Article by Teresa Blangiforti, class of 2018:
On June 27, 2015, my cousin Michael and I traveled to Puerto Rico for two weeks to provide community service through an organization called Global Works. Global Works is an organization that offers international community service and cultural exchange programs to students. Global Works strives to provide students with rewarding service, language learning, and adventure programs. It fosters personal growth and promotes social and cultural awareness for myself and the communities involved. Once we arrived, the leaders collected our cell phones and held them for the duration of the trip, so that we could focus on the goals of the program. This was the beginning of our two-week journey.
Our first project was working with the community members of Villa del Rio as we helped build cement houses. The houses we helped to build were much safer and stronger than their current wooden homes, which could not withstand severe weather conditions. It was fascinating to see the people from the community, whether they knew each other or not, come together to help one another. I felt privileged to be part of this important project. Whether rain or shine, we mixed cement, helped transport materials, and made forms that we poured the cement into. It was powerful for my group and me to take part in a community project that was run by and for the community members.
After spending a few days in the community, we traveled to a town called Patillos. We worked with the directors of Tropic Ventures and Eye on the Rainforest to help maintain this eco-lodge and nature reserve. We helped clean out and transport a compost bin, weeded a nursery, and cleared Elephant Grass from around a greenhouse. Each night we would compost anything that we didn’t eat. After a few years, it will turn into some of the richest soil you will ever find. We also hiked to and tagged a plot of important hardwood trees that had not been tagged in five years. This helped prepare the trees for a research group investigating hardwood tree growth in the local conditions. Our efforts helped promote and continue the organization’s efforts towards saving the biosphere.
For me, this was a truly rewarding experience. It was something unique, and it made an important impact on my life. It felt amazing to take part in the unification of people from diverse backgrounds and to work with them as a team towards the important goals of rebuilding a community and cleaning up the rainforest. I heard and saw how grateful they were for our help, and it made me feel incredible inside because of how appreciative they were. I learned that my phone isn’t that important, and you can have a much better time without it.
Getting the opportunity to travel to a different part of the world taught me about different cultures. This trip opened my eyes and helped me to see the bigger picture. As I advance in my education, and in faith, I know that my community service experience is one that has inspired me to continue to extend myself to people of other cultures, and to seek out other ways to volunteer at school, at church and beyond. For our service to the wonderful people in Puerto Rico, we also earned a total of twenty-seven community service hours and a certificate. Global Works’ motto is “Travel with Purpose”. I can’t wait to do it again, and I would encourage others to do what they can to be of service to others.