Global Volunteers’ first team of volunteers to Puerto Rico served in Aguadilla at the end of January 2023. Situated on the western coast of the island, Aguadilla is among the most beautiful communities and all of Puerto Rico. Eight volunteers and two Global Volunteers staff reported a meaningful week of service, conducted against a beautiful ocean backdrop. Everyone was welcomed by local community partners with open arms in fully engaged in service to the community. Volunteers’ primary community work projects were teaching conversational English at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR), helping pack and distribute food at the Asociacion Pro Bienestar Maria de Aguada Food Bank, and conducting an evening English camp in the neighboring town of Rincon.
Volunteers Lindsey, Malinda, and Elsa, who worked at the UPR for most of the week, were extremely impressed with the students’ English skills, dedication, and passion. University staff were equally impressed with the volunteers’ fun and informal activities that helped students gain valuable practice. The lead English professor at the University of Puerto Rico said, “I must emphasize that the volunteer’s visits have been invaluable. Students and faculty members were pleased and appreciated having them in their classrooms. We are looking forward to another round just like this one.”
Betsy and Lizette joined the team at the Pro Bienestar Food Bank and assisted with a variety of projects including sorting clothes and home goods for sale at the thrift store, and helping pack boxes of staple food items that were given to local people in need. Anthony served as a jack of all trades throughout the week, starting in the kitchen. His journal described his multitude of tasks: “I washed pots and pans, chopped tomatoes, green beans, cabbage, onions, and breadfruit, opened and defatted cans of ground beef, and took out the garbage. We prepared ground beef with spices, potatoes and rice, kidney beans, and a salad of cabbage, tomatoes, and green beans. And we had breadfruit which was a first for me. Local volunteers came in and served lunch to people outside…My KP duties were not finished, and I washed up lots of pots and pans and served dishes.” Anthony was also integral in the thrift store and helped build and hang clothing racks and paint shelving.
“This pioneering team has planted seeds and they will bear more fruit.”
Lizette, Puerto Rico volunteer
No inaugural team would be complete without a change in plans. Early in the week, a COVID case necessitated a shift in volunteer assignments, but the team stepped up to meet the challenge and beautifully exemplified flexibility. Brenda and Gail assisted our host Yani Ocasio in cleaning her organization’s (For Such a Time as This) office space and organizing donations. Volunteer Betsy’s journal described the good humor and great progress that was made: “Eons of dust were removed from furniture and blinds and the floor was mopped by a very resourceful crew without a mop – but with the help of Yani’s husband Luis’s shirt!”
During the week, each day was finished with an English language camp in the neighboring town of Rincon. From 5:00 to 6:30 volunteers met with over 50 community members of all different ages and fluency levels to practice their English. Activities ranged from singing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” practicing ordering food in a restaurant, and discussing plans for the future. Isela Ruiz, who works with the local government in Rincon, was happy to report that by the end of the week camp participants calling to confirm their attendance were speaking in English, a first in her experience. Volunteer Lizette summed up the week and its impact by saying, “To our team members & team leaders, a genuine & sincere “Gracias de Corazón” (thank you from my heart). This pioneering team has planted seeds and they will bear more fruit. You all are “Buena Gente” (good people)!”
This team of eight women and two men ranged in age from 27 to 79 and was led by Andrew Philbrook, Global Volunteers General Counsel and RCP Program Director. He was ably assisted by Emily Wood, Global Volunteers Manager of International Operations. All volunteers on this team had previously served or are scheduled to serve again with Global Volunteers – from 1 to 12 times. Collectively, they have volunteered in 15 different countries including Cuba, Mexico, St. Lucia, the USA, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Greece, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Ecuador, Peru, China, and Vietnam. We thank them for their dedication to serving communities around the world and at home in the United States.