On Oct. 1, 2017, two professors and seventeen graduate students in Andrews University’s architecture program departed from Chicago-O’Hare International Airport to aid in disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico. According to Andrew Von Maur, professor of architecture, the students had initially planned to visit the island of Puerto Rico in July of this year, to help with the design of new housing in El Caño Martín Peña, located in central Puerto Rico.
However, once Hurricane Irma and Maria destroyed homes on the island, the students’ trip was delayed and the original plans changed. After hearing about the devastation in Puerto Rico, architecture students felt the need to turn their trip into a mission trip. Once students announced their decision, the architecture building filled with rows of duffel bags containing supplies, including flashlights, batteries, solar lamps, chargers, tarps, water filters and sanitary products.
Since this was the first time that many students had been in an area destroyed by natural disasters, it was a quite a shocking and challenging trip for students like Melanie Reed (first year, Masters of Architecture).
“My first reaction when I got there was, okay, it’s not too bad here,” Reid said. “But I think on Day Two I realized how bad it truly was. After being in the neighborhoods and talking to the families, they are dealing with things that we can’t even imagine. It’s painful watching people who are U.S. citizens be treated like they are in a third-world country.”
While in Puerto Rico, students engaged in many mission trip activities. Students cleaned the streets of El Caño by removing vegetation and garbage so that vehicles and pedestrians could use the streets. Students also placed tarps on homes with roofs destroyed by Hurricane Maria. This was helpful for most families that could not afford to fix or replace their roofs. Due to it being such a short trip, students used donations and extra money to provide supplies to the people in the surrounding communities.
Relating to the practical ways they could aid the citizens of Puerto Rico, Reid said, “My heart is truly broken about how the people and Puerto Rico are being treated. For instance, could you imagine not having clean water to drink? Better yet, could you imagine living with mold because you are waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to come to report your damages?”
All throughout campus, many students were impacted by both Hurricane Irma and Maria. Two of the students on the trip were from Puerto Rico. One of them, Victor Perez Andino, whose family still lives on the island, was unable to get in touch with his mother for several days, and as of Oct. 15, he is still unable to contact other family members.
Other students expressed how the hurricanes impacted them directly. Tatiana Acevedo (second year, Master of Divinity), said “I experienced a mix of emotions all at once: shock, hurt, helpless, denial and even guilt. Guilt for not have visited my island when it was the paradise it used to be. Now it looks like a war zone and my heart is shattered. Nevertheless, there is one word that describes us: resilient. With God before us, we will rise up again. #PuertoRicoSeLevanta.”
Now that the architecture team has returned from the mission trip, other undergraduate students have shared their thoughts about the trip. Marlon Perkins Jr. (junior, architecture) stated, “As an architecture student, seeing my department go on a mission trip to Puerto Rico was inspiring. The island needs a lot of help and I know the aid my fellow students provided was greatly appreciated. It really goes to show that we’re more than just young designers—we’re also human beings who care.”