About two weeks after the catastrophic hit of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria struck on September 20, 2017. Maria is considered the worst hurricane to ever hit Puerto Rico, causing over $90 billion worth of infrastructural damage. With homes destroyed and the electrical grid wiped out, the Puerto Rican population has been permanently impacted by Maria and Irma. After seeing the intensity of this natural disaster dominate the news cycle, only to be overshadowed by the next disaster, our students knew that this had to be our first project location.
Working alongside our field partner, Community Collaborations International, our students traveled to the eastern coast of the island to complete environmental restoration and community redevelopment projects.
Renovating an abandoned U.S. Naval Base, we created emergency housing and spaces for small businesses to reinvigorate the local economy. Our team also cleaned up and redeveloped a ravaged senior mountain community outside El Yunque Rainforest in order to help the displaced seniors get the resources necessary to persist, helping their tourism-focused economy recover more rapidly.
As for environmental restoration, we engaged in beach clean-ups and planted various trees and flora around the dry forests to help with rehabilitating the unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, an essential for the island’s agricultural and tourism industries.
Throughout the trip, our students also interviewed community leaders and businesspeople to help study the effects of the hurricanes on the island’s populace. We studied the geopolitical effects of colonization and natural disasters, participating in discourse with the former secretary of state of Puerto Rico, a marine biologist, a displaced business executive and entrepreneur, and much more. Our group used this information to supplement our political science studies and honors research projects.