Last week I traveled to Ponce, Puerto Rico on assignment with Architecture MN Magazine.
My assignment was to capture the humanitarian efforts of a group of Architecture students and faculty from Dunwoody college and the University of Minnesota.
I also hoped to capture the beauty and hardship of this US territory.
Puerto Rico already had a struggling economy before Hurricane Maria tore into the island six months ago.
The hurricane caused catastrophic damage and while some of the island has recovered, it is obvious that there is still a lot of work to be done.
It’s been six months since the hurricane. In the busier areas of the island jumbo green highway signs still lay twisted and bent alongside major highways. Stoplights at busy intersections are still not working. Light poles are bent. Giant windmills are missing their blades. Blue tarps still provide a makeshift roof for a smattering of buildings. Doors are boarded up - but it is hard to tell if they were already that way pre-Maria. Small herds of stray dogs run the streets.
When you venture a little deeper into the island - and visit some of the neighborhoods that were struggling before the hurricane - you really see the damage. Even six months later many people are living without water or power. Some houses look like no progress has been made since the storm tore through six months ago. Some of the residents cannot move forward until their insurance or relief funds give them approval.
I accompanied two Architecture professors from Dunwoody to visit one of these neighborhoods. We went there to talk with the locals, assess the damage and figure out how Dunwoody can help. They are working closely with the Neighborhood Housing Services and they are committed to helping rebuild this community.
Seeing a destroyed swing set and abandoned toys in a wrecked home really struck a cord with me. It left me wondering what else I can do to help.
That evening we joined the students and went on a kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay in Fajardo. Tiny organisms sparkled like underwater fireflies as we paddled under the stars. Magical!! Definitely one of the world’s greatest wonders!
I began to realize that the professors had planned for us to see some of Puerto Rico’s most devastated areas on the same day we saw some of its greatest beauty.
Quite a day. What an amazing island!
The next day we visited a Head Start school in Moca. The kids were so sweet and welcomed us with signs and gave us pins that represented their area flag. The Neighborhood Housing Services announced that they are committed to help rebuild the parts of the school that had been destroyed!
They plan to open a community computer center in this trailer.
The Dunwoody staff intends to support this project as well.
That evening I returned to my hotel in the town of Ponce.
The hotel was beautiful on the inside...
I took a stroll around beautiful Ponce to take in some street scenes. I felt very safe.
Puerto Rico is definitely a beautiful part of the world that should be on your bucket list. The architecture and colors are amazing!
As you wander the island, you see glimpses of how Puerto Ricans are feeling now. A little lost. A little forgotten...
And speaking of the people.. I haven’t even begun to talk about the people! They are SO incredibly friendly and have great pride in their island! One conversation I had over and over again with the locals was about the beauty of the island.
Everyone wants to make sure you see the beauty! A wonderful woman I sat next to on the airplane ride down even called me four days later to make sure I was having a good time and had seen the beauty in her island.
Of course the beauty is impossible to miss!
If you are considering a trip to Puerto Rico - go!! They’re open and ready for your visit! The major tourism areas are completely recovered. And they really could use your support.
I am very grateful for this opportunity. Thank you Architecture MN Magazine for this amazing job. Thank you to John Dwyer and Laura Cayere-King, the two Architecture professors from Dunwoody who hosted my stay and made me feel very welcome. I consider them dear new friends! And a big holla to all the Dunwoody students! 🙌🏼 I had so much fun with you all!
This is a little video from our time there. It was created by one of the students, Ryan Kelly, and includes a teeny bit of my drone footage. Great job Ryan!! Click this link to watch: