We were the first of the OpenWorld Student Teams to travel to Puerto Rico. The group had no concept of the work we would do and the emotions that we would experience on the trip to this tropical island. We were to spend a full month working on business and residential construction projects across the island and no one on our team had a formal education in construction but we were told that would be provided, still, the task was a bit daunting. One of the first projects we attached was working with the PR National Guard in Salinas to assist the Guardsmen in rebuilding their homes that still had not been repaired since Maria as the guard members were off helping the rest of the island. Sergent Santiago was the first property that we visited, and it was a shock for sure.
We spent several days dedicated to Sgt. Santiago who had lost the roof to his family home during the hurricane. The process included removing the temporary tin roof, to be replaced by wooden beams and plywood that would act as a mold for when the new concrete roof was poured. During the two days of labor, we became acquainted with Santiago and his family, including his mother in law and one and a half-year-old son. His mother in law confided in us that ever since the hurricane back in September, she had lost many things. Among these things were her kitchen, appliances, and her fruit-bearing trees on the property. Yet most importantly she had lost her hope that one day their lives would return to normal as it was before Maria. As we were leaving their home on the second day, the molds finished and in place, she pulled us aside and told us that we had returned her hope. With the roof back on her home, she would finally be able to clean and bring in new (working) appliances and recreate her home from the mess that Maria had left behind. She told us that life was beginning to look a little brighter.
Sgt. Santiago is an excellent teacher and we learned so much during this construction project that then allowed us to take those skills and use it on the other projects we conducted. Thank you, OpenWorld Relief for giving us the opportunity to learn, help, and grow with the experiences we now have and the time on the island.