Grass Roots Volunteering In Puerto Rico
If there was something I learned during my time in Puerto Rico, it is to be prepared for change. It was my first time getting involved in grass-root volunteering. In contrast to my other adventures in which I have an idea of all I will be facing, this was completely different and I must say it contributed to my life positively.
After spending a month volunteering at the Food Bank in Banco De Alimentos (Food Bank) I knew there was going to come a time when I have to leave my friend’s apartment and move on to the next location or next person to help in Puerto Rico. However, my exit came sooner than expected because his grandmother’s health took a turn for the worse at the hospital. This prompted various visits from family members, loved ones and it meant I had to give up the room I was staying. Within 24 hours I had to pack up my belongings and find my next location even though I was not ready. I reached out to a good friend of mine, Jojo Sekimonyo an author who is a fellow traveler and writes about social economic injustice, who was visiting in Puerto Rico and was traveling with his wife Tara , which I both met in Myanmar when we are volunteering in a Buddhist monastery . Thankfully, he agreed to let me travel with him. Knowing what I was into - volunteering, he knew I might not have much money and was generous enough to fund our accommodation, feeding, and travels. Below is a Picture of Jo being silly helping one of our Friends Ricky in his Eco Village.
Through my friend, I got exposed to a different aspect of traveling and learned new ways to approach people in a certain country even was able to make time to visit the famous black sand beach. We spent a lot of time asking questions, like how the residents currently live their lives, their opinion as regards the political situation of the state and other touchy topics such as the racial inequality in Puerto Rico. In other words, the few days we spent together was nothing short of amazing! I also continued the search for my next project by constantly emailing different people. For a while, it seemed nobody was getting back to me but finally, I was able to get in touch with Carol . She was someone I already talked to when I first arrived at Puerto Rico we never able to coordinate a convenient time until now, she needed help with some construction projects on her house that got damaged by the hurricane. Talk about perfect timing considering my current situation.
I stayed a few more days in the apartment with my friend Jo , after his departure , I knew I needed a new place to stay before I get sent out. I contacted another friend Ricky again after seeing him the a previous week with Jo. This was someone I met through our medecine family from a friend of mine Patty who I actually met along my travels a year ago in Thailand, its funny how these connections help you all over the world. He was gracious enough to let me stay in his house for 3-4 days and I was also able to help him with his own project building an eco village in arecibo, while I prepared to move to the other side of Puerto Rico in Ponce.
Me and Ricky on our way to the eco village with the kids =)
After experiencing a great ordeal of lack of accommodation and a project to pursue, everything turned out well as always. After I finally arrived in Ponce, I was welcomed with open arms and was told to feel at home. “Feel free to sleep on the couch”, she said and despite Carol telling me they did not have much to offer, the little they had done meant the world to me!
My time with the family lasted for about 2 weeks, I would of stayed for a bit longer but it however it was time to move on. During those time, I did some serious hard work and as it was my first time getting involved in grass root volunteering, it was a remarkable experience! Lifted concrete, rebuilt damaged walls, got on top the roof, got stung by a bee. Not just that, I was also invited to various gatherings and got a chance to connect with everyone including their mother and step-father. We ended the amazing week with exquisite parties (pool party included).
During my stay with Carol, I already started working on my obtaining contacts for my next project . The good thing was she told me they love having me here and I was welcomed to stay for as long as I want until I clench my next project. When it seemed that no one was reaching out to me, and was uncertain of my future, in passing I asked her if she knew someone by any chance who needed some help. Little did I know she had the contact the entire time with a friend of her, who knew of a another volunteering project involved in grass root volunteering like myself. Within few minutes she was able to connect me with Tiffany from Cajun Commissary who was working on a project in Lares Puerto Rico in a restaurant know as El Taino.
Heading straight to my next project, a volunteer/ relief shelter made me feel great! The main concept behind this journey to project was to be a place to distribute supplies to the community of lares , Puerto Rico and a place where volunteers could find a place to stay while they go on their missions through Puerto Rico and I was happy to be of help. The surprising thing about this new project of mine was that I had already been there during my first week in Puerto Rico when I was volunteering at the Food Bank and had previously taken a tour of the shetler with Suzanne Van Atten a reporter and her friend shelly and our photographer