Puerto Rico Schools
In 2017, a category 5 hurricane hit the island of Puerto Rico causing catastrophic devastation... Soon after the storm hit, our Director of Change, Grant Venable, went to the island to serve as a first responder. While working to provide aid and necessities, Grant connected with a local grassroots non-profit community aid organization - Unidos Por Utuado. As the island began to stabilize in the months following Hurricane Maria and the need for crisis aid shift to the need for development aid, the BTCV board of directors fast-tracked our project approval process in order to quickly send a team to the central Utuado mountain region of the island to work at a hard-hit elementary school. At the Judith Vivas Elementary School, the storm had destroyed school's drainage system and washed away the playground area and equipment. The drainage system had to be restored for the school to function, and at BTCV, we have seen the data - and more importantly, experienced the impact first-hand - to know that the opportunity for recreation, sport, and play time is vital for school children's educational, social, and mental health development and success. So, for our first project in Puerto Rico, Hand Delivered Hope came in the form of a complete playground restoration - and anything else that came our way in Utuado.
In January of 2018, the first BTCV team members arrived at the San Juan Airport and headed into the mountains to work with the community of Utuado. The available accommodations for the team were at an abandoned vocational-training boarding school that had running water, bathroom facilities, and bunk racks. These accommodations worked out perfectly as all our Changers kept their "go with the flow" attitude and turned it into a great summer camp bonding experience. Each morning, the team enjoyed breakfast delivered from a local bakery followed by a full day of work. In the evenings, the team would circle up around the campfire and share the day's experiences, their stories, their jokes - and their snacks (usually with a good drink or two).
Playground equipment was locally sourced and thanks to our partners at Unidos Por Utuado it was delivered to the site on time and within budget.
The main portion of the team's physical work involved extensive clearing and re-working of the school's drainage system. To restore it and reduce the future risk for flooding and damage, the water run-off ditch was cleared of storm debris and overgrowth and made deeper, wider and with a safe slope from the front of the property all the way to the back. Then, the team cleared, leveled, and graded the entire playground and recreation area in preparation for the equipment. We were even able to set up a small futbol (soccer) field, which was a big hit with the kids. Even with the help of a professional equipment operator on the team, this was a lot of manual labor! At BTCV, we do what it takes to get the job done. While digging ditches is not glamorous or necessarily a great photo-op, it is what was needed for this project to ensure that the school and the playground would stay high and dry, even during the next storm season.
Some of BTCV's supporters live on the island of Puerto Rico and took time out from their jobs and family - and their own recovery efforts - to drive across the island and spend time working alongside our team as local volunteers. This is such an important part of the buy-in for sustainability for our projects and we appreciate their sacrifices tremendously!
The 2018 BTCV team was also able to create and furnish a completely new play space for the younger children in an area that was safe and easily accessed and monitored by their teachers complete with a retaining wall, commercial-grade gate, and safety fence.
Volunteers also worked on a new sensory table for students with special needs and replaced damaged and lost trees and plants around campus.
For our Puerto Rico projects, our needs analysis process has worked to identify a number of other aspects of campus infrastructure, resourcing and equipping that need our work and support. Prior to project approval by our board of directors, BTCV evaluators visit each site and conduct interviews with all the local stakeholders to ensure real collaboration regarding prioritized needs and optimal solutions to support education. The shared goals, priorities, and mechanisms are included in the two-stage application process for board approval for fundraising and team building. For our Puerto Rico projects, a broad spectrum of construction, renovation and resourcing projects have been approved and completing including playgrounds, art and music supplies, libraries, student healthcare supplies, and campus beautification materials.
This process also helps team leaders to direct volunteers onsite and make the many on-the-ground decisions and adjustments required to keep each project on track and on mission.
You can't talk about Puerto Rico without covering the food, music and culture! From rich local cafe con leche with delicious baked goods for breakfast to the perfect tripleta sandwiches for lunch - and of course who can visit Puerto Rico without enjoying an authentic lechonera (slow roasted pork). The food is amazing! Combine all of that with salsa dancing and the local arts and you have one amazing and enriching adventure!
In 2018, the first BTCV team went to Puerto Rico with many unknowns in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Fortunately, the project at Judith Vivas Elementary was very successful and has been sustained well by the local community. The successful partnerships with the Utuado community and Unidos Por Utuado provided a great foundation for BTCV to return to Puerto Rico annually to expand our work on the island. We are grateful to our partners and supporters in Puerto Rico who continue to work with school districts to identify schools in need of education focused development aid.
In 2019, BTCV sent a volunteer team to Adjuntas, which is also in the Central Mountain region of Puerto Rico. This was a special international team that included volunteers from multiple parts of the USA and South Africa. This BTCV team removed huge stumps in the playground area of Escuela Domingo Pietri Ruiz that remained after Maria, cleared massive areas of mudslide, provided new plants for landscaping projects, painted classrooms, installed playground equipment, resourced art, music, and student health supply needs, and delivered over $2,000 in new library books!
In 2020, despite recent major earthquakes affecting the island, a team of brave Changers traveled to the nearby town of Jayuya to provide development aid to the Angelica Toro Rodriguez Elementary School. The team built and installed custom-designed playground equipment, funded new, locally fabricated and professionally installed playground equipment, painted murals and sidewalk games, removed stumps, planted trees and delivered over $2,000 worth of brand new library books to this thriving community school.
We are excited for the future in Puerto Rico! To learn more about joining a team contact us!