Finding Community in Puerto Rico

Students from East Wheelock House traveled to Puerto Rico last spring as part of a service trip organized by the Center for Social Impact and the Office of Residential Life. The partnership with El Depa, a local nonprofit, is ongoing; a new group of students returns this week to contribute to hurricane recovery efforts. Photos are by College Photographer Eli Burakian ’00, who traveled with the group.

Photos
Image
Israel Reyes
In preparation for their departure, students attend weekly seminars to learn about the geographical, political, and socio-economic conditions affecting hurricane recovery efforts. In the seminar room of East Wheelock, Israel Reyes, an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Puerto Rico, speaks to students about the history of Puerto Rico and the ongoing debate about statehood. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
Students sit in a large semi-circle in a large auditorium
Arlene Velez, who formerly served as a staff counselor at Dartmouth, greets the group at Albizu University, where she is the director of undergraduate studies and an assistant professor. The Dartmouth students met with undergraduate and graduate students, enjoyed lunch together, and toured Old San Juan. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
Two students look on as a women points out food that she has prepared for them in an outdoor kitchen in Puerto Rico
Students marvel at the food prepared for them by Carmen Veguilla, along with her sister, at a local gathering spot, El Malangazo. The home’s open-air kitchen is the site of weekly dinners attended by families and other community members. The majority of the Dartmouth group’s meals consisted of traditional Puerto Rican dishes like guiso and pitorro. (Photo by Eli Burakain ’00)
Image
Angel Aguilar '22 speaks with three other students in the outside kitchen
Angel Aguilar ’22 chats with Ardell Ning ’22, Marisa Magsarili ’19, and Lauren Burden ’21 at El Malangazo. (Photo by Eli Burakian)
Image
Tara Rodríguez Besosa leads students in a tour of El Depa's garden
El Depa founder Tara Rodríguez leads a tour of the eight-acre community garden in San Salvador, Caguas, where the students stayed. Of the trip, Besosa says, “From the very beginning everybody was on the same page as to what this experience meant and how we wanted to go about it. This is not a regular alternative spring break trip. This is much more than that. It’s the beginning of what we all hope is a long-term relationship-building collaboration.” (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
One of the trip's participants crouches down to set up a tent
Ardelle Ning ’22, left, and Marisa Magsarili ’19 work to raise a tent. By camping within San Salvador’s community garden throughout their stay, the group was able to establish connections quickly—not only with one another, but also with those local to the area. “My favorite part has been getting to know the community and living on the farm and seeing the community members interact with each other,” says Magsarili. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
Angel Aguilar '22 takes a spin on the machina jíbara, an addition to the farm meant to both delight and educate visitors.
Angel Aguilar ’22 takes a spin on the machina jíbara, a human-powered spinning swing that is meant to both delight and educate visitors. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
Marisa Magsarili '19
Guided by volunteer Edan Freytes, the group weeds and clears brush at the community garden, which lost two-thirds of its plantings to Hurricane Maria. Of the group’s efforts on the farm, Marisa Magsarili ’19, right, says, “El Depa sees the work we’ve been doing here. The staff has been very generous; they know we want to make an impact and they are helping us to do that.” (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
Angel Aguilar '22, left, and Professor Sergi Elizalde, right, clear brush and move boulders in the group's collaborative cleanup effort with a community member.
Angel Aguilar ’22, Professor Elizalde and his son Guillem, along with community member Victor Dacosta, clear debris clogging a stream on the edge of the garden. “This experience has been about learning how to be intentional in the way we basically do everything,” says Aguilar. “Whether that be the way we eat our food, the way that we respect nature, the way we interact with people within the community. It’s all based on intentional living.” (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
Ardelle Ning '22 and April Lam '20 move a large branch together
Ardelle Ning ’22, left, and April Lam ’20 move debris with the help of Guillem Elizalde. Over the course of the trip, the students and local volunteers were able to clean up much of the visible devastation within the garden. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
A student and a professor's son talk at the campsite
The group’s campsite is an ideal place for reflection and connection. April Lam ’20 chats with Guillem Elizalde. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)
Image
El Depa volunteer Edan Freytes guides Angel Aguilar '22 through the garden's nursery.
El Depa volunteer Edan Freytes guides Angel Aguilar ’22 through the garden’s nursery. As part of their participation, each student takes on a project that fulfills a need of the partnering nonprofit organization. On this trip, Aguilar and April Lam ’20 created an inventory of all of the plants in the garden and nursery.
Image
Guillem Elizade joins Lauren Burden '21, Angel Aguilar "22, and Ardelle Ning '22 in sifting soil to add to a newly constructed compost bin
Guillem Elizade joins Lauren Burden ’21, Angel Aguilar ’22, and Ardelle Ning ’22 in sifting soil to add to a newly constructed compost bin, one of the many small projects the students worked on at the garden. Marisa Magsarili ’19 said she appreciated that building the new compost system demystified the process. Composting, she said, “is a big buzzword. But here we were able to see the actual system and learn the science behind it."
Image
the group gathers with other El Depa volunteers and community members around the batey, a multi-purpose gathering space inspired by the Taíno
As night falls, the group gathers with other El Depa volunteers and community members around the “batey,” a multipurpose gathering space inspired by the Taíno, an indigenous people of Puerto Rico and other parts of the Caribbean and Florida.
Image
Alexis Massol Gonzalez speaks to students as Professor Elizalde looks on and translates
Alexis Massol Gonzalez, founder of Casa Puebla, speaks to the students about the services his nonprofit organization provided in the hurricane’s wake, as well as the organization’s ongoing role as a resource for community building and energy independence on the island. Looking on is Professor Elizade, who helped translate for the students and leaders who did not speak Spanish. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the nonprofit, equipped with solar power, was one of the sole energy providers in the area. The organization distributed solar lamps, and many area residents came to its center to connect life-saving equipment, including dialysis machines. Today, Casa Puebla produces and sells its own coffee, provides educational programs, and hosts a local radio station.
Image
Angel Aguilar '22 speaks on the air with Radio Casa Pueblo (WOQI).
Angel Aguilar ’22 speaks on the air with Radio Casa Pueblo (WOQI). Aguilar, who is fluent in Spanish,  shared an overview of the group’s trip and talked about what members hoped to contribute.
Image
Several days into the trip, students from Harvard's Phillip Brooks House arrived to volunteer at the garden.
Several days into the trip, students from Harvard’s Phillip Brooks House arrived to work as volunteers at the garden. During their overlapping trips, the two groups of students collaborated on several projects at the farm. Of their joint effort, April Lam ’20 says, “I saw the power of the collective … many hands, light work. There was more power to get things done.”
Image
Carmen Veguilla tours the garden with Angel Aguilar '22 and April Lam '20, identifying plants and sharing with the students each plant's colloquial name. "We need to rely on people and not just technology to give us answers," says April about what she lea
Carmen Veguilla tours the garden with Angel Aguilar ’22 and April Lam ’20, identifying plants and sharing with the students each plant’s colloquial name. “We need to rely on people and not just technology to give us answers,” says April about what she learned in the process of working with Carmen.
 
