial negligence occurred most heavily because of political divides. America’s primary concern was to bolster political agendas by contracting with incompetent institutions to provide disaster relief. Mismanagement quickly ensued, making many people wealthy while providing little to no support for Puerto Rico.

Because of this unfortunate circumstance, Puerto Ricans looked to each other for help. “Love thy neighbor” is a Puerto Rican philosophy which is tangible there. The love and support shown to each other was beautiful.

Beyond this, the respect and appreciation shown towards us was sincere. The people of Puerto Rico accepted our help with open arms, despite the ways our government has failed them. I am grateful for the experience, my peers, and the faculty, but most significantly for the people of Puerto Rico for bringing us into their community. It really shows that the efforts of a community is stronger than the efforts of an individual.”

-Cortland Coleman ’19

The Hyde Wilderness School’s spring break service program went back to Puerto Rico for its second consecutive year! Again, we were very excited to be of assistance to our neighbors, as well as to continue to build strong partnerships with people who share a commitment to bettering communities and our environment.

Our first day we spent participating in a river cleanup. We piled kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddle boards high with collected river trash. We then categorized and documented items into the American Canoe Association (ACA) worldwide water cleanup project. We estimated a few hundred pounds were retrieved and everyone had a blast in the collecting effort! Thanks to Omar ‘Bear’ Ramos and Jessica Del Valle for hosting us at their beautiful site Paddle Paradise for the week.

Last year, the Hyde Wilderness spring break program stayed at the Equus Center of Puerto Rico, an equine therapy farm that serves the island. While there, we helped clean up and repair damage from hurricane Maria. This year we returned to extend our gratitude and painted the main house for our gracious host, Edmundo Jimenez. More good things are in the works with our alliance with Edmundo and the Equus Center, stay tuned!

Our third project was painting at the Humacao Community Park, which sits on top of a mountain. We painted the fence around the perimeter as well as the inside of a new building, made some fur friends, Flaco and Sanchez, ate some great food, some of which came from the community garden, enjoyed the gorgeous views, and were treated to a musical performance by the Puerto Rican bomba ensemble Bule’Muraycua. Students and staff also had an opportunity to learn and try local dances and drumming. Many thanks to our very knowledgeable and kind host from the Humacao Community Center, Francisco Nieves.

After spending most of our time on the eastern side of the island in Gurabo and Humacao, our group packed up camp and headed to the south western side to La Parguera to spend a day snorkeling on a coral reef and swimming in the bioluminescent bay at night. We had a chance to see so many neat sea creatures, and the bio bay was incredible. Magical moments were shared by all.

The last volunteer project brought us up the west coast of the island to Rincon to work with rescued horses at Defensa Animal Rincon de Puerto Rico. Everyone enjoyed giving some love and grooming to Bolero and Betty, two horses that were completely emaciated when they were found and are now in much better shape thanks to all the volunteers who continue to love these beautiful beasts. Special thanks to Cynthia Calvin who orchestrates the rescue program.

Some other highlights of the week included an intense game of kickball, music and laughter around the campfire, exploring and swimming in a local river, pick up basketball with local kids, and capturing a sick puppy and taking him to the vet to receive care. The students named him ‘Rico Gurabo’ and there is exciting news that wilderness staff member Megan-Mack Nicholson will be adopting him and bringing him home to Maine once he is better.

On our last day, everyone had a chance to cruise around Old San Juan and do a little souvenir shopping before catching the flight home. Spring break in Puerto Rico has once again been a memorable experience. Of the trip, Lily Huettel ’22 said,

“Doing the service work over the trip was my highlight. I really did enjoy working out there and helping out. Giving back to the community and talking with some of the other volunteers really made me forget my struggles and the hard time I was going through. Seeing the work we did when it was completed was pretty cool. I connected with some of the other students (Cortland, Brian, Robbie) on this trip that I didn’t think I would have. They were there for me and had my back and I was very grateful for that.”

The Hyde Wilderness Program has much gratitude for everyone who has worked hard to make this trip happen, our students who continue to lead with their hearts, and the strengthening of our relationship and alliance with an amazing place and caring people. Puerto Rico has a special place in our hearts and we can’t wait to do it again next year!

To find pictures and videos of the trip go to the Hyde Wilderness page on Facebook.