Yesterday we drove from Caguas (near San Juan) to the south side of the island. We are in Ponce to work at a nursing home for our last service day, but first we had a delightfully warm welcome from the Ponce civic representatives, including the head of tourism. We explored the quaint and colorful town square and some of the city’s main sights, including a tree believed to be more than 500 years old.
Today we served at Asociacion Benefica de Ponce, home to about 35 senior citizens. We helped with bathing and dressing, medication administration, and wound care. We also attended a lecture on palliative care by one of our leaders, Dr. Weihua Zhang. Members of the nursing home staff as well as nursing assistant students sat in on the lecture, which included an insightful comparison of end-of-life care in the continental U.S. versus Puerto Rico. As one might expect, many of of the emotions and rituals are the same, but we did learn that some people on the island practice Santeria, a Caribbean religion with its own spiritual traditions.
One of the most profound parts of our visit to the Asociacion was connecting with the clients one-on-one. One of our leaders, Gladys Jusino, took out her guitar and sang traditional Puerto Rican songs with the clients.
We were reminded that a smile and a gentle squeeze of the hand are universal gestures that transcend language barriers.
We ended the day with a bird’s eye view of Ponce and sleepy car ride back to our headquarters near San Juan.
Our service learning trip has come to an end, and tomorrow we fly back to Atlanta. I think I can speak for everyone in our group when I say that we were humbled and honored to have been a part of this trip to Puerto Rico. We met incredibly gracious and intelligent people, we learned about the island’s vibrant culture and history, and we aimed to care for, in however small a way, some of its most vulnerable citizens. Thank you to our brilliant and fearless leaders, Gladys Jusino and Weihua Zhang, and their family members that accompanied us.
Wepa, a Puerto Rican word that implies joy and good cheer, was brought up a lot during this trip. Gracias, Puerto Rico, for welcoming us with open arms. We will be back! ¡Wepa!