Last week we partnered with Secular Student Alliance (SSA) for a secular spring break deployment helping to rebuild in Puerto Rico from the damage Hurricane Maria caused in 2017.

Our ongoing partner All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response (AHAH) has been in Puerto Rico from the beginning, and one of the first things they did was ask the hardest hit communities what they needed. The answer in Yabucoa was roofs. So AHAH figured out how to help the community fix their roofs. Since then AHAH has honed an efficient and safe process for fixing roofs in the region—a process that allows volunteers with little to no construction experience to participate, and the roofs keep people dry for years and years to come.

Each roof gets an evaluation for leaks by AHAH staff. When FBB and SSA volunteers  arrived, we began by chipping away at old sealant/tar/grout at each leak site or other weak spot. After all that debris was cleared, volunteers completed any cement work needed on the roof, including creating cants along the parapets of the flat roofs common in the area, which directs water and helps prevent future leaks. Once the cement sets the roof is ready for two coats of sealant. Volunteers then moved inside to do mold sanitation, and to work with long-term volunteers on critical repairs to doors and windows. Each site takes a little over a week from start to finish.

Many of the homeowners we helped showed their gratitude by making delicious homemade lunches for the teams working on their roofs. While eating lunch with them, our volunteers were able to learn their stories, laugh with them, and bond with them. It was incredibly meaningful to connect so closely with homeowners and share this experience together.

When we are choosing where to go for our deployments, we take into account where there is the most need. There is no doubt: Puerto Rico is still in need of help. Walking and driving around Yabucoa you can see that in some ways life is back to normal. Many shops, restaurants, and businesses are open. Baseball is played in the evenings after work. People are going to the beach. But you also see a lot of empty homes and storefronts. You see buildings that were simply abandoned. You see homes where only part can be lived in. This isn’t only evidence of the structures that need to be rebuilt, but community that needs to be rebuilt. And both still have years to go.

Our team made a big impact. We contributed 274 volunteer hours, which translates to over $6,700! That doesn’t include the cost of materials for each roof. (Each bucket of sealant costs $250 and at least a dozen are used for each roof.) AHAH staff told us that the people of Yabucoa shared that they felt abandoned by the US government, but they didn’t feel abandoned by the US people because of the volunteers coming from the mainland to help. We’re glad we could help!