Service and learning in Puerto Rico

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In May, Colgate community members traveled to Puerto Rico for a week devoted to hurricane relief. The group performed service work at Plenitud, a non-profit educational farm and learning center located in the mountains of western Puerto Rico near a town called Las Marias.

Associate Professor of English and Africana and Latin American Studies Kezia Page led the group of 10 undergraduates, composed mostly of students enrolled in CORE Caribbean or Introduction to Caribbean Studies.

The 2017 hurricane season was one of the most destructive on record, and it left much of the Caribbean devastated. In late summer of last year, a concerned group of Colgate faculty and staff with ties to the Caribbean met to coordinate hurricane relief efforts.

With the assistance of the Max A. Shacknai Center for Outreach, Volunteerism, and Education (COVE), the group developed the idea of a service trip to Puerto Rico. Provost and Dean of the Faculty Tracey Hucks provided grant funding for the project.

Throughout their stay at Plenitud the group learned about bio-construction, permaculture and sustainable farming. “We planted, harvested, weeded, mulched, cleaned, and assisted in building,” Page said. “We also started a garden at a pre-school in Las Marias.”

Up and out of their tents at 6 a.m. every day, the team helped build earthbag structures, which are resilient to floods and hurricanes. Bags of soil or sand are layered on top of each other, reinforced with barbed wire, and then covered in adobe or concrete.

In the afternoon they gathered to enjoy cultural experiences such as African bomba, a traditional Puerto Rican form of call and response dance, and share a meal of local cuisine. They took classes on ecology and enjoyed the natural environment.

“The people we met, the work we did, and the journeys we took not only bonded us closer as a group, but also granted each of us a more intimate relationship with serving and helping others,” said Molly Adelman ’21. “The trip was truly remarkable in every facet.”

Hucks has arranged funding for two more service trips devoted to hurricane relief with the next group, led by Danny Barreto, assistant professor of LGBTQ studies, departing in May 2019.