NWU’s Servant Hearts: Spring Break in Puerto Rico

This photo was taken at one of the worksites. Pictured is (back row left to right) the owner of the house, Ramón (ReHace worker), Tess Nottleman, Drew Damme, Brooke Novak, Luís (ReHace worker & foreman) front row left to right: Abi Nelson, Morgan Lowery, Hope Fett, and Eduardo Bousson.

Every college student dreams of spring break. The much needed break from classes, finally getting rid of that chilling Nebraska winter, and traveling with your best friends. Twelve Nebraska Wesleyan students decided they wanted to do all of this while also being a part of something bigger than themselves. They, alongside campus minister Eduardo Bousson, traveled to Puerto Rico for a service trip from March 7th to March 14th to help with clean up and the rebuilding of the island after Hurricane Maria devastated the land in 2017.

 

As soon as junior Tess Nottlemen heard about this opportunity, she knew it was a trip she wanted to take. “The summer after my senior year, I had the opportunity to go to Puerto Rico with a small group from my high school. Three months after we returned to Nebraska, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. It was crazy to think that not only three months earlier I was in places that were now completely gone. I heard about this trip and knew that I wanted to go back and be able to help in any way I could. I loved Puerto Rico the minute I got there the first time and just wanted to be able to return and help a place that holds a special place in my heart.”

 

Students worked with ReHace, a non-profit organization formed after the Hurricane with a focus on the physical and emotional needs of families to strengthen the community they are a part of. Students spent the majority of the trip staying at a ReHace camp in Arecibo, a city of just under 100,000 people on the Northwest coast of the island. The 12 students were broken into two separate groups to begin working on their projects. One group worked with a couple who had completely lost the roof of their home during the hurricane. In just a matter of three days, students worked alongside workers from ReHace and managed to clear the area of piles and piles of trash that had washed up, cut down invading trees, tear off the old roof of the house, and replace it with a new one. At the end of their experience, the residents had a new roof, and the students had a new vision of service, teamwork, and gratitude. ReHace foreman Luís stated that he felt grateful for the students’ work because “what they have accomplished in three days would have taken us weeks to get done.”

 

The second group worked in another home plastering walls. This was a learning process for students as they had to mix the cement, put it on the walls, and ensure that it was smooth using the “flota” tool. Students in this group also sifted sand for hours upon hours. This group learned many valuable skills they can take into their own lives while also building cherished friendships with the men that worked alongside them, especially ReHace worker, Moisés.

 

First-year student Adin Leibel stated that what he learned most from the trip was that, “People really wanted to feel and spread love. Some people wanted to take a stronger hold on their life. Some people just wanted to be a little happier and stop being judgmental.”

The group exploring San Juan on their day off.

This spring break wasn’t all work, though. Students also got to do many activities to relax and appreciate Puerto Rican history and culture including going to the beach, touring Old San Juan, visiting the Arecibo Observatory, and Cueva La Ventana. They were able to eat countless flavors of ice cream, pastries, plantains, pinchos (a local favorite of barbecued chicken on a stick), and more delicious Puerto Rican food. This trip allowed students to learn so much more about service, about Puerto Rico, and about themselves.

 

Leibel says, “I am a pretty anxious person, and the trip helped soothe my nerves. The noises outside when I slept at night, the community feeling and Eduardo all helped me stay centered. I would have been falling apart right now with everything going on, but I think the trip mentally braced me to hope for the best, but expect the worst.”

 

This trip was the perfect balance of work and play that made these 12 students go from strangers to family in a matter of a week. They not only got that relaxing Spring Break trip on the beach, but also learned so much from the people they worked for and alongside. As we all sit in our respective homes quarantined, members of the trip look back at their time in Puerto Rico fondly and with full hearts, wishing they were still replacing roofs and plastering walls…or soaking up the sun on the beach in San Juan.