Fajardo, Puerto RicoCaribbean Mar 4th, 2017 to Mar 12th, 2017
Trip Logistics & Participant Requirements:
We will be living in paradise for the week, staying in Fajardo, Puerto Rico at “El Faro”, a historic lighthouse on Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve through our partner organizations Community Collaborations International and Para la Naturaleza. We will have access to safe and clean sleeping areas, clean and functional bathroom facilities, showers, sanitary food services, medical support, onsite communications, electricity, wi-fi, and fresh water. Our partner organization will arrange home-cooked meals for the week, so we’ll have the opportunity to try lots of authentic Puerto Rican food!
Our group will fly out of Dulles airport in Washington, D.C. and fly into San Juan Luis Munoz Marin International Airport and be met by our volunteer coordinator on Saturday, March 4. We will be dropped off at the airport by the coordinator and will return to UVA on Saturday, March 11. There is no language requirement for the trip, but speaking Spanish will be helpful for interacting with the locals and learning about their culture from their perspective. Participants should be willing to work hard, rain or shine, be flexible, and have fun!
Our projects in Puerto Rico will address issues such as youth education, hunger, homelessness, and the environment. We will work on projects for environmental conservation and ecosystem restoration at Las Cabezas de San Juan (a nature reserve in Fajardo), ranging from cleaning beach coasts, to planting trees, and constructing wooden tables and chairs. We will learn from the bilingual staff members about the environmental ecosystems and conditions in Puerto Rico, including the bioluminescent lagoon, mangroves, coral reefs, dry forests, and sandy/rocky beaches. In addition to environmental work, we will work with Las Margaritas Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico, improving the facility in the morning and working directly with youth in the afternoon, helping with homework, assisting with recreational activities, and helping them practice speaking English. Our mission working at the Boys and Girls Club is to inspire the children to finish school and encourage them to pursue higher education.
Puerto Rico is an archipelago in the northeastern part of the Caribbean. It is a territory of the United States, officially known as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or “Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico”, and was acquired from Spain through the Treaty of Paris in 1898. Puerto Rico has a population of around 3.5 million, making it a highly population dense area. The dominant language is Spanish, and the dominant ethnicity is Hispanic. Being able to speak Spanish will be beneficial, but it is not a requirement. Puerto Rico has a dynamic economy, heavily influenced by tourism. However, 41% of the population lives below the poverty line, the highest percentage of poverty in the United States, and, as of recently, Puerto Rico has declared bankruptcy, an issue facing Congress and the Supreme Court today. Nevertheless, Puerto Ricans are congenial and hospitable, and the island of Puerto Rico boasts a rich history, tropical climate, diverse natural environments, and a distinct culture, characterized by lots of music, dancing, and good food!
We will be staying in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, located on the northeast corner of the island where the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea meet. Fajardo is known as “La Metrópolis del Sol Naciente”, or the city that guards the sun of the Caribbean. The city lies north of the island of Vieques, close to El Yunque National Forest, and only about an hour from the Puerto Rican capital, San Juan. Its location lends itself to diverse ecological aspects and beautiful scenery. The climate is tropical, with the temperature on average between 71 and 85 degrees. We will be doing much of our volunteering in Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, which, within its 316 acres represents 7 different ecosystems. A 19th century lighthouse overlooks the reserve, providing beautiful views of El Yunque National Rainforest, both the northern and eastern coastlines, and even the Virgin Islands in the distance. Fajardo is close to several uninhabited islands and coral reefs, and as such, is a major center for boating. Its other manufacturing industries include cigars, furniture, and metal and electronic components.
We will be within walking distance of a beautiful, private beach on Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve, which we will have access to throughout our trip. One day we will go kayaking in a bioluminescent lagoon, learning about the bioluminescent organisms in that habitat. Another day, we will go on a catamaran trip to a nearby island, where we will learn about coral reefs and will have the opportunity to snorkel in the area. Furthermore, we will hike in El Yunque National Park, a rainforest protected by the government, to learn more about conservation efforts throughout the island and Puerto Rico’s diverse ecosystems. Finally, on the last day before our flight back, we will visit the historic old city of San Juan, visiting El Morro to learn more about Puerto Rico’s colonial history.
About the Site Leaders:
Emily is a 2nd year who is planning on majoring in Foreign Affairs and Global Development, with a minor in East Asian Studies. She and Isabella met on the ASB trip last year to Puerto Rico. Emily loves traveling and exploring new cultures, is proficient in Spanish and Chinese, enjoys spending time with her friends and family, doing volunteer work, hiking, kayaking, taking yoga classes, casual photography, eating at yummy restaurants, and all things coffee. She is very excited to eat Puerto Rican plantains again, and hopes to wake up in time to see the sunrise from the lighthouse this year!
Isabella is a 4th year student majoring in Psychology. She was born and raised in the Dominican Republic, a country very similar to Puerto Rico in all aspects, so Spanish is her first language. She is open to new experiences, likes meeting new people, watching movies at the local movie theater, read random books from Alderman, and spending afternoons at cool coffee shops. She loves the tranquility and peace that nature has to offer, and is looking forward to work hard and relax in the beautiful land of Puerto Rico!
My favorite memory of ASB was when we worked at the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico. I made a special connection with a couple of children there, and in less than half an hour, they all considered me their best friend and it was very hard for me to leave them when the day was over. You get to appreciate the genuine kindness of children and I felt like I learned way much more from the children there than what they were supposed to learn from us that day. — Isabella
One thing that I really loved about my ASB trip last year was getting to know the locals that we worked with on the nature reserve. While we were working, we got to ask them lots of questions about life in Puerto Rico, and we really got to look at things from a new perspective. All the people we worked with from Para la Naturaleza were so genuine and interesting to talk to. They are passionate about what they do and so thankful for even the seemingly little things we did to help them. — Emily