As the plane was descending into San Juan airport, you can see blue tarps neatly covering the roof tops of most houses or some buildings. I knew then, this was one of the challenges we were about to embark.
As we headed to Loiza, the town where our adventure would unravel, you could see clearly the change from the urban setting in San Juan to the rural and provincial terrains of the neighboring towns of Loiza.
We arrived at our destination and were dropped off to our respective apartments. Our apartments were completely furnished including modern conveniences/appliances and we had ELECTRICITY!! I shared the apartment with four (4) remarkable and skillful colleagues from Chandler – Bonnie Schirato, Sarah Hansen, Theresa Lusania and Carol Pudans. The proximity of our apartment to the beach was a refreshing “bonus.” It was just a few hundred yards away. Our apartment was on the third floor and we had a terrace where we can see the town where traces of the hurricane’s fury was still evident on some houses.
The following morning, we were off to a good start. We can already feel the hot sun and sweat was starting to drench our shirts. There were needs for roofers, plumbers, painters etc. and a group to put together IKEA furniture. Since they needed more people to build and put together the furniture etc. I chose to go with this group. I had so much fun working with this group of enthusiastic, fun loving and hardworking colleagues from Chandler. Putting together those IKEA furniture required a lot of patience and a keen sense of following directions. There were times when someone would interpret the directions one way and another one would interpret it the other way. Frustration, at times, were high but was very well managed. Everyone in the group sought help from others who were more knowledgeable in reading instructions or following the picture/layout. Teamwork and collaboration were everywhere. There were lots and lots of furniture to be assembled and built. We were assembling kitchen sinks cabinets, bathroom cabinets, dressers, end tables, dining tables, chairs, couches etc. for four (4) homes.
We were told by Abdiel Sosa, our colleague who led this volunteer project, that the elderly folks were told that we were just working on their roof to be fixed and repaired. They were not told that their houses will be renovated, painted and new appliances like refrigerator, gas ranges, toilets and all new furniture was going into their newly renovated house. On the final day, when we brought some of the furniture, they were amazed and speechless but overjoyed. Isabel, the elderly homeowner, kept on saying (in Spanish) – May God bless you and your families and thank you for everything you have given us. Your reward awaits you in heaven.
We endured the hot weather, we worked hard to get most of things done and in the end every moment spent helping these families was well worth it.
Are we going to do it again? ABSOLUTELY!! We already told Abdiel to count on us on his next project. There is a plan to go back to Puerto Rico in the near future to undertake a similar project. Perhaps, next time around there will be lesser blue tarps on the rooftops.
Lastly, we would like to extend our thanks to Tivity for giving us the opportunity to help those elderly folks in Puerto Rico and for making this trip a memorable and lifechanging experience.