For the next three days, the SUNY students were divided up based on their skill sets to work on three different project sites: agriculture restoration, reconstruction and debris clean-up.
The agriculture site was at Gan Eden Farms in Santa Isabel – located on the southern coast of Puerto Rico – where students gutted open fields full of rotten crops. The farm primarily grows tomatoes, but also had some papaya and mango trees.
“I never thought tomatoes could smell so terrible...It was devastating to see how much of their agriculture was destroyed by the storm. The farmers were extremely grateful for our help. We wanted to help them get up and running again.”
Zakhar Berkovich ’08 ’10
Director of Undergraduate Student Services,
Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy,
University at Albany
A lunch break on the farm with locals reminded junior Kinsley Alexandre why this trip was so important.
“Lounging around under the sun somehow made us all – both students and natives — decide [the language barrier] simply did not hold weight, that it would not impair our ability to get to know one another. Conversation was labored and difficult, but we still managed to learn so much about each other and bond under the hardships that the people who lived there. That lunch break reminded me that the reason I had come out to Puerto Rico was to not only spend my time doing the work in the field, but also do the work of bonding with people, connecting with them and expressing empathy for their situation.”