Led by Crime & Justice Studies professors Katie Krafft and Heather Turcotte, 12 students spent part of their winter break on a service-learning trip to Plenitud, an educational and service-based farm in the western mountains of Puerto Rico.
Sending them to Puerto Rico was a collaborative effort—they received funding from groups across the university including the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, Office of Student Affairs, Frederick Douglass Unity House, Student Government Association, Graduate Student Senate, and United Latino Society.
On the Plenitud farm, the students learned about permaculture and the water filtration practices that were essential to the community post-Hurricane Maria. When the municipal water supply went out during their trip, the group experienced firsthand how important it was for the local community to work together.
“The work ethic there is really different. They have to work together in order to survive, and it was a really beautiful thing to be part of that community and learn from their culture,” said Bailey Sweet ’20, psychology.
In addition to their work at Plenitud, the students volunteered at three other locations including a rehabilitative farm and a high school where they taught gardening and yoga. They were able to overcome language barriers by teaching the local students step dancing.
MBA student Suthida Frank appreciated how the experience provided her with a new worldview: “Interacting with another culture makes you realize you are a citizen of a global community.”
When a snowstorm at home in Massachusetts unexpectedly extended their stay, the students were able to put that mindset into practice. After the initial panic wore off, they realized they could rely on each other. Their canceled flight was a blessing in disguise. During their extra time in Puerto Rico, the students were able to view a blood moon and visit a private waterfall.
The difficult hike to the waterfall was one of the more memorable moments for Kyle Pacheco ’19, biology. “People were carrying each other, which I think is a metaphor for life. We need to rely on people and work together as a community. At the end, we saw something that was really beautiful. Even though everything was rough leading up to that, we were able to get to the end goal.”
All of the students have found ways to incorporate what they learned in Puerto Rico into their daily lives once they returned home, from starting their own gardens to making plans to study abroad. For illustration major Grechel Rosado ’20, the trip was an opportunity to return to her homeland, which she left in her early childhood. “I felt so disconnected from my roots. Being able to go back and immerse myself in my own culture was something I needed to do to understand myself and how I can be a better person.”
Rosado received the Swain School of Design Alumni Scholarship this year, which she plans to use to help further her studies in art and social justice. She worked on a series of prints related to Puerto Rico and identity after returning home, and she plans to incorporate service learning into her senior thesis.