Dear Middle Family,

We just returned from a week of Service-Learning in Puerto Rico! A team of 16 was sent by Middle with 11 students who range in age from 12 to 16 years old. We got home after midnight last night, but we rallied to be up this morning to share more about what this past week held.

We explored themes of racial and economic justice as we looked at the layered history of Puerto Rico with indigenous, colonial, and African roots. We got to visit sites that told the story of this island and met people who have reclaimed the power of WHO is telling the story and WHO is shaping the narrative. We even got to learn dances to different rhythms of the Bomba – a type of music and and dance with African roots out of Puerto Rico. Let’s just say, the boys’ hips don’t lie!

In Miraflores, a community up in the mountains that Middle has a long-term partnership with, we learned about food justice as we worked alongside local residents and farmers to turn the land to prepare it for crops. We worked with tools – don’t worry we had safety instructions before using pick-axes – to create rows that could support growth and channel rain into the right places along the mountainside. We learned to adjust our senses to the smell of chicken poop fertilizer to get the land ready for planting. We saw how after these crops are grown, they are taken to a community kitchen, and then prepared into different products that can be sold to support families and the community of Miraflores. And then with our new friends, we celebrated with a BBQ Fiesta that included exchanging songs, dance, and parts of one another’s culture.

We analyzed how there are root causes, key stakeholders, and short and long-term consequences surrounding the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. We got to discuss how climate change has impacted Puerto Rico and we did some clean-up work along the coast. We got to see the diverse environment of Puerto Rico, and we got a birds-eye view of the green mountains as we Zip-Lined across the mountainside.

Thank you Middle Church for supporting Service Learning experiences for young people. Thank you for allowing us to engage justice issues in first-hand experiences, to learn more about the culture and history of Puerto Rico, and walk away with new understandings as well as new questions. This trip will have us thinking for a long time and hopefully allow us to continue to engage Service-Learning in our own communities and settings.

When you give to Middle, you support this kind of work and young people like us. Thank you for helping to support this movement of love and justice. If you’d like to join the movement yourself, you can talk to someone right here after worship. ¡Muchas Gracias!

For photos and reflections from the trip, check out #MiddleChurchYouth on social media, both on on Instagram (@middlechurch) and Facebook (Middle Collegiate Church).

Middle member Heidi Griffiths, who volunteered alongside the youth in a variety of projects, wrote a reflection on Middle Church's ongoing work, and on the youth's service-learning experience:

It truly does take a village to lift up a village. You were all so generous to contribute to the relief effort Edna spearheaded after the devastation of Hurricane Maria almost two years ago. Edna found a partnership with Projecto Mateia, a wonderful organization here on the island run by a group of dynamic women. They have been in existence for fifteen years and have provided legal advice, healthcare and numerous other forms of support to communities across the island. After Maria they found themselves in the tiny mountain village of Mira Flores, which was struggling before the hurricane and devastated after it. They have been working with the community ever since and, as most of you know, Edna has made multiple trips to work, in collaboration with Projecto Matria, with the community. Initially the focus was on providing the bare essentials of clean water, food and simple solar power while infrastructure was restored, it took eleven months to get intermittent electricity back to the people here. It has been a very long road.

Phase two focused on rebuilding and restoring homes and community buildings. Many of the resident’s applications for relief from the US government were rejected because, in Puerto Rico, homes and land are frequently passed from generation to generation without any formal paperwork. Edna and her nephew Andrew spent a week working in the village along with a group of volunteers from New York and Arkansas, fixing roofs and painting homes. Without their hard work and your donations this community would have been abandoned - I am tempted to rant at this moment about a president who, to this day, claims that he did a fantastic job in Puerto Rico and refuses to acknowledge the over 4,000 deaths which resulted from Hurricane Maria - so please know that every penny of your donations went directly to the people of Mira Flores.

So here we are, almost two years later, experiencing phase three of Projecto Matria‘s work - sustainable projects which will support the village for years to come. The hurricane hit the agriculture of the island very hard, wiping out crops and washing away top soil. The focus on the work in Mira Flores now is on helping to support and development small businesses, primarily focused on farming. There are families clearing and planting crops on land that hasn’t been farmed for years, residents are making a range of products to sell at local markets using the vegetables they grow and cottage industries have been developed. Projecto Matria has coordinated classes lead by agricultural experts, provided legal assistance as well as advice with business planning and marketing.

So now here we are with a group of eleven teenagers, primarily from New York. We have been working in the fields, learning about the island and enjoying spending time with member of the Mira Flores community. These city kids, many of whom have never had their hands in dirt, have cleared a field with pick axes and hoes, made fertilizer out of chicken poop and sown seeds. They have been amazing and I think the attached photos tell the story. They are staying at Casa Solidaria, a house in the village which Projecto Matria renovated and maintains for volunteers who come to offer their skills (doctors, dentists etc.) or muscle! Our time in Mira Flores has been a treat and came to an end last night with a barbecue (that’s a Taiano Indian word by the way) and fiesta. Our young people played and sang and a local man who plays the Quattro, a traditional Puerto Rican guitar played traditional music along with many youngsters from the village.

Mira Flores has been transformed into a vibrant community once again and the families here are so appreciative of everyone who has contributed to their journey back from the post Maria brink.

Thank you all again for your generosity and if you would ever like to visit or volunteer in Mira Flores you would be welcomed with open arms.

All our love,
Heidi & Edna

 

For this service-learning trip, Middle Church Youth fundraised through in-person asks and online platforms, raising over $10,000 of the projected $13,000 in expenses. Thank you to everyone who chose to invest in this movement of transformative love and justice. Here's a breakdown of how the money helped to cover for our group as a whole:

Round-trip Flights: $6,900
All Meals: $2,200
Lodging: $1,600
Transportation in Puerto Rico: $1,800
Admission Fees & Supplies: $750

= $13,250

Puerto Rico Fundraising Progress

Read the article in NYU's The Spectrum about the youth's experience.