Members of Cornell’s Rotaract Club transported water to establishments without it and provided check-ups for patients during a trip to Quebradillas, Puerto Rico over spring break, witnessing first-hand the aftermath of the Hurricane Maria.
Five Cornellians participated in this volunteer trip led by One Human Family Coalition, a healthcare non-profit organization.
“I had shadowed a doctor over winter break and found out she is the medical director for a free health clinic in Quebradillas,” said Sharon Dang ’20, director of operations for the Rotaract Club. “She connected me with the president of the organization and he hosted us at the clinic while we were there.”
Student volunteers spent four days engaging in various volunteer work ranging from transporting water to senior homes and a middle school to providing check-ups for patients unable to travel to the clinic, explained Aine Chen ’21, director of media and marketing.
“We also learned about using automated external defibrillators (AED) donated by Foundation Bechara to the clinic,” Chen said. “On our last day, teaming up with Black Flag Search and Rescue, Rotaractors worked throughout the day traveling to individual houses in the Utuado municipality to check health conditions with doctors and distributed more supplies.”
Students also witnessed the impact of the recent hurricane in the region and Dang described it as “psychologically tough on Puerto Rico.”
“When people did talk to us about it, we could hear how hard it has been for them – to wake up and see their homes and communities completely changed,” Dang said. “Some people even lost their jobs. The best we could do is open our minds to their experiences and be of service as much as we could.”
Stephanie Smart ’20 said the power went out one afternoon and they were told this “happens every so often.”
“Driving into the island, we encountered many areas of road that were still under construction, and saw evidence of the hurricane’s destruction, such as paths created by mudslides, and foundations where houses had been,” she said.
Smart described how the club members met locals who kept “hope.”
“Some highlights from the trip were meeting a lot of locals who were able to retain hope, despite many still lacking power or running water, and how close-knit the communities had become as a result of this tragedy,” Smart said. “Everyone seemed very supportive and willing to help those around them. This really emphasized to me the resiliency that people are able to maintain in the worst times of their lives.”
The Rotaract Club is a community service organization affiliated with Rotary International and it allows Cornell students to carry out hands-on service projects. The club also works with another local Ithacan Rotary organization, The Rotary Club of Ithaca Sunrise, to organize events that support international charities such as Heifer’s International or Shelterbox.
“We’ve held events such as bake sales, ultimate frisbee fundraisers, and also helping out with other organizations for community service events such as Into the Streets or helping at Applefest,” Chen said.
Chen explained that the Rotaract Club plans to host a Krispy Kreme Fundraiser to fund future community service projects.
“We want to build a long term relationship with the organization and hope to develop a project with them so that we can continue to send students to Puerto Rico each year to help out,” Dang said.