I had the most incredible adventure in April while serving the beautiful community of Arecibo in Puerto Rico. I met the most amazing people with the most beautiful souls. This was my very first mission trip and I loved every single second of it.
When this opportunity arose back in the beginning of the school year I jumped right on it. A mission trip is the best of both of my worlds. Serving others and seeing the world at the same time- what more could I ask for? I had really grand expectations for this trip after hearing from others how life changing missions trips could be and after reflecting on my way home, I realized this trip far exceeded anything I ever hoped for and more.
There is a large group called Comunidad Misionera de Villaregia (CMV) which has many missionary communities throughout the world and one of those happens to be in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. In this location they were lucky enough to have funding to build a huge 4-story compound in order to support the community. We were very lucky to stay in such a beautiful place. Each room had six beds and it’s own very clean bathroom. We were spoiled based on our expectations of where we though we were going to be staying. The house had large rooms for us to meet in, a chapel, a huge kitchen, and lots of beautiful land to explore. We learned about the different groups of people that live in the house and participate in the missionary work. Those include priests, consecrated sisters, couples, single adults, and volunteers of the community. Volunteers made our meals everyday, served our food, and welcomed us with big smiles and open arms as if we were family.
Catholic Mission Trips Incorporated (CMT), the company that organized our trip, was very lucky to have CMV host us. We were the first American group they had ever housed so it was important for us to make a good impression. Catholic Mission Trips sent staff and group leaders, who were young adults, to Puerto Rico, that made our trip run very smooth. Our daily schedule was planned in collaboration between the CMV and CMT groups.
The 12 of us from my school and the other 40 students from the other school were all separated into different groups of which they called sororities. Each sorority was named after a different missionary location of the CMV. My group was Burkina Faso, a country in West Africa. We were assigned a leader from CMT who led us in our small group activities and who traveled with us to the work cites. For every meal a two sororities were assigned to clean up. One washed all the dishes in the kitchen and set up for the next meal, while the other swept and wiped tables in the dining room. Besides the actual cleaning this part was fun because we worked with a lot of the volunteers from the community, as they were the ones directing us on what to do. Its funny how close you become after a simple conversation. One day I was washing silverware in the kitchen and a young man started helping me. We had a good 15 minute conversation in Spanish and we still keep in touch to this day!
There were five different work cites that groups were assigned to work at and with Tuesday and Wednesday as our work days, each group had the chance to work at two different locations. The first day my group worked at the local parish that was walking distance from the house. We painted the parking blocks and new parking lines in the parking lot. There was also lots of water damage in one of the side buildings so we scraped off a lot of the paint where there was damage. We worked for about 4 hours each day, which doesn’t seem like a lot but we were able to get a lot done. There’s always was something to be done though so it felt as if we could have worked forever. The second day we traveled to an elderly siblings home and we cleaned, purged, and organized it from top to bottom. At breaks and when we were finished cleaning we were able to have conversations with the owner and we came to find out that the dog was nameless and that she was open to suggestions. We ended up naming the dog Charlótta, so they would never forget us! It was humbling to see how thankful the brother and sister were for all of our help. We brought lots of smiles to their faces and that was pretty cool! Other groups worked to rebuild a destroyed house, laid concrete, and painted buildings.
The City of Arecibo
One afternoon we were invited by the Catholic youth of Arecibo to participate in their youth march. We drove to the middle of the city and marched with the youth to the plaza where the cathedral was. We had the cool opportunity to attend the chrism mass which is special because that is where the bishop blesses all the chrisms used in the sacraments for the year. Marching through the streets of Arecibo was really fun because all of the buildings had cool architecture and were colorful! When we got to the cathedral steps the bishop was there to greet us and welcome us to the mass. Although the cathedral was already jam packed we still got to watch mass on a projector outside. I was bummed at first but relaxing and listening to mass with a nice breeze was definitely the way to go. At the end of mass all of the youth were invited to the front to receive a blessing from the bishop. When mass was over we all took a group picture with him and I even had the chance to shake his hand!
Womens Rehab Center
On our third day there our groups traveled to different locations to serve the community. The day before we made goodie bags to gift the people we visited. My group went to a women’s rehab center. The women there were recovering from drug and alcohol abuse and they were either there voluntarily or because the court made it mandatory. When we arrived we made introductions, they told us about the center, we learned about where the seven women were from, and we told them about ourselves as well. After that we played musical chairs and limbo which was lots of fun. It was amazing to see the women start to open up and relax, as many of them were very shy when we first arrived. Although there was somewhat of a language barrier, we were all still laughing, clapping, and cheering each other on during the games. It felt so good to bring smiles to their faces. Next we broke into different stations of coloring, dominos, cup stacking, nail painting and more. It was a day filled with love and laughter. With funds from the CMT we also had the opportunity to gift them with a new microwave that was greatly needed at the center. They were so thankful. I will never forget the time I spent with the strong women at the rehab center.
Old San Juan
On our last day, on our way to the airport we were lucky enough to spend a couple of hours in the city of Old San Juan. What a beautiful place!!! It is right on the coast and could not have more beautiful views of the ocean! Not to mention the very colorful buildings I saw, reminding me of a rainbow, as we explored the cobblestone streets. We had lunch at a yummy Mexican Cantina and spent the rest of our time walking all around the city and of course stopping at a souvenir shop to get gifts for our families. The streets were very busy but we were able to find pretty well known picture locations like the famous Umbrella Street. It felt amazon walking along the coast and admiring the bluest waters. Although our time in Old San Juan was short we made the most of it and it was one of the best parts of the trip!
I will never forget the time I spent in Puerto Rico, the people I met, and the memories I made. They will forever hold a special place in my heart. This experience has grown my interest in participating in more service trips in the future. Why not travel when you can help make a positive impact on people’s lives while doing it? Service trips are a wonderful cause and I cannot wait to participate in more! Thank you to everyone in Arecibo for opening my eyes to more sides of the world. I am forever grateful!!!