Learning how to create teams outside the classroom and in local communities.
Puerto Rico is known globally as the star island of the Caribbean, our people and our music have made us famous. When I studied at IE (I graduated from the Master in Corporate Communications in 2016) I was impressed by the amount of cultures and communities that had learned to work together for a common purpose.
In fact, it still is, but I now have a new perspective. Hurricane Maria impacted my island on the 20th of September, needless to say that it’s been one of the toughest experiences I have endured. What’s interesting is that despite such a hectic environment, I’ve discovered a beautiful side of my people: blind solidarity.
If there is one thing that drives our residents it is the need to help each other out and help our island grow stronger. Weekly or weekend volunteer opportunities became a staple for many of us immediately after the hurricane. During these volunteer trips I saw not just the solidarity of our residents, but our determination to work together in teams. During my visit to a neighborhood in Toa Baja (a city in the island), full houses had been destroyed, metal roofs had been ripped off of buildings, and walls had collapsed. Our team of volunteers had no idea how we were going to start cleaning the debris. During that day and under a blistering sun, teams started to form impressively between the volunteers and the community residents. Local children were suddenly running to help pile metal panels that could be recycled for future roofs, older residents were sorting items that were to be discarded or salvaged, and community leaders were walking us through all the effort the area was undertaking to recuperate.
There is no doubt that so many days after the catastrophe, we still have a long way to go if we wish to recover. It’s been three months and still many parts of the country are without electricity, drinking water, or access to basic food supplies. Just to provide an example, only 68% of the island has power, and even those who have power have no guarantee that it is consistent.
Nevertheless, amazing things are happening in the island, different foundations have mobilized full working days for volunteer brigades, conservation initiatives have been working tirelessly to provide filters for fresh clean drinking water to communities all over the island, organizations have provided business guidance to kick-start the local economy, and numerous international service men and women have flown in to provide direct relief. We also wanted to be part of this movement.
As fellow IE alumni, Lauriann Renta (a Masters in Management 2016 graduate) and myself have learned more about the importance of contributing to a cause or initiative. Our year in Madrid took us on academic journey that exceeded our expectations, but more than anything, it showed us the importance of collaboration. During this volunteer opportunities we realized our shared goal to help collectively create stronger and more resilient communities. This lead us to search for ways to give back to our community on this troubled time.
After the Hurricane, much of the aid in Puerto Rico was focused on the distribution of supplies, water, and generators. Since there was already so much help destined to these fields, we searched for alternate ways to help. During our search, a friend mentioned the volunteer brigades that were being coordinated by a local organization. Since we had seen first-hand the benefits of working directly with communities, we decided to partner with Mentes Puertorriqueñas en Acción (MPA), as volunteers for their volunteer brigades called #EnAcción. MPA is a non-profit 501c3 organization that is actively training young change agents in Puerto Rico.
Why did we join forces with MPA?
After studying at IE, we both knew how indispensable it was to work in teams, and with informed communities willing to collaborate. This, combined with our need to do something different for the Island, made this organization ideal. During the #EnAcción brigades the volunteers and local community members pick up debris, organize supplies-like food, water, and first-aid, register uncommunicated citizens, and collect community census about immediate needs with MPA’s partner ConnectRelief.com.
One of the biggest impacts of volunteering is the opportunity to experience the hard work needed to rebuild even a school and then reap the rewards when you help out. In some cases, the rewards we have seen are not only of a school being prepared to attempt a normal academic school year, but of the gratitude felt by those you help. This reward for our service far outweighs the long hours or and early mornings. I remember vividly after we helped a small public school in the south of the island, through MPA and their partnership with Instituto Nueva Escuela how the director of the school could barely contain his tears as he thanked us. We’d had a long day fixing fencing and cleaning the small school’s grounds and in the end, he reminded us through choked up words that our impact was so much bigger than one day of work. We were not only helping a community, but had also helped children begin to lead normal lives and go back to school. Our impact was much more significant than we had anticipated.
But more than anything, through this initiative we have personally witnessed the impact made. Until today, the #EnAcción volunteers and leaders have participated in 27 brigades in 17 municipalities (in Puerto Rico we have 78 municipalities), and have collected information from 454 families in 13 communities. These efforts sum up to a titanic number of hours committed to Puerto Rico’s recovery: 2,368 hours of volunteer work!
Want to help?
You can contact us here.
Let’s help Puerto Rico… as one team.
Cecile Rivera, MCC 2016 Alumni