Thirteen Lawrence Woodmere Academy students traveled to San Juan in order to help the Hurricane Maria-devastated island from Feb. 13 to 18. Through two reforestation projects and a beach cleanup, the LWA students helped transform a humble community in Puerto Rico. It was an absolute honor to be one of these students.
The first morning, we all woke up early to watch the sunrise on the beautiful beach. We looked around at each other excitedly, ready for a day of work at the Wetland Reforestation Service Learning Project.
We found ourselves in an old school that has not been reopened since the hurricane. We learned that Puerto Rico is still struggling greatly a year later. Much of the population lives in great poverty.
We then took a tour of the forest. We found that not many trees survived the hurricane because they were not native to the land. We were told that we needed to replant the mangrove trees (which are native to the land) so that future hurricanes will not leave the forests so bare.
With this in the back of our minds, we sat around in the humble community and packaged the new mangroves in soil as to prepare them for the forest. Listening to music got us through the day of hard work. But our time with this project was not done.
The next day, we went back to the Wetland Reforestation Service Learning Project. We found ourselves back in the forest, not to plant the mangroves, but to prepare the land for them. With rakes, machetes and shovels in hand, we began hard, manual labor.
As the rain poured down on us while we pulled at the tough weeds, we could not have been more grateful to be helping out a place that truly needed us. By the end of our two days there, we could all see the difference we had made. The leading volunteers at the project repeatedly thanked us, and sent us on our way.
The last day of work came and went quickly. We attended the Coastal Care Service Learning Program, to help clean up the dirty beach. Collectively, we gathered roughly 126 pounds of trash, compiled of bottles, cigarette butts, and even toilets. After finishing the beach cleanup, three groups were made.
One group painted murals along the fences bordering the beach, one worked more on reforestation, and one learned about microplastics in the oceans affecting both animal, and human life. We finished this day off immersed in Afro-Puerto Rican culture as we learned how to dance the bomba. This was most certainly a highlight of the trip, as we moved to something many of us had never heard before.
While service was the main focal point of the trip, we did get a chance to tour the beautiful city of old San Juan. We learned about the culture through our salsa lesson.
We enjoyed delicious mofongo (a traditional Puerto Rican food) during our cooking class. And most importantly, the 13 of us became a family. This was the most incredible experience for all of us.
We will forever remember what we learned in these six days, making us stronger and better people.