Image
Angel Aguilar '22 and April Lam '20 work on their catalog of plants in the garden. After
Angel Aguilar ’22 and April Lam ’20 work on their catalog of plants in the garden. After identifying and documenting each plant, they compiled the Spanish, Latin, and English names to improve access to the garden for future visitors and volunteers. The two will be student leaders with the East Wheelock cohort traveling to Puerto Rico over the upcoming spring break.
Image
At El Melangazo, Dartmouth and Harvard students, joined by members of El Depa and community members, shared a meal before dancing the night away.
At El Melangazo, Dartmouth and Harvard students, joined by members of El Depa and community members, shared a meal before dancing the night away.
Image
An aerial view of Jardin Ecologico de San Salvador,
An aerial view of Jardin Ecologico de San Salvador, the ecological and cultural garden where the students camped and volunteered. “This trip was definitely a hands-on experience,“ says Lauren Burden ’21. ”Learning about this farm and how it intersects with the community and cultural practices, and seeing how everyone interacts with it, is amazing." Burden is now DCSI’s student director of immersion trips, and is returning to Puerto Rico this week with the center’s winter break trip.
Image
Marisa Magsarili '19 gets a hug from Carmen Yulín Cruz,
Marisa Magsarili ’19 gets a hug from Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, who stopped by to speak with the students and tour the garden. Advocating strongly for additional aid from the federal government in the aftermath of the hurricane, Cruz emerged as an outspoken leader during the island’s struggle to recover.
Image
Ardelle Ning '22 plays the ukulele and sings for the mayor and the group.
Ardelle Ning ’22 plays the ukulele and sings for the mayor and the group.
Image
The group poses with Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz at the community garden.
The group poses with Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz at the community garden. In the back row, from left: Josiah Proietti, Caitlin Rosario Kelly, Sergi Elizalde, Ardell Ning ’22, and Marisa Magarili ’19.  Front row, from left: Lauren Burden ’21, Angel Aguilar ’22, Carmen Yulin Cruz, April Lam ’20, and Guillem Elizade. Caitlin Rosario Kelly says the students "learned not only what’s it like to be in community as Dartmouth students, but also how to be in community in a space that isn’t their own. And to figure out what that looks like and their role in that work.”
Image
In their Dartmouth duds, the students pose in San Salvador for a final shot before departing for San Juan and their trip home.
In their Dartmouth duds, the students pose in San Salvador for a final shot before departing for San Juan and their trip home